History of CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra By Donald Rosenberg

CityMusic Cleveland has carved a distinctive place in the cultural life of Northeast Ohio since its founding in 2004. Volunteers created the professional chamber orchestra to present free concerts in neighborhoods where audience members may have no other access to classical music. The organization has established a fresh orchestral paradigm by forging relationships, fostering community involvement in the arts, and offering programs full of artistic adventure.

In its first decade, CityMusic has explored a variety of social issues through intergenerational projects. The first, in 2011, addressed bullying with a commissioned work for narrator and chamber orchestra, Margaret Brouwer’s Daniel and Snakeman. A year later, the Holocaust was the subject of a CityMusic program about genocide and oppression that included Hans Krasa’s children’s opera Brundibar, which received its initial performances at the Nazi internment camp Theresienstadt (Terezin) in Czechoslovakia in 1943 and 1944. One of the youngsters in the original casts was Czech-born Ela Stein Weissberger, who since has attended hundreds of performances of the work worldwide, including the CityMusic concerts. The plight of Cleveland refugees was the focus of another project, which presented another commissioned work, Dan Visconti’s Roots to Branches, a percussion concerto. “Wishes and Dreams” focused on Cleveland’s homeless children with performances of music director Avner Dorman’s percussion concerto Spices, Perfumes, Toxins! and a selection of songs featuring Broadway and Hollywood star Heather Headley. Most recently, CityMusic presented “Two Faiths: One Spirit”, which emphasized the common humanity that lies at the heart of all faiths. This theme was presented through the performance of Merima Ključo’s “The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book” for accordion and Orchestra, representing the story of preserving an important historical Jewish text in the face of Nazi occupation. A parallel story of Islamic manuscripts saved during the 2012 Al-Qaeda insurgency in Mali was also told, punctuated with traditional Arabic music.

Along with audience development, CityMusic is committed to advancing arts education access. CityMusic presented an El Sistema string instruction program in Slavic Village from 2008-2014. The new Clurie Bennis Children’s Outreach Series, presented in partnership with the Children’s Museum of Cleveland, provides arts education programs that tell unique cultural stories, performed in public schools and libraries in underserved Cleveland neighborhoods.

CityMusic has commissioned several works in addition to the Brouwer and Visconti pieces created for the intergenerational projects. Brouwer composed her Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra for the ensemble and soloist Michi Wiancko in 2007. The Greek-born Canadian composer Christos Hatzis wrote Redemption: Book I for the orchestra and the Pacifica Quartet, who premiered the score in 2009 under guest conductor David Alan Miller. A year later, CityMusic made its New York debut at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in “A Celebration of America’s Hellenic Community,” a benefit program of music by Hatzis featuring the renowned Greek pop singer George Dalaras.

Since its founding in 2004, the ensemble has performed under two music directors, James Gaffigan and Avner Dorman, and many guest conductors, including David Alan Miller, Joel Smirnoff, and Joshua Weilerstein. Its roster of guest soloists and ensembles has been stellar. Here’s a sampling: violinists Gil Shaham, Jennifer Koh, Kyung Sun Lee, Rachel Barton Pine, Tessa Lark, Sayaka Shoji and Adele Anthony; cellists Edward Aaron and Jan Vogler; singers Sasha Cooke, Chabrelle Williams,Joshua Blue and Raymond Aceto ; clarinetists Franklin Cohen and Daniel Gilbert; and saxophonist Timothy McAllister.

CityMusic has released four compact discs. One features Brouwer’s Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra paired with Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 under Gaffigan, who also conducts two other recordings of diverse fare. Smirnoff leads a recording devoted to music of Mozart. The discs are available at www.citymusiccleveland.org/Recordings.

© 2015 Donald Rosenberg, updated 2019


Mission Statement

CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra, founded to perform free concerts

throughout Northeast Ohio.


Our mission is to develop audiences and build communities through the arts by:

¶ Presenting the finest quality performances of classical repertoire,

¶ Eliminating the twin barriers of high ticket prices and unfamiliar venues,

¶ Working with neighborhood leaders to enrich the cultural offerings of their

communities, and

¶ Providing quality arts education programs in underserved Cleveland neighborhoods.


In so doing, CityMusic Cleveland builds audiences for both the musical and visual

arts organizations in Northeast Ohio and beyond.


CityMusic Cleveland concerts are made possible by audience contributions.

CityMusic Cleveland

CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra that performs free concerts throughout Northeast Ohio,often accompanied by exhibits of local artwork.

Since exploding onto the scene in 2004, CityMusic Cleveland has won cheering audiences with beautiful music, brilliantly performed in familiar neighborhood settings.
FREE concerts - make CityMusic concerts accessible to everyone!

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Recent Reviews & Articles

CityMusic Cleveland flourishes on first program with new director Amit Peled

October 22, 2019

Posted Oct 21, 2019 Cellist-conductor Amit Peled has begun his tenure as music director of CityMusic Cleveland. He conducted the group in a series of performances last week.   By Mark Satola | Special to The Plain Dealer   CLEVELAND, Ohio — In Amit Peled, CityMusic Cleveland has doubled its investment. Not only has it […]

Social Media Resource Document

With generous support from the Cleveland Foundation, CityMusic Cleveland has embarked on a mission to enhance our digital footprint to more fully engage with our local communities, especially younger audiences. Our social media consultant has documented the strategy so far as a resource for other non-profits who may struggle to find the resources to devote to digital media. (link to social media resource page)

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