How in hell does Cleveland do it?

One of the most depressed and impoverished cities in North America has the finest orchestra and the strongest pack of supporters.

The Cleveland Orchestra today reported a  $14.2 million increase in its endowment. The fund is now worth $206 million and rising.

As for audiences, ‘we are now selling more tickets to more households than ever before,’ said president André Gremillet. ‘This is what being relevant looks like.’

And all around the neighbourhoods look like this.

How in hell?

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  • Herman the German says:

    I wonder what you don‘t show someone House from around the concert Hall of the Cleveland Orchestra. In that part of Cleveland you won‘t find many derilict houses like the ohne you showed.

  • Clevelander says:

    Norman, your image is disingenuous and carries a misrepresentation of the city and its values. Cleveland has suffered as a city because very early on the more affluent residential areas around the East Side of the city were developed privately by real estate moguls and are thus separately incorporated. Probably 80% of the orchestra’s clientele and revenue comes from these areas of east side of Cleveland, which is one of the most racially and socioeconomically segregated areas in the nation. (The imbalance is so much that TCO has implemented residencies on the west side of the city, which is far more “Midwestern.”) Yes, there are quite a few neighborhoods on the East Side that look like this, but just a few miles from each one there are large areas that carry on old-money traditions of philanthropy and patronage of the arts.
    Cleveland Orchestra concerts are among the most formal in the United States.
    Whatever side you consider in the socioeconomic debate, many people from the Cleveland area who can afford to go to concerts do so with gusto and are proud enough of their orchestra to help make sure this institution keeps its high standard. It does not surprise me at all that this tradition has continued to this day.

    • “Probably 80% of the orchestra’s clientele and revenue comes from these areas of east side of Cleveland, which is one of the most racially and socioeconomically segregated areas in the nation.”

      It’s good to see a candid assessment of the situation. America’s funding system for the arts is adapted to this racially informed class system, and reinforces it.

  • Herman the German says:

    Correction:
    First line should why instead of what, some instead of someone and houses instead of House. Sorry.

  • john kelly says:

    All around the neighborhoods DO NOT look like the above captioned photo which is downright insulting. Just stop it. I am a New Yorker and have been to Cleveland a few times, there are some absolutely gorgeous suburbs and there are believe me plenty of worse places to live in urban America than Cleveland. There may be the odd bad neighborhood (as there are in most cities) but the above is just a downright misprepresentation and a discredit to this site.

  • Bill says:

    It’s because Cleveland has some of the wealthiest suburbs in the nation, that’s how. Just because a city may appear blighted does not mean there is not substantial wealth in the vicinity. Sadly, much of the US is still very much divided up along racial lines, and cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Baltimore have become areas where “undesirable” elements are cordoned off with inferior schools and services while the more affluent population lives just outside the city limits, where they get to enjoy their superior schools, safety and infrastructure, all while still enjoying the elements from the city they have safely isolated themselves from on a pick and choose basis, with a quick escape back home at night, thanks to your local interstate highway.

    As to why Baltimore has not dome a better job with a similar reality, they appear to have management that simply doesn’t want to do the work, coupled with the fact that inner-city Baltimore is a bit more inaccessible from the affluent suburbs than Cleveland, due to traffic (the highways surrounding Baltimore are among the busiest in the country), distance and infrastructure.

    • Mary says:

      Baltimore also does not have the corporations surrounding to support it like Cleveland does —but Baltimore does have a competing orchestra only 40 miles away— Plus myriads of other fine arts organizations who are bleeding the same wealthy individual donors dry.

  • sam says:

    How?

    Simple.

    Welcome to the great divide: the wealth inequality that defines America.

    The top 10% of Cleveland owns 99.99% of the wealth of Cleveland.

    Not only can they afford the symphony, they own the symphony.

    They also own the players (sorry musicians, you are not part of the 10%); they determine their salaries and their pension plans.

    They also own the banks that practiced predatory lending on the poor Blacks of Cleveland who could not afford their mortgages and who had to forfeit their homes to these banks, thus the abandoned house shown in your photo.

    Don’t worry about these burnt out blocks surrounding Symphony Hall, the 10% arrive in their limos, park in the garage guarded by security, and leave afterwards, without ever having to set foot in these neighborhoods.

    There is no paradox.

    God is in his heaven, all is right with the world.

    • Bill says:

      Actually, the area surrounding Severance Hall is quite nice.

    • Guest says:

      Move to Venezuela and bask in the glory of socialism.

    • CLV fan says:

      Well, first it’s Severance Hall, not Symphony Hall. Secondly, while limos used to be common at Severance, they are now a thing of the past and the limousine entrance was closed in 1970.

      But nice try.

    • Nik says:

      Can you give us a list of the banks that are owned by the top 10% of Cleveland residents?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Nobody has personal responsibility for his/her success, employment, morals, efforts to improve, etc. This tired old trope is running out of steam. Read Thomas Sowell about the real problems of race in the USA and atop most of them are dysfunctional families where the men left long ago and the children are out of control. Today many remain in an endless loop of state and drug dependency. If the streets are fouled the wind isn’t responsible and neither the rest of the weather.

      Wider, uncomfortable realities can be explored through reading the words of experts – particularly, er, from people of color.

      • K says:

        You are uninformed, not withstanding Sowell (who is much more nuanced than your representative blip.) This is the same old trope from your ilk, not understanding the generational aspect of why families are dysfunctional in the first place. Your comment seems innocuous/faux intellectual, but it’s actually a racially-motivated insult based on fear and ignorance.

  • Rob says:

    Classical music breaking down barriers.

  • Mock Mahler says:

    Guess I missed your trip to Cleveland for a look “all around.”

  • Robert Freeman says:

    Your original posting is deeply important because it draws attention to the fact that while Cleveland has a great orchestra, there is much less money there than there used to be, which results in the fact that less money is available to the Orchestra than used to be the case. The bottom line is, happily, that it is much less expensive to live in Cleveland than it is in Boston or Los Angeles, for example.

  • TubaMinimum says:

    Worth noting that Cleveland also spends an extended time in Miami every season, which alleviates some of the pressure for their local core audience to fill the house week after week. I don’t know the impact this has on their overall healthy, and if they are managing to raise donations from their audience in Miami.

    • Metro Miami, with a population of 5.5 million, does not have a full time professional symphony orchestra. It was shut down under questionable circumstances. Some think this was done to aid the Cleveland residency. From that perspective, one could see Cleveland as a sort of scab orchestra in Miami. The details of these controversial events are described here:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Philharmonic_Orchestra#Controversy_regarding_bankruptcy

      • Spike says:

        As has been noted in previous comments, the wealthy 10% pay for things that are valuable to them. The Cleveland Orchestra is in Miami 10 days per year. That leaves 355 days for Miami donors to have their own orchestra, which clearly, they do not want.

        • Never mind a public funding system that would allow for affordable good seats for the other 90%, and for better arts education in our schools, and better outreach programs for orchestras. Let the arts just serve the rich in our racial class system and be done with it, the American way.

  • V. Lind says:

    You could go to almost any major city in the US and find houses like this and worse, and yet also find areas of almost unbelievable affluence. Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York — they all have well-supported orchestras, and some desperately poor areas.

    One of the striking things about American life is that well-off people do everything in their power to avoid paying taxes. They give to charity instead (tax-deductible, of course). Problem with that is that the rich get to choose who gets helped, whereas public money is, in principle at least, dedicated to causes that are widely deemed most in need, and spread out according to resources. Medicare, welfare, etc. — all causes the rich find abhorrent.

    Think how much good that $14.2 million might have done for the homeless, or for food banks, in Cleveland. But you never see groups that loudly tout their charitable works supporting such causes. Hospitals, yes — usually determined by where someone they loved needed help for a disease someone they loved had. But not the poor mutt who never gets through the doors of a hospital because he can’t pay.

    Orchestras, sports stadiums, things like that — those skyboxes are great places to do business, and treating business contacts to the symphony makes you look good, and makes your city look sophisticated (and affluent) to a potential investor.

    So I read of these endowments with a certain measure of reserve. God knows, I want orchestras to survive and thrive, and they need money — I have helped with fundraising for orchestras, including Cleveland’s. But I am always reminded of Rudi Van Dantzig, the late artistic director of the Netherlands’ National Ballet company. He received a subsidy one year that was greater than he felt the company needed and he returned a portion of the money, feeling it ought to be added to public spending on hospitals or any other cause the government deemed worthy. Could never happen in America (where, of course, the arts get virtually no support from the government anyway).

    But if you are ever in Cleveland, take a look at its audience some night. Not many black, young or poorly dressed people in those audiences. They are home in houses like the one illustrated.

    • NYMike says:

      “Think how much good that $14.2 million might have done for the homeless, or for food banks, in Cleveland”

      Orchestras in the US cannot exist without income from endowments used to fill the gaps in their annual budgets. Without substantial govt support as is available in other countries, this income is vital to orchestras’ existence. Very few US orchestras – Boston and Chicago e.g. – have a big enough endowment that guarantees long-term stability.

      • V. Lind says:

        Government support — as in other countries — is seemingly outside the American mindset. Hell, they don’t like it for health care, so it is hardly surprising they don’t like it for the arts.

    • Landon says:

      Have you ever been to a Cleveland Orchestra concert? I am 37 years old and have been a weekly subscriber for 12 years. The audience is probably the most age diverse audience of any orchestra in North America, or perhaps the world. The orchestra management has studied the audience demographics extensively and believe that it is the youngest among US orchestras. The strong millennial showing also brings about a high range of ethnic diversity. It’s not all old white rich people. And even if it were, who cares? Would you judge an audience if it were any other homogenous demographic?

      Furthermore, after living in the Cleveland metro area for 13 years, I agree that the urban blight and poverty within the “City of Cleveland” is visually apparent. Severance Hall is one of the few major US concert halls that does not sit in its city center. It is located on the very Eastern edge of the city surrounded by incredibly affluent and economically viable suburban municipalities. The city of Cleveland itself has a meager population around 400,000 people. The greater metropolitan area of Cleveland is close to 2 million. Most of the wealth is not within the city. You will have to ask older generations why it came to be this way…

    • Mick the Knife says:

      In the US, the government does nothing for the arts. NOTHING! But it spends trillions of dollars on social programs. So, stop with the crap about rich people who choose to support the arts. They are still giving more to these social programs in taxes than most of us make in a year.

      • AnySchiffInAStorm says:

        Yeah, like building your wall with Mexico?? How’s that going, finished it yet? Invading Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria? Or putting children in CAGES????

        If anyone needs to ‘stop with the crap’. it’s you.

        • NotMyPrez says:

          Please, please do not think that all Americans support the current administration and its vile, cruel, selfish, fear-based, short-sighted “policies.” Many of us are working actively to stop the damage and heal the wounds, though some of it can never be reversed.

          Now, Sue Sonata Form might like a place in that administration.

      • Facts Please says:

        This might have slipped your notice.

        https://www.arts.gov/

        Though the NEA has been undermined and underfunded, especially in recent years, it is still a powerful supporter of the arts. The money gets out to even the smallest arts presenters.

    • CLV fan says:

      Considering the population of Cuyahoga County, $14.2 million would not go very far to alleviate poverty. I’m not implying that nothing needs to be done about poverty in the US, but unless there is a return to progressive taxation of the kind that existed before Reagan, talk of reallocating cultural benefits to food for the needy is just tilting at windmills.

      But the orchestra does much for the city’s culture.

    • James says:

      “One of the striking things about American life is that well-off people do everything in their power to avoid paying taxes.”

      That is most definitely not unique to the United States.

  • AnySchiffInAStorm says:

    Perhaps you don’t have to be a Hedge Fund manager to appreciate classical music?

    Look at Jasper Grease-Bogg? Vastly wealthy, vastly ignorant.

  • Madeline says:

    How insulting you are to the city of Cleveland! ALL CLEVELAND NEIGHBORHOODS DO NOT LOOK LIKE THIS!

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Good money managers and a smart board of directors can use the endowment to advantage.

    Cleveland and Detroit, despite being in the Rust Belt, are cities that are still thriving if you know where to look.

    Both deserve great orchestras (which they both have).

  • Zubin says:

    I live half a mile away from Severance. Believe me, my place looks nothing like that.

  • John G. says:

    Perhaps the downtown would benefit from a bit more “gentrification.” When responsible and hardworking people move into neighborhoods, good things happen.

    • DirtLawyer says:

      Severance Hall isn’t really “downtown;” it’s a few miles away near Case Western Reserve University, University Hospital, Cleveland Clinic, and several museums.

  • CLV fan says:

    The juxtaposition of extreme poverty and wealth is not just a Cleveland problem, but an American problem. How many times has Norman Lebrecht been to Cleveland? How many days has he spent here in total? Not many from his constant bashing of the city as a blighted desert with the Orchestra as its only oasis. It’s almost as if our world class art museums, theatre district (2nd largest in the USA), award winning restaurants and nationally renowned parks don’t exist. Yes, there are pockets of poverty as Lebrecht delights in pointing out. These exist in every city and there are plenty in the USA where things are considerably worse. But there are numerous areas both in municipal Cleveland and the older suburbs that have been or are being redeveloped including University Circle, Midtown, Slavic Village and Hough – and downtown has seen a multi-fold increase of residents over the past two decades.

    It goes without saying that the majority of the orchestra’s players and patrons do not live within municipal Cleveland. Players mostly live in the eastern suburbs. Patrons travel from all over Northeast Ohio including outside the orchestra’s home county of Cuyahoga. The Cleveland Orchestra audience certainly skews older and whiter than Cuyahoga County as a whole. But I see far more people of color and younger people in the audience than I’ve seen in Boston, New York, London or San Francisco where I’ve also attended concerts.

    It should also be mentioned that the Cleveland Orchestra does far more than many of its counterparts to ignite an interest in great music in young people of all colors, playing free concerts in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods and offering discounted tickets to local college students and free tickets to those under 18 years. No one can force young people to be interested in Classical music but the orchestra at least helps make them aware of it.

    The description of Cleveland as some kind of impoverished, uncultured backwater is the kind of elitist claptrap our area has had to put up with since the bad old days when the Cuyahoga River caught fire and the city was in default. It’s the trope one constantly hears from ignorant New Yorkers and Londoners who’ve never spent much time here or gotten to know the people – in the orchestra or out. But the joke’s on them, because unlike those cities, Cleveland actually has a great orchestra.

    • The View from America says:

      … and a cost of living that’s dramatically lower than either NYC or London.

      For most people who aren’t getting government subsidies, the only way to afford to live in a safe neighborhood in those places is to buy or rent 30+ miles outside the center city … or settle for a living space so tiny, you can’t even fart and walk away from it.

  • florestan says:

    Hey Norman,

    is this article supposed to be informative? insightful? refreshing? newsworthy?

    because it ain’t. it ain’t any of those things.

    i recommend you have a long think about what kind of journalism the classical music world really needs, and maybe figure out a way to express your ideas and observations in the positive.

    everyone else: trying to ‘correct’ or ‘fact-check’ lebrecht is like trying to dig a hole in a body of water. instead please: refuse, boycott, rise above the sensationalist inaccuracy.

    i for one refuse to give you any attention until your content evolves to a higher, less petulant quality level. we can do better than this.

  • Clevelandpiano says:

    Ridiculous picture with which to preface this article! Come on Norman, you can surely do better than this!

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It all started with George Szell, a conductor that Arthur Rubinstein admired so much. There was a time when Szell could have become the conductor of Sydney Symphony, but that would probably have been bit of a dead end position for him. I doubt he would have established an equivalent orchestra here in the long term. Incidentally, of the prominent musicians who almost wasted their careers in Australia, apart from George Solti who was offered a position with a ballet company, the most prominent person was Richard Wagner. At one stage, he considered migrating to colonies in Australia. How different the history of music would have been now if he carried out this whim.

  • Tom Moore says:

    My first visit to Cleveland was thirty years ago, staying in the downtown area for a convention. The six or seven miles between downtown and University Circle were almost entirely destroyed. The only thing that I had seen that was similar were the neighborhoods between Hyde Park (Chicago) and downtown. Camden NJ is similar – there is almost nothing left. These neighborhoods never recovered after the rioting of the late 1960s, when the middle class (mostly white) left, never to return.

    • V. Lind says:

      Takes taxes, among other things, to rebuild cities.

    • Madeline says:

      The next time you visit Cleveland you must visit the campus of the
      Cleveland Clinic, which has patients from all over the world. The Cleveland Clinic is ownow extended ALMOST to the home of the Cleveland Orchestras (Severance Hall). The neighborhood has changed drastically for the better.

  • mary says:

    Because there’s nothing else going on in Cleveland.

    Where the competition is fierce, indeed brutal do-or-die, in the cultural and financial capitals of the world — New York, London, Paris, Berlin — there’s just that orchestra in Cleveland.

    In NY, the Philharmonic has to compete — every night, every matinée, every gala opening, for every fund raising, to get the most coveted board members — with its next door neighbors, the Met, and NYC Ballet, the American Ballet, all in the same complex. Walk a few blocks down, the Philharmonic has to compete with Carnegie Hall and the parade of the best orchestras and best musicians in the world, season after season, putting on their best performances for NY.

    And that’s just the classical performing arts.

    The miracle is Los Angeles! That the LA Phil has such a presence in a town dominated by the multi-trillion dollar movie industry is a miracle.

    • V. Lind says:

      You can go to the movies anywhere. The industry does not make any difference to people not in the industry, except for those gaping mouth-breathers who hang around outside premieres. They also exist in London.

      L.A. is a bit short on competitive arts.Sure, there is theatre, but it is no NY or London. If there is ballet, it is minor league. it probably has as much youthful and experimental and developing performing art as any mid-sized city. And in those, their orchestras survive. As did their Opera, which nobody considers one of the world’s best, despite YKW.

      L.A.’s has had star conductors for yonks — love or hate him, Dudamel is a crowd-pleaser, and some even think he can conduct. He keeps it high-profile, which others achieved, and it has one of the richest demographics in the US to draw upon for its donations. (Almost as good as that of Pacific Symphony, not long ago considered the richest orchestra in the US).

  • Glenn Winters says:

    I don’t live in Cleveland, but cherry-picking a photo of a house gone to seed and claiming it’s like that “all around” is not something I’d have done. I have been to Shaker Heights and recall it to be a very posh residential community.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I have been to Cleveland a number of times just to hear a CO concert. I usually stay downtown – near Progressive Field and walk to Severance – a good workout. It’s a great city. Excellent restaurants, friendly people. Lots to see and do. Cold in winter! I’ve never felt threatened or in danger – which I cannot say for other places. Yes, the city has its problems as does every city – including London, Berlin, Manchester, Liverpool, Moscow, Rome, Mexico City. One thing that Cleveland has that a lot of places don’t is an old, traditional American value called civic pride. Thanks to school programs, broadcasting and other means, people in and around Cleveland are proud of their world-class orchestra, even though they may not attend. People I’ve met in pubs, at a Browns game, at the Rock n Roll museum or just out walking all know of the fame of the orchestra.

    • V. Lind says:

      Cleveland is a great town. Not surprising that it has attracted great conductors over the years. It’s a liveable city with a very great deal to offer. Good luck to ’em.

  • John Gingrich says:

    The board chair is tireless and a committed amateur musician, whose contribution should be acknowledged. He represents the very best of what can be done when our creaky system works.

  • Dr. K. A. Lavdas says:

    A truly superb orchestra. In my view, only Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston are real competitors in the States. In terms of music making, technical brilliance and aesthetic standrads, not PR. In fact, during the Szell years many regarded Cleveland as the best orchestra in the US and one of the finest in the world. This tradition lives on.

  • According to the organization Seeds of Literacy, two thirds of the people in Cleveland are functionally illiterate (defined as being unable to read at a 4th grade level.) Details here:

    https://www.seedsofliteracy.org/facts-resources/facts/

  • 53% of the children in Cleveland live in poverty. The city is one of only two metropolitan areas with a population of at least 205,000 where more than half the children live in poverty, according to new U.S. Census data and the Center for Community Solutions. Cleveland ranks second in working-age adults living in poverty and third in older-adult poverty. Details here:

    https://patch.com/ohio/cleveland/more-half-cleveland-children-live-poverty-data

    Oh, and as noted so often above, there are some nice white neighborhoods and a fine orchestra……………….

  • DFD says:

    I’m a bit late to the comment party. However in all these comments no one mentions the wonderfulness of Severance Hall. It sounds amazing! It is by far the best sounding hall of any top orchestra! I’ve heard concerts in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Severance Hall tops all of them. Indeed the audience in Cleveland is young and eclectic. Perhaps music making that just sounds good is a draw for philanthropy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we prioritized building beautiful acoustical spaces and livable conditions for everyone. Yes, it is sad that all the major cities in the US and perhaps the world have terrible pockets of poverty.

    • NYMike says:

      Topping Boston’s Symphony Hall?? Really??

    • The View from America says:

      If you’re on the orchestra level seated about 15 rows from the stage, I agree — the sound is absolutely amazing.

      On the other hand, if you’re seated in many places in the balcony, the sound is leaden and muffled, almost as if you’re in another room. It’s like Baltimore’s Lyric Opera House on a bad day. Hugely disappointing.

      • DFD says:

        Thank you to The View from America and NY MIke. Yes, you can debate the absolute best concert hall, and yes Boston is very good. And Boston has lots of donors! I had the pleasure of hearing my first concert in Cleveland last year (in the center balcony), a Mahler performance that was sonically beautiful. I was impressed by the sound and the diversity/youth of the audience. It made me think that the better sounding concert halls seem to have better financial support. Sadly the NY Phil struggles financially and has a hall that is not sonically beautiful. Classical music at it’s foundation is a hearing art and I think not enough emphasis is placed on creating spaces that sound good.

  • Brian says:

    Ok boomer, your picture is from 2010, do you know how to reverse image search?

    I work right by Severance Hall actually. And I live downtown. My family is from Cleveland Heights. I cover a lot of ground. I promise you, none of these areas look like that. Do you want me to post some pictures of Boston’s or NYC’s bad areas? Would you do this for those cities and assert that the entire city looks like that? Have you ever even been to Cleveland?

    Tired of this bs from pretentious boomers like Norm. Cleveland is done putting up with your inanity.

    • Hmus says:

      I agree with your main point, BUT – you really must drop the ‘boomer’ bit. You undermine your case by making an irrelevant generation-wide insult, and it makes you sound like a Trump-level schoolyard bully. “Memes” are a subsitute for thought – don’t fall for it.

  • Landon says:

    Norman, this “article” is akin to taking a picture of a person’s you-know-what floating in their you-know-where and saying that it’s appearance and stench represents that person’s household. Is this really what you want to convey about Cleveland? I read your website quite often. I really enjoy your articles and your ability to instigate valuable discussion surrounding classical music. But this time, it’s gone too far.

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