Tour The Cleveland Orchestra's Early Archives

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In the basement of Severance Hall, there are file cabinets full of programs, scrapbooks and audio recordings dating back to its inception.

On a recent afternoon, ideastream toured the collections with archivist Andria Hoy to see some of the early materials as the Cleveland Orchestra celebrates its centennial season.

A green scrapbook from 1918-1919 includes newspaper clippings surrounding its start, which paint a picture of excitement as Nikolai Sokoloff was hired to lead the city’s own orchestra.

The first concert was a benefit for St. Ann’s Parish in Cleveland Heights at Grays Armory in Cleveland.

Programs and advertisements from the first seasons often featured photos and illustrations of the conductor’s face.


Inside pages of the program for the first concert [The Cleveland Orchestra Archives]

“I think they probably didn’t know in the very beginning how to advertise,” Hoy said. “I think the conductors face was kind of a draw.”

A photo of the orchestra doesn’t crop up in the archives until its second season.


The first known photo of the Orchestra, taken at Grays Armory on November 13, 1919.  [Photo by Merrill David/The Cleveland Orchestra Archives]

The very first recording was of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” in 1924, and it was performed faster than usual.


Severance Hall cornerstone laying on May 2, 1930.  [Photographer unknown/ The Cleveland Orchestra Archives]

“It’s a shortened version, because they needed to fit the entire overture on just two sides of a 78 r.p.m. record, which is about 8 minutes,” she said.

From her time working in the archives, Hoy said the most surprising thing she discovered was that the educational mission of the orchestra was its first mission, as intended by founder Adella Prentiss Hughes.

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