The Cleveland Foundation Presents CREATIVE FUSION: Forward-thinking, Globally-minded

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s Performing Arts series is robust and wide-ranging, spanning classical and contemporary music, global music traditions, dance and film. The series is recognized internationally, and stands out in the Northeast Ohio region for its vitality and the excitement it brings to a crowded musical landscape. Renowned composer-performers and ensembles, composer residencies, sound installations, summer festivals, music for film, chamber music in the galleries, and more comprise the annual calendar. The museum regularly presents internationally renowned musical artists from a boundless variety of traditions, at the height of their powers and presenting major work. These performances complement special exhibitions, illuminate the permanent collection, and take unique advantage of the museum’s performance spaces and architecture—often arranged in collaboration or interdisciplinary fashion with fellow curators.

Music at the Cleveland Museum of Art has a history nearly as long as the institution itself. In 1918, only two years after the museum’s dedication, the board of trustees decided to include music programs among museum activities, likely the first inclusion of a performance department equal in status to the visual arts departments in any of America’s great museums. The first major concert of note in the museum was an early 1918 performance by the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Josef Stránský. Soon after, Frederic Allen Whiting sought to expand the museum’s commitment to music, and the department has been foundational to the museum’s mission ever since.

An astonishing number of extraordinary artists have graced the stage of the museum, including Maurice Ravel, Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland, Thomas Wilfred, Nadia Boulanger, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Olivier Messiaen with Yvonne Loriod, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, Bright Sheng, Amy Beach, Henry Cowell, John Tavener and many other major composers. Among the more than 5,000 concerts organized over the course of the museum’s first century, a very brief list of notable performers includes: Jascha Heifetz, Wanda Landowska, Virgil Fox, Lotte Lehmann, José Iturbi, E. Power Biggs, and the Juilliard String Quartet dating to the early years; the José Limón Dance Company, Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky, Emerson String Quartet, William Christie, Kronos Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, and a 14-year-old Joshua Bell in more recent times. In the last decade alone, the museum has presented John Luther Adams, Frederic Rzewski, John Zorn, Vijay Iyer, Maja S.K. Ratkje, Camille Norment, Chen Yi, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Sō Percussion, Alarm Will Sound, Ensemble Signal, The Calder Quartet, JACK Quartet, and, in first-ever appearances in the museum, the Cleveland Orchestra.

Less well known within this legacy is the museum’s commitment to non-western cultures. Since the 1930s, the museum has presented Cleveland audiences with what is, for many, their first experience in these ancient traditions. The museum witnessed the first American performances of Uday Shankar’s Indian dance company (which, incidentally, included his youngest brother, then 13-year-old Ravi Shankar), and Devi Dja, considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on Indonesian dance. Indian sitar master Nikhil Banerjee performed in the museum on his first US tour in 1967, and several major artists from Asia were presented in the museum in the 1970s, including Katsuya Yokoyama (Japan), Lu-Sheng Ensemble (China), and the Sabri Brothers (Pakistan). In recent years this commitment to non-western musical traditions has only grown, spotlighting such artists as Wu Man, Nrityagram Dance, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, Amadou & Mariam, Fanfare Ciocârlia, Conjunto Chappottín, Noura Mint Seymali, Tarek Abdallah & Adel Shams El-Din, Totó la Momposina, Ji Aeri, Zakir Hussain, Nurlanbek Nyshanov, Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ, Ragamala Dance Company, Alam Khan, and many others, together representing no fewer than 100 countries.

The Performing Arts department has regularly expanded its offerings to keep up with developments in the field and reach the widest possible audience. Sound installations by John Luther Adams, Ellen Fullman, and Jeremy Bible; serious examination of the historical avant-garde including Albert Ayler and John Cage; unclassifiable artists such as Fred Frith, Camille Norment, and Miya Masaoka; film-and-music programs by Marc Ribot, Jim Jarmusch, and Third Coast Percussion; popular summer concert series including Solstice and City Stages; all fit comfortably within the museum’s activities and its century-long commitment to remain current with its various audiences.

This cornucopia of musical activity is tailored to take best advantage of the various venues the museum now has at its disposal: from Gartner Auditorium (acoustically superb since its renovation completed in 2010) to the galleries, from the Atrium to the Transformer Station, and elsewhere. In addition, the museum maintains a collection of keyboard instruments—pianos, harpsichords, organs, and more. Altogether, performance experiences are curated and produced in singular fashion, distinct from any other museum in North America, and indeed otherwise unavailable to audiences of the Cleveland region.

The commitment to performing arts continues to expand, notably this year with the announcement of a major commissioning series for six composers to create new works that spring from inspirations found in the collection. With support of the Cleveland Foundation through its Creative Fusion program, the addition of this commissioning series brings the museum into the top tier of forward-thinking, globally-minded, and influential arts institutions working in the performing arts. The Department of Performing Arts endeavors to mirror the collection itself, in its breadth and range, honoring the past while looking to the future. Audiences have a unique opportunity to experience the museum and the world through its performance series in a way that distinguishes this institution and elevates the region.

This standard was set in the earliest days of the museum, when curator of music Douglas Moore wrote in Fine Arts Review in 1922, “Is there not a real service that a museum may render to the community by offering a musical standard as well as a pictorial one?” An esteemed, century-long commitment to the endlessly beautiful variety of musical traditions in this unique curatorial role has given rise to a performing arts series notable for its international reach, critical acclaim, and adventurous spirit.