This past Saturday night, our family got the opportunity to check out The Cleveland Orchestra as they opened their latest summer season at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls. This year marks the 50th year of Blossom Music Center being open. Coincidentally, it is also the 50th Anniversary of The Cleveland Orchestra making Blossom its summer home. 2018 is also the 100th anniversary of The Cleveland Orchestra. That’s a lot of anniversaries! I knew that our city’s orchestra was supposed to be pretty good, but I didn’t realize just how revered they were around the world. The NY Times claims The Cleveland Orchestra may be the Best Orchestra in America. That’s high praise considering the reputation Cleveland has earned over the years to outsiders.
My wife, Barb, and I weren’t exactly sure how our kids would react when we told them we were all going to a concert and then finding out it was an orchestra concert. Our oldest daughter plays violin in her high school’s orchestra and our oldest son plays percussion in his middle school band, but I couldn’t picture any of our four kids sitting still for an entire evening of classical music.
If you’ve never been to Blossom Music Center for an Orchestra Concert, it’s quite different than attending the latest pop, rock, and country artists at the same venue. It’s not as loud, not as packed, and the venue is much more lenient on what you can bring into Blossom. The venue offers pavilion seating as well as lawn tickets, which we prefer.. Blossom allows chairs (they recommend shorter beach style chairs to not block other people’s view) and also rents them. You can bring in food and drinks. Blossom also has concession stands if you don’t want to pack food. We saw tons of people with coolers, wagons, blankets, pillows, and basically anything else you could imagine. I was especially impressed with the handful of couples around us who came with their own wine glass holder sticks they planted into the ground. I consider them the Orchestra Jedis of the audience, with wisdom pouring from their creative lawn chair setups. We packed up our two backpack coolers, picnic, blankets, and two beach chairs. It would have been better for all six of us to have chairs, but oh well. Sorry (not sorry), kids! The old people get the chairs.
Blossom opens its gates 2 ½ hours prior to Orchestra Concert start times. We thought that would be way too early, so we showed up an hour before the start time. At that point, half of the lawn was filled, but we were able to get a good spot. We opted to stay off to the side of the giant hill and more toward the top so we would have easier access leaving and be closer to the bathrooms. I imagine sitting closer to the pavilion would help you hear the Orchestra better, but it’s also much harder to get up and get out if needed.
The concert we attended was titled “Opening Night: Pictures at an Exhibition.” The concert featured Beethoven’s Triple Concerto and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Having not listened to much classical music ever, I had no idea what to expect. Part of me was hoping we would be surprised and find that parts of the songs were used in classic Looney Tunes cartoons so they were recognizable. They were not. You win some, you lose some. It’s ok, though, because once the orchestra started to play, you quickly realize the vast difference between their sound and the sound made by your children’s school bands (which are still great if they are reading this). The precision and passion with which every musician played was remarkable. You could tell they had dedicated most of their lives to their craft. Simply put, the music was beautiful.
The biggest surprise of the evening was watching our kids react to the concert. All four of them listened intently for the majority of the time. The intermission helped. So did the bags of gummy bears I snuck in our cooler. Well played, dad. Our youngest son (10), started to get antsy at times, but he was still respectful to the orchestra and those around us listening. Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Blossom are very family friendly. We saw many families in attendance, with children ranging from infants to college age. One group of families sitting close to us had several small children that had a harder time sitting and listening than our kids, which comes with the age. One nice thing about Blossom is that they have paths around the facility that are perfect for walking children struggling to sit still. One portion of the hill seating off to the side wasn’t being used by the crowd. The perfect spot for kids to run around and let out their energy, mostly in the form of rolling down the hill until too dizzy to stand. It didn’t seem distracting to anyone, but I imagine if more kids filled the area, it would become an issue. Regardless, if you have younger kids and are worried about how they will handle attending an orchestra concert, I think you will be pleasantly surprised in the end. One other thing Blossom provided were activity program books for kids. I don’t know if that is standard for all Orchestra concerts, but I’m guessing it is based on everything else we saw. In talking to our four kids afterward, they all enjoyed the music and found Blossom to be a fun place to watch a concert. Our violin-playing 15-year-old said she loved hearing professional musicians play live, especially playing unfamiliar music. It gave her a greater appreciation for the orchestra.
Immediately after the concert, there was an incredible fireworks show. Having just seen a fireworks show a few days before on Independence Day and being tired from the day, we opted to try and beat the crowd out of Blossom. We quickly realized that Blossom puts on a great fireworks show, too. We stopped several times along our walk to the parking lot to watch. We stopped after exiting Blossom. We stopped in the middle of the parking lot. We stopped at our car before leaving. We should have just stayed (obviously). It’s that good. Do yourself a favor and learn from our mistake.
Perhaps the best family perk, made possible by an extremely generous endowment gift by the Maltz Family Foundation, is the “Under 18s Free” ticket program. According to the Orchestra’s website, “At Blossom, this program offers free ‘Under 18s Free’ Lawn Tickets (two per regular-priced adult paid admission) to young people to any Blossom Music Festival concert each summer. (Please note that free tickets are not available with discounted adult tickets.)” How awesome is that?! I love the investment into developing young fans of orchestra music. It’s also an investment into Northeast Ohio families, providing an inexpensive option to help parents share new experiences with their kids instead of leaving them with a sitter for the night. Many of the concerts on the summer schedule have an earlier 7 p.m. start time, which would be perfect for families with younger children.
The Cleveland Orchestra’s Summer Concert Series at Blossom runs now through Labor Day Weekend. I already have tickets for our family for that weekend because they will be showing “Star Wars: A New Hope” with John Williams’ score being played live by The Cleveland Orchestra. It does not get better than that! Check out the online guide to Blossom to get all the information you need to know before attending a concert this summer. A Cleveland Orchestra concert is a one of a kind experience your family will love. Take advantage of a great musical opportunity this summer and order your tickets today!