André Gremillet discusses extending Franz Welser-Möst’s contract with the Orchestra — and how this continuing partnership is impacting Northeast Ohio
Q: In September, The Cleveland Orchestra announced a new five-year contract extension with Franz Welser-Möst. Why does this excite you?
André: I couldn’t be happier about this news. Franz has made a real difference here, helping to shape and refine this orchestra’s famous sound into something even better. The Cleveland Orchestra has never played better, and there’s more to do. Our discussions about his contract were never about whether to continue, but when and for how long. Franz’s partnership with this orchestra is an incredible thing. I’ve been here less than four years, but I’ve admired The Cleveland Orchestra from afar all my life. It’s been a great orchestra for many decades. But Franz Welser-Möst has helped it grow even more than I had imagined. People in the orchestra business are surprised every time we go on tour at just how good this orchestra is, how much warmer and flexible the playing is. People around the world are looking at us with renewed interest. Perhaps they pigeonholed us twenty years ago as very good, yet now there is even more here. This orchestra has gained agility and understanding, and are even more collaborative in their music-making. Yes, George Szell put this orchestra on the world map, and gave it that first sheen of chamber music quality — but it was always with direction from the podium. Fundamentally, Franz does things differently, in a very modern way. He’s about cooperation and collaboration, and true chamber music, where every musician is listening to one another and playing and breathing together. Of equal importance, for Franz, it’s not just about the performances, it’s also very much about what a great orchestra can do in this community, to promote music education and inspire new generations.
Q: Please talk about some of the changes taking place with the Orchestra’s education and community programs?
André: From the very start, Franz has been involved in The Cleveland Orchestra’s education programs and community engagement activities. He’s a determined advocate for the power of music to enable and change the lives of every child. Music helps in learning and understanding, in schools and neighborhoods. And helping everyone — the underserved and engaged alike — participate. This power of music is what Franz has always been about. Whether he’s collaborating and conducting a special school concert centered around the ideas of heroism in the way he rethought Beethoven’s symphonies with the Prometheus Project two years ago. Or the new “Crescendo” program we’ve launched to teach instrumental music lessons in Cleveland schools. For Franz and all of us at The Cleveland Orchestra, hands-on music-making is one of the greatest tools not only for learning new skills, but for developing self-discipline and self-confidence, for collaborating with the musicians around you and learning to be an ensemble and perform together as a team.
Q: Many Cleveland-area adults remember attending a Cleveland Orchestra Education Concert at Severance Hall as a student. Please talk about the exciting news about these ongoing concerts that was also announced in September.
André: Across more than a century now, The Cleveland Orchestra has introduced over 4 million students to classical music. And each year we devote several weeks of the Orchestra’s performances to Education Concerts, with busloads of children coming to Severance Hall and witnessing a live symphony orchestra for the first time in their lives. Franz’s leadership and vision has only strengthened our commitment to these efforts and, now, thanks to a tremendously generous gift to the Orchestra from Mrs. Jane Nord, tickets to these concerts will be free to all schools and students in the area. Thank you, Jane, for making our dream of universal access for young people, especially the most disadvantaged, a reality. This will be transformational, as we continue to work toward breaking down barriers that stand in the way of people from experiencing The Cleveland Orchestra. We are continuing to evolve and grow our education programs and community engagement activities. We want to do more, and we intend to make an even larger difference and to literally touch the lives of every child in Northeast Ohio.
Q: Please talk more about some of the new ideas and plans being worked on for the years ahead.
André: This truly is an exciting time to be at The Cleveland Orchestra and to live in Northeast Ohio. Of course, there are challenges. But without effort and vision nothing great ever happens.
And so many things will be happening. This next year we are launching the Orchestra’s own recording label — to showcase the partnership between Franz Welser-Möst and The Cleveland Orchestra, to add new and amazing performances to this ensemble’s storied recording history. Some of these, I believe, will be eye-opening — and very much ear-opening — for music-lovers around the world.
We continue to pursue collaborations with other arts organizations here in Greater Cleveland — for tourism, and to enhance the opera festival we do each season, so that we can bring even more breadth and depth to the public discussions around important works of art.
We have new touring plans that will be announced in the coming months, which relate directly to tourism in Northeast Ohio and to the Economic Impact Study we just released — about how important The Cleveland Orchestra is to this community, not just for what we do artistically, but, like our sports teams and museums and colleges and universities, all of these are important to the quality of life and work throughout greater Cleveland.