Free CityMusic Cleveland Concerts Celebrate the Viennese Waltz Kings

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There are a handful of moments I think back to that reaffirm how grateful I am to have moved to Cleveland: The first time I set foot in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Learning about PlayhouseSquare Partners at their Back to the Future Night. My first Ohio Blogging meetup.

On Wednesday I added another memory to that list when Scott and I attended our first CityMusic Cleveland concert. Combine an evening of dazzling music, a stunning setting, and warm company, and I was officially hooked.

To top it all off, CityMusic’s concerts are free for everyone.

Now celebrating its 10th season, CityMusic Cleveland was founded by six friends who wanted to make chamber music accessible to everyone while fostering stronger communities through the arts.

So they came up with the crazy-good idea of bringing free concerts to neighborhoods all over Cleveland — eliminating the twin barriers of high ticket prices and unfamiliar venues.

Ten years later, they’re reaching some 19,110 people per season and even performed at the Lincoln Center.

CityMusic’s 2013-2014 season started in October, with three more concert series in December, March and May. Each program is performed multiple times during the course of a week in neighborhoods across Northeast Ohio — from the Slavic Village, to Detroit-Shoreway, Willoughby, Willoughby Hills, Elyria, and Cleveland Heights.

They opened their December program on Wednesday with a concert at the Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights. Conducted by Stefan Willich, the concert brought the tradition of the Viennese New Year’s Concert to Cleveland with a night of lively waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, and singing.

The evening started with two pieces, the Overture to Johann Strauss, Jr.’s most popular operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat) and Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto. The Concerto was a particular treat because it showed off the trumpeting talents of guest soloist Jack Sutte from the Cleveland Orchestra.

Although you may not think classical music could keep you on the edge of your seat, this piece did. It’s fast-paced, incredibly energetic – Scott and I were impressed that Sutte didn’t miss a beat.

Stefan Willich conductor, Stacey Mastrian soprano, Jack Sutte trumpet at the December CityMusic series

Stefan Willich conductor, Stacey Mastrian soprano, Jack Sutte trumpet at the December CityMusic series

We couldn’t wait for more, especially because the next piece after the Intermission was the classic On The Beautiful Blue Danube. When I was a kid, I had a Fisher-Price record player and out of the many records it played, I always put The Blue Danube on repeat.

However, for all of the times I’ve listened to it, I’ve never seen it performed live. There is no comparing, especially listening to it fill such a magnificent setting as Fairmount Presbyterian.

CityMusic was joined by Soprano Stacey Mastrian for the next few pieces. Whether she was singing The Bat’s “When I play the innocent from the country,” The Gypsy Baron’s “Oh watch out,” or Vilja Song from The Merry Widow, I loved how easily she brought each operetta’s characters to life with only her voice.

In addition to making classical music more accessible by not charging for tickets, CityMusic invites the conductor to share a few words about the concert after the intermission. 

Willich discussed how the holidays are often a time for quiet introspection and reverence, reflected in traditional holiday hymns. However, they’re also a time for laughter and celebration with friends, which is what he hoped to achieve through that night’s concert.

If the audience gleefully clapping along to the final song was any indication, CityMusic did their job very well.

After performing at Fairmount Presbyterian Church and Lakewood Congregational Church, CityMusic Cleveland's December concert travels to Willoughby Hills, the Slavic Village, and Elyria this weekend

After performing in Cleveland Heights and Lakewood, CityMusic Cleveland travels to Willoughby Hills, Slavic Village, and Elyria

There are three more free concerts to enjoy this week:

Tonight, December 6 in Willoughby Hills: Concert starts at 7:30pm at St. Noel Church (35200 Chardon Road, Willoughby Hills)

Saturday, December 7 in the Slavic Village: Concert starts at 7.30 pm at the Shrine of St. Stanislaus (3649 E. 65th Street, Cleveland)

Sunday, December 8 in Elyria: Concert starts at 2.30 pm at St. Mary Parish (320 Middle Avenue, Elyria)

CityMusic then returns March 12 through 16 and May 14 through 18.

Before and after the concert, I had a chance to meet Dr. Ronald Strauss and his wife Eugenia who founded and continue to lead the group, along with Rebecca Mayhew, a founding musician of CityMusic Cleveland and its Director of Education, and a number of their volunteers and musicians.

The group truly felt like a family, welcoming to anyone who shares their love for music. The Strauss’ even hosted the musicians, volunteers and donors at their house for a hearty dinner afterwards.

In my opinion, it’s their arms-open warmth – more than anything else – that makes CityMusic Cleveland successful at building the community’s appreciation for classical music.

Disclosure; I was invited to attend the Cleveland Heights concert; however – as always – opinions expressed here are 100% my own.
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One Comment

  1. Christine O'Keefe

    Saw CityMusic in Lakewood last night. Wonderful show. Definitely a reason among many that makes Cleveland such a great place to live.

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