The Suburban Symphony is one of Cleveland’s premiere community orchestras. Its eighty-plus musicians present five concerts annually. As of 2011, the performances take place at Beachwood High School Auditorium. Concerts draw audiences of 300-500 people. High musical standards and a commitment to presenting the world’s greatest music free of charge make the organization a gem in Cleveland’s sparkling arts community.
FORMING AN ORCHESTRA: THE EARLY YEARS
In 1955 eight friends, all amateur musicians who had played at Glenville and John Adams High Schools, met to organize an orchestra. Their goals were to enjoy themselves while continuing to develop musically, and to present great music to the community free of charge. By inviting other friends to join them, the Suburban Symphony Orchestra grew to thirty-five members by the end of the first season.
The first concerts took place at Highland View Hospital, the VA Hospital and the Mayland Theater In Mayfield Heights. Before the orchestra moved to its present home in Beachwood in 1965, the concerts were presented at Byron Junior High School in Shaker Heights and Wiley Junior High School in University Heights.
The orchestra has had just three music directors. Leo Esral, a classmate of some of the founding members, conducted for the first season.
In 1956 Robert C. Weiskopf (left), a businessman who had graduated from the Eastman School of Music, was chosen to lead the orchestra. Under Weiskopf’s direction the group developed it into a well-respected community orchestra. Weiskopf forged Suburban Symphony’s strong connection with the Cleveland Orchestra which remains to this day.
A year after Weiskopf’s death in 1979, Martin Kessler (right, image © Gayne Petranek) was selected as music director from several invited guest conductors. Kessler brought to the orchestra his unbounded enthusiasm, high musical standards and an interest in presenting repertoire that challenges players to achieve new musical heights. A graduate of Harvard University, Kessler was director of Harvard’s Bach Society Orchestra and Leverett House Orchestra. He has studied conducting with Robert Shaw and James Levine, and earned a masters degree in conducting from Cleveland State University. Until his retirement in 2011, Kessler served as director of music at University School’s Hunting Valley Campus. He is director of Choral Arts Cleveland and has conducted eight productions for Lyric Opera Cleveland and three productions at Cain Park.
The Suburban Symphony is appropriately named, since its members represent twenty-one of Cleveland’s eastern suburbs. There are also dedicated players who come from Akron, Strongsville, Medina and Cleveland. Several work in the music world as public school music teachers, music therapists and private teachers. Others are well-trained musicians with chosen vocations in medicine, architecture, law, education, business and other fields.
Musicians have ranged in age from the teens to the nineties. The players are loyal and committed to their orchestra, with many who have participated for ten, twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years. Ethel Epstein (right), a founding member, is still at it. Taken together, the four members of the flute section alone have been playing in the Suburban Symphony for one hundred and fifty years!
The Suburban Symphony has established a reputation for presenting diverse and exciting repertoire. In addition to the greatest symphonic music from the eighteenth through the twenty-first centuries, there have been many large-scale presentations with soloists and chorus, as well as world premieres, pops concerts and family concerts, geared to children, but loved by adults, too. Some examples follow:
|Baroque:||Vivaldi, Bach, Handel|
|Classical:||Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (all nine symphonies)|
|Romantic:||Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Shubert, Rachmaninoff, Schumann (all four Symphonies), Brahms (all four symphonies), Johann Strauss, Smetana, Bruckner, Grieg|
|Bartok, Barber, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Bernstein, Mahler, Shostakovich, Ravel, Bloch, Hindemith, William Grant Still, Debussy, Vaughan Williams, Copland|
Large Scale Works with Chorus and Soloists
|Bizet, Carmen (concert version)||Beethoven, Choral Fantasy|
|Handel, Judas Maccabeus||Vivaldi, Gloria|
|Mendelssohn, Elijah||Dvorak, Stabat Mater|
|Beethoven, Ninth Symphony||Bloch, Sacred Service|
|Beethoven, Missa Solemnis|
Music composed by Klaus Roy, Julius Drossin, Julie Nunlist, Jeffrey Quick was played for the first time by the Suburban Symphony Orchestra. Most are members of The Cleveland Composers Guild.
Pops Concerts and Family Concerts (ages 5-95)
- Vivaldi Piccolo Concerto and Stars and Stripes Forever whistled by Ron McCroby
- Cleveland Indians’ Mascot “Slider” cavorting with the orchestra and the audience
- Magician performing “sorcery” to the music from the movie Harry Potter (Neil Rozum, right)
- Jose Greco, world famous flamenco dancer, accompanied by the Suburban Symphony
- Suburban Symphony playing the music from Walt Disney’s Fantasia as scenes from the movie are projected on a large screen above the orchestra
Young Soloist and Springboard Programs
The Suburban Symphony has always taken pride in presenting outstanding young talent to the community. An annual Young Soloists Competition was established for students in grades 7-12, affording the winners an opportunity to perform with an orchestra, many of them for the first time. The Springboard Program showcases musicians who have already received their conservatory training and are on the brink of their professional careers. Here is a small sample of some of the musicians who have participated in the Young Soloist and the Springboard programs and are “making it” in the world of professional music. There are so many others:
- Yolanda Kondanassis, internationally acclaimed solo harpist and recording artist
- Ryan Anthony, former Canadian Brass member, now Dallas Symphony principal
- Orion Weiss, pianist appearing nationally with orchestras and in chamber music
- Jason Vieux, one of America’s leading guitarists
- Margarita Shevchenko, Cleveland International Piano Competition winner
- Ning An, Cleveland International Piano Competition winner
- Caroline Goulding, who has soloed with several prestigious American orchestras
Professional Guest Artists
The orchestra has been honored to collaborate with many distinguished professional musicians. To name a few:
- Eunice Podis (right), wife of Robert C. Weiskopf, Artist-in Residence at the Cleveland Institute of Music, frequent Cleveland Orchestra soloist, Cleveland International Piano Competition judge
- Joseph Gingold, Cleveland Orchestra concertmaster and University of Indiana professor, teacher of violinists Jaime Laredo and Joshua Bell
- John Mack, Cleveland Orchestra principal oboist and teacher of scores of oboists who hold principal positions in orchestras throughout the world
Guest conductors have been invited to lead the orchestra nearly every season. The musicians savor the opportunity to learn from a variety of brilliant maestros. Carl Topilow, who heads the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and teaches conducting at the Cleveland Institute of Music, has been a popular guest conductor. Two Suburban Symphony members, concertmaster Emilio Llinas and principal trumpet Eric Dina, have conducted the orchestra several times. In addition, many of the guest conductors have been Cleveland Orchestra Conducting Assistants.
The Cleveland Orchestra
From its earliest days the Suburban Symphony and The Cleveland Orchestra have enjoyed close ties. Under the direction of Robert C. Weiskopf, each of the string sections was headed by a Cleveland Orchestra member. Concertmasters, soloists and guest conductors have continually lent their talents to the Suburban Symphony.
This position has been held by two leading Cleveland Orchestra players, Bernhard Goldschmidt (below left) for over twenty years, and Emilio Llinas (below right) for thirty years! One of the few musicians remaining in the Cleveland Orchestra who played under George Szell, Llinas, who now serves as Concertmaster Emeritus, carried on the Szell tradition by bringing to the Suburban Symphony the interpretations and techniques he learned from the master.
In the 2012 - 2013 season, Katherine Bormann, another Cleveland Orchestra musician, assumed the position of concertmaster. Ms. Bormann joined the first violin section of The Cleveland Orchestra in March 2011. Prior to her appointment, she was a member of the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida, where she performed as soloist and concertmaster. A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, she holds a bachelor of music degree from Rice University and a master of music degree from the Juilliard School. Ms. Bormann has participated in the Aspen Music Festival, Beijing International Music Festival and Academy, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, and the Tanglewood Music Festival, where she was awarded the Jules C. Reiner Violin Prize. She has appeared on the "Wednesdays at One" concert series at Alice Tully Hall, and performed in the American premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s The Soul is Light, for oboe, violin, and harp. For two summers, Ms. Bormann was a member of Tanglewood’s New Fromm Players, a contemporary music chamber ensemble.
Soloists who have been Cleveland Orchestra players include oboist John Mack, clarinetist Daniel Gilbert, hornist Alan deMattia and former Cleveland Orchestra Concertmaster, Joseph Gingold. Eleisha Nelson, who appeared as Young Soloist Competition winner, is now a violist in the Cleveland Orchestra.
Several guest conductors have held the prestigious position of Cleveland Orchestra Conducting Assistant. Notably among them are Yoel Levi, Michael Stern, Andrew Grams and Wilson Hermato.
The Cleveland Institute of Music
The Cleveland Institute of Music has been a rich resource for the Suburban Symphony Orchestra. A few of the faculty members who have played solos with the orchestra are pianists Eunice Podis, Olga Radosalvjevich, Emanuela Friscioni, Gerardo Teissonnière. A large proportion of Young Soloists winners and Springboard artists have been CIM students. Other CIM students join the orchestra to play in the string sections.
Collaboration With Other Arts Organizations
For many large-scale presentations the Suburban Symphony has joined with other Cleveland area performing groups such as:
|Choral Arts Society||West Shore Chorale||Western Reserve Chorale|
|Singing Angels||Singers Club of Cleveland||Cleveland Ballet Guild|
|Susanna and Tom Evert Dancers||Cleveland State University Chorus||Laurel, Hawken, and University School Choruses|
For nearly forty-five years Beachwood High School has been the permanent home for the Suburban Symphony, but on several occasions large-scale performances have been presented at other sites in Northeast Ohio including:
|Severance Hall||Pilgrim Congregational Church||First Baptist Church|
|Trinity Cathedral||Cleveland State University||Cain Park|
|St. Ann’s Church||Temple on the Heights||Fairmount Temple|
|Masonic Auditorium||Canton Jewish Community Center||University School|
Beginning with the 2012-2013 season the orchestra has been in residence at University School, presenting most concerts in Conway Hall, the auditorium at the US Shaker campus.
One of the most remarkable things about the Suburban Symphony is that these high-level concerts are free and open to all. Because there are so many expenses involved in maintaining the orchestra, the group relies upon several means of support:
The Annual Robert C. Weiskopf Sustaining Fund Drive was established in 1980 to create an endowment fund, assuring that the free concert format will continue long into the future.
To help defray operating expenses the members pay dues, audience members make donations at concerts, and advertisers pay to appear in the program book.
Grants and Funds:
Money received from community grants and ongoing funds assists the orchestra with special needs in different areas of operation. The Wilbur Grodin Music Library Fund enables the orchestra to purchase music to add to its permanent library. The Herbert Perla Violin Scholar Fund benefits the orchestra by providing serious violin students the opportunity to play a concert with the orchestra.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary year Suburban Symphony presented a gala benefit concert in Severance Hall on November 14, 2004. Again performing in Severance Hall on November 15, 2009, the orchestra marked its 55th year of bringing the world’s greatest music to the community.