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The Cleveland Orchestra Story: "Second to None" Hardcover – September 25, 2000
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Among America's great symphonic institutions, the Cleveland Orchestra is not only one of the best, but one of the youngest. Founded by the formidable impresario Adella Prentiss Hughes in collaboration with the city's industrial and political leaders, it made its public debut in 1918. This book tells the story of the Cleveland's rise from modest beginnings to a position of undisputed preeminence among international orchestras.
Its first guide and mentor was the Russian-born violinist and conductor Nikolai Sokoloff. His contribution to its growth and expansion has been overshadowed by the great, often colorful maestros who succeeded him: Artur Rodzinsky, Erich Leinsdorf, Lorin Maazel, and, currently, Christoph von Dohnányi. However, it was the imposing, authoritarian George Szell who, in his 24-year tenure, left the strongest imprint on the orchestra, developing its matchless technical perfection, transparency, and balance, and forging it into "his instrument" as a world-class group.
Donald Rosenberg follows the orchestra's triumphs and tribulations--musical, personal, financial--in a rehearsal-by-rehearsal, concert-by-concert, recording-by-recording, dollar-by-dollar account, listing every program, every conductor, every soloist, in exhaustive, frequently exhausting detail. He describes the behind-the-scenes squabbles and intrigues; the conductors' strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies; the hiring and firing of players; the incessant labor conflicts between musicians and management, and, sadly, between musicians and their own union. Abundant quotes from both local and, later, worldwide newspaper reviews and commentaries reveal the extraordinary influence of the press on internal and public policy, which Rosenberg, himself the music critic of a Cleveland newspaper, casually takes for granted; his own opinions and preferences come through clearly, if obliquely. His writing is lively and informative, though it occasionally lapses into repetition and even contradiction.
The book includes copious notes, the orchestra's discography, the premieres it has performed, and--best of all--the names of its members through the years. So many of them have gone on to making successful careers as soloists, chamber musicians, orchestral leaders, and prestigious teachers that the list induces constant shocks of recognition: proof that the Cleveland Orchestra, though rooted in the seemingly inhospitable soil of a Midwestern industrial city, has always attracted and nurtured outstanding musical talent. --Edith Eisler
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. (T.J Medrek The Boston Herald 2000-09-29)
A meticulously researched, in-depth, eloquently told account, and quite possibly the finest of its kind ever written, at least in English . . . A gripping story that the reader, once engaged, can put aside only with the greatest difficulty . . . 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. (Robert Markow Schwann Opus Magazine 2001-06-01)
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 . . . Highly detailed and informative, but written with ease and authority and dramatic immediacy . . . A frank, detailed account of how an important performing company operates in a large American city. (David critic The Plain Dealer 2000-10-08)
[A] fascinating and carefully researched history. (Richard Dyer Boston Globe Online (boston.com) 2000-10-01)
Absorbing. (Alex Ross The New Yorker 2000-10-09)
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. (Timothy J. McGee Library Journal 2000-11-15)
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. (Janelle Gelfand Cincinnati Enquirer 2001-02-04)
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! (B.L.C New Music Connoisseur 2001-03-28)
A tour de force and will be the standard for many years. Rosenberg never loses sight of the human element in the orchestra’s history . . . It is long, but it is a wonderful read. (Wil Hoffman The Weekly Villager 2001-03-23)
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 2001-03-01)
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 . . . 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. (David Patmore International Record Review 2001-03-01)
It is a story well worth the telling and he tells it well . . . The story of what can happen to an orchestra when a community decides it wants a winner. (The Toronto Star 2001-03-03)
Portrays fascinating details in a balanced account . . . This book is a must for music lovers. Before reading this work, I never realized the struggles, frustrations, infighting and financial worries of the courageous men and women who made this orchestra happen and develop into what it is today. (Eva Richter Music Clubs Magazine, National Federation of Music Clubs 2001-04-01)
Top customer reviews
Rosenberg's history nicely blends details about the musicians, managers, performances, and the music itself. Others have summarized many of the topics covered. I was particularly impressed by the sacrifices of the musicians, who did not have a full-year contract until the late 60's, despite being acknowledged as one of the 2 or 3 finest orchestras in the world. Many had to work odd jobs to keep their bills paid (still the case for most smaller market orchestras). And arrogant union leaders wouldn't allow the musicians to have a representative present during contract negotiations with management until well into the 70's.
Three separate collections of photos allow one to associate names with faces, and I find this helpful when listening to recordings. There's Myron Bloom heading up the wonderfully precise horns; and Josef Gingold playing a beautiful violin solo; and Robert Marcellus with his definitive performance of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Most of these fabulous performances are available as digitally re-mastered CD's on Sony's budget Essential Classics series. More recent, equally outstanding performances are led by soon to retire current conductor, Christoph von Dohnanyi, who has maintained and enhanced the orchestra's reputation. There are no better values in recorded orchestral music.
Anyone who loves orchestral music should enjoy this book. I recommend it most highly.
My one disappointment with the book was that I would have liked to have seen more sustained reflection on the musical and artistic qualities that have distinguished the orchestra over its history. Much of the book is written in relatively short sections, and I began to yearn for a more continuous narrative that could cut deeper.
But make no mistake, this book is essential reading for any fan of the Cleveland Orchestra, and anyone interested in how a great cultural institution can be created.