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Cleveland Orchestra celebrates nation, centennial with idyllic ‘Star-Spangled Spectacular’

July 7, 2018 GMT

Cleveland Orchestra celebrates nation, centennial with idyllic ‘Star-Spangled Spectacular’

CLEVELAND, Ohio – What a difference a year made when it came to the Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018 “Star-Spangled Spectacular.”

Last year’s event was rained out but the 29th annual celebration of Independence Day Friday night proceeded without a hitch, from first downbeat to fireworks, under cloudless skies and cool but pleasant temperatures.

The heat wave of the last few days was a distant memory as an estimated 13,500 packed the manicured lawn of Cleveland’s Mall B on an idyllic evening and enjoyed a crowded but smoothly executed event under the stars.

No matter that it was July 6, two days after the holiday. Interest in the music and the second or third fireworks show of the week was as high as ever.  

Friday’s concert also signified a more meaningful moment. Where, last year, the event was part of the orchestra’s 99th season, this year, in addition to the nation’s birthday, it also helped celebrate the orchestra’s ongoing centennial. Indeed, a festive air hung over the entire evening, from first note to last.

New this year, too, was a partnership with the Cleveland-based philanthropic tech company Mezu. Throughout the evening Friday, visitors were encouraged to donate to the orchestra’s “Support a Concert for Every Kid in Cleveland” program using Mezu’s newly released mobile phone app, which came loaded with $5.

Even the picnics were out of the ordinary. Just as they’ll soon do on the lawn at Blossom Music Center, people on Mall B Friday took advantage of the pleasant weather and set up elaborate spreads. Others grabbed treats from a row of gourmet food trucks, and Mitchell’s Ice Cream gave out oodles of free samples.

Adults reclined, read, or took in Lake Erie views. Children ran and played games. Soft jazz and other background music provided accompaniment during quiet moments before the 9 p.m. concert.

Not that there were many quiet moments. Early arrivers didn’t just claim spots in front of the stage along St. Clair Ave. They also viewed, on a giant screen, a documentary about the orchestra’s centennial – including personal birthday greetings, recorded on-site – and heard performances by the Cleveland Police Pipes & Drums and “Full Metal Racket,” the 122nd Army Band of the Ohio National Guard. (“Cleveland Rocks” was a favorite.) VIP visitors heard the concert from a special zone to the side.

The only element missing, in fact, was Franz Welser-Most. Out of commission with an infection, the Cleveland Orchestra’s music director was replaced Friday by assistant conductor Vinay Parameswaran.

Even so, Welser-Most was present in spirit. The program he conceived, a light but satisfying mix that skewed classical and highlighted the music of Vienna, bore the conductor’s signature openly and proudly.

Standing in ably for his boss, Parameswaran conducted bright, lilting accounts of the “Voices of Spring” Waltz and “Ritter Pasman” Czardas by Johann Strauss, Jr. He also conjured spirited performances of Copland’s “Billy the Kid” Suite, Rossini’s famous “William Tell” Overture, and Prelude to Act III of Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin.”

He fared well in the patriotic realm, too. The orchestra needed little guidance in the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but in Tchaikovsky’s “1812″ Overture and Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” and “Stars and Stripes Forever,” Parameswaran was a vital, catalytic presence.

Good thing he was there, too. Rain shut down the concert last year, but this “Star-Spangled Spectacular” was one that absolutely had to go forward. During this season of centennial celebration, the orchestra’s grandest gift to the public was an historic occasion, one that both literally and figuratively was not to be missed.