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The Cleveland Orchestra Story

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The Cleveland Orchestra Story




They are, simply, the best at what they do.

The Cleveland Orchestra is one of the three greatest orchestras in the world—by the near-unanimous acclaim of audiences, critics, and musicians around the globe. What's more, they've achieved this extraordinary success in a small Midwestern city, far from the traditional cultural centers of Europe and the U.S. east and west coasts. And they've stayed at the very top now for almost four decades.

This book tells how the Cleveland Orchestra rose amid the gritty surroundings of Big Industry to become a titan in the world of Big Art.

It's a story of indomitable founders like iron-willed impresario Adella Prentiss Hughes (the first woman to manage a symphony orchestra) and shrewd, wealthy patrons like industrialist John L. Severance. Of dedicated musicians and driven conductors—like colorful Artur Rodzinski (who packed a loaded pistol during every performance) and authoritarian genius George Szell, who drilled into his orchestra the awesome precision for which it is still renowned (and who even told his players how to dress and the cleaning ladies at Severance Hall what brand of toilet paper to stock).

It's also a story of many battles, for the orchestra has fought relentlessly to maintain its reputation for near-perfect performance.

How these musicians and maestros, managers and patrons rose repeatedly to meet the challenges—and in doing so set a standard for excellence rarely matched by any other arts organization—is the story of a true virtuoso performance.

In this book, the first about the Cleveland Orchestra in 30 years, Donald Rosenberg tells a complex, sweeping success story in very human terms, with an eye for its telling details and a feel for its true drama.


“Manages to be both crammed full of facts and a good, fast-paced read . . . it's about as comprehensive--and entertaining--a history of a great musical organization you're likely to encounter.” - The Boston Herald

“A meticulously researched, in-depth, eloquently told account, and quite possibly the finest of its kind ever written, at least in English . . . Rosenberg has constructed a gripping story that the reader, once engaged, can put aside only with the greatest difficulty . . . A coherent narrative is the very quality that sets his book nearly in a class by itself. The reader is swept along in Rosenberg's account as if it were an epic novel or spy thriller. We truly care about the characters he describes, both the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' . . . Fascinating anecdotes, quips, stories, facts and events are found on nearly every page . . . Will fascinate not only Cleveland Orchestra fans but anyone interested in how a great orchestra is created and how it operates on a daily basis.” - Schwann Opus Magazine

“[A] fascinating and carefully researched history.” - Boston Globe Online (

“It is ambitious, but Mr. Rosenberg, an engaging and often eloquent writer, succeeds in making this a human story. The result is a readable, colorful and fascinating chronicle that is an indispensable addition to any orchestra lover's library.” - Cincinnati Enquirer

“Much more than a history of one of the finest U.S. orchestras . . . Donald Rosenberg has written a fascinating account of music, musicians, politics, unbridled egos, and business that engages the reader like a good mystery novel . . . thoroughly researched, well documented, and very well written.” - Library Journal

“Absorbing reading, not merely a reference piece. Nor is it a lazy view of the subject from the rear of the balcony . . . Irresistible, tremendously informative and a just plain good read. And yes, it should be in the library of every lover of symphonic music and certainly every collector of books on music. Period!” - New Music Connoisseur

“Absorbing.” - The New Yorker

“Comes as close to a true account of how a successful symphony orchestra operates in a major American city as I can imagine anyone writing . . . A fascinating history of the tangled but sometimes fruitful relationship between politics and the arts in America--a story written with admiration, respect and affection, but also with a candor and detail . . . For those who love the Cleveland Orchestra, this [book] is a treasure . . . [Rosenberg] brings a musician's knowledge of backstage routine and performance standards to his story--and makes a story out of what might easily have been a dry chronicle of conductors, seasons and program selections . . . a narrative highly detailed and informative, but written with ease and authority and dramatic immediacy . . . For those not devoted to the Cleveland Orchestra, and not residents of Cleveland, this book is a frank, detailed account of how an important performing company operates in a large American city--its politics, its lines of support, the ways even the most idealistic motives play themselves out in brick and mortar, seat cushions and drapes . . . Rosenberg's chapter on the building of Severance Hall, and how certain errors of design and acoustics developed, should be required reading for every music and architecture student in America. (David Walton, Pittsburgh critic)” - The Plain Dealer

“Donald Rosenberg has captured the heart and soul of one of the leading orchestras in the world.” - Youngstown Vindicator

“Like sorting through boxes in the attic of an especially interesting person. Open one box/chapter and you get absorbed in the story of how George Szell overwhelmed the Cleveland community when he was guest-conductor for the orchestra the first time . . . If it were a cleaning project, I'd be way behind, but luckily, reading Donald Rosenberg's upcoming book is a lot more pleasurable.” - Akron Beacon Journal

“Lots of terrific photographs add to the joy of this beautifully-produced book. Yes, I did enjoy it--and you will too.” - American Record Guide

“Rosenberg is uniquely qualified to write this book, having earned a bachelor and two master of music degrees and having reviewed the orchestra's performances for several years . . . The text flows easily, the historical account is interspersed with entertaining anecdotes of life in the orchestra, and the citations are banished to the back of the book with no distracting numbers to betray them . . . The end result of all this research and hard work is an entertaining and fascinating work that combines the concise clarity of a newspaper article with the color and characterization of a good novel . . . Rosenberg's work enables aficionados of the Cleveland Orchestra to discover things they never knew, while providing new concertgoers with an invaluable introduction to the ensemble and its spectacularly renovated home in Severance Hall.” - Bedford Times-Register

“The 82-year achievement of the Cleveland Orchestra is a remarkable one, especially considering that this virtuoso ensemble is the only one of the American Big Five from a less-than-major city. Longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer critic Donald Rosenberg details the group's genesis and maturation in his exhaustive new tome.” - Billboard Magazine

“Although [t]his history weighs in at an impressive 550 pages, it never seems overlong. This is mainly because of the many larger-than-life characters that crowd the pages, and the skillful way in which Rosenberg balances all the myriad factors that have determined the growth of one of America's finest orchestras . . . One of the book's key strengths is the detailed coverage which Rosenberg gives to the Rodzinski and Szell years. In the absence of fully documented biographies for either conductor, this is easily the next best thing, especially for Szell . . . The cast of characters off the podium is often as interesting as those on it. Rosenberg is an expert guide to the numerous intrigues of the orchestra's board members. Some of his revelations are quite hair-raising . . . Rosenberg writes in an easy, readable style. It is the best kind of American critical writing: clear and to the point. His account is well structured and finely edited. Balance between all the competing compounds that have made the orchestra is consistently maintained.” - International Record Review

“A detailed telling of the intrigues, in-fighting and clashes of egos, vision, genius, power, money and personalities . . . Many in the Musical Arts Association, the operators of the CO and others who have been active in supporting the orchestra, must wish that some of their dirty linen had remained hidden. But that's what make[s] this a book that people who don't really care about or don't know about classical music can read with relish. This book can be read as a social history of business and as a study of powerful individuals and talented people who worked tirelessly to give life to their vision and passion . . . Yes, the book is lengthy and expensive. But to fans of the orchestra and people who really like Cleveland and find it a truly unique community, The Cleveland Orchestra Story is a must-read.” - Medina County Gazette

“A gripping, complex, sweeping, highly recommended story of true drama and high achievement! . . . "Must" reading for anyone who has admired this American music institution as well as the men and women who made it possible.” - Midwest Book Review * “No Northeast Ohio music lover's library is complete without a copy of critic Donald Rosenberg's new book The Cleveland Orchestra Story . . . [Rosenberg] has filled the book with rich details that reveal the sometimes wacky personalities of the orchestra's leadership. Did the legendary George Szell really dictate the kind of toilet paper that was to be used at Severance Hall? Someone you love wants to know.” - Morning Journal

“[Rosenberg] has allowed the rest of us not just a peek but a long, steady look inside and behind the scenes of one of the world's great cultural institutions.” - Northern Ohio Live

“A must read for anyone with an interest in how Ohio has raised the musical bar for excellence.” - Ohio Magazine

“Ought to be required reading for anyone who is considering accepting the responsibility of serving on a board of directors of an artistic enterprise, and anyone who is thinking of being a professional artist, especially a classical musician . . . It will open your eyes.” - The Post-Journal

“For fans of classical music and followers of musical politics, it is little short of compelling reading.” - The State, Columbia, SC

“A tour de force and will be the standard for many years. [Rosenberg], like Cromwell's painter, has portrayed his subject 'warts and all' . . . Rosenberg never loses sight of the human element in the orhcestra's history . . . It is long, but it is a wonderful read.” - The Weekly Villager

“While the oft-told tale of how a pretty good provincial orchestra was forged into the world-class artistic entity is familiar to many Clevelanders, even those who know it backwards will appreciate the trove of information that Rosenberg was fortunate to find himself immersed in.” - Currents

“Portrays fascinating details in a balanced account of the development of The Cleveland Orchestra from local bands and short-lived ensembles and orchestras to what it is now: 'Second to None.' This book is a must for music lovers. Before reading this work, I never realized the struggles, frustrations, infighting and financial worries of the corageous men and women who made this orchestra happen and develop into what it is today.” - Music Clubs Magazine, National Federation of Music Clubs

“Expansive in scope, exhaustive in its research and, on the whole, quite a good read.” - Ohio Writer

“It is a story well worth the telling and he tells it well . . . The story of what can happen to an orchestra when a communinty decides it wants a winner.” - The Toronto Star

About Donald Rosenberg

Donald Rosenberg is the classical music critic for the Plain Dealer and vice president of the Music Critics Association of North America. He was formerly music and dance critic of the Akron Beacon Journal and the Pittsburgh Press. His writing has appeared in Symphony Magazine, Opera News, Opera (London), Musical America, and other publications. An accomplished French horn player, he has performed at the prestigious Aspen and Marlboro music festivals. He is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music (Bachelor of Music degree) and the Yale School of Music (Master of Music and Master of Musical Arts degrees). He was born in New York City and lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio.



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