It's a sequence of events that shouldn't go unnoticed: East Cleveland's Shaw High School Marching Band is just back from a pre-Olympic trip to China, during which they took their mega-dose of East Cleveland style over to where all the plastic widgets are made. And slightly less remarkably, the Cleveland Orchestra is about to conclude its time in Salzburg, and on Saturday will give its first performances this tour in Lucerne. Both of those bands have without a doubt been among the city's most prominent ambassadors to the rest of the world this year. What the world thinks of Cleveland has a lot to do with our music. And we get to hear it week after week.
If people in Austria, Switzerland and China, intrigued by our musical ambassadors, were to come this fall and see what else the city has to offer, they'd learn that Cleveland, to borrow a sports metaphor, has a deep bench. Consider, for example, the sheer volume of activity at our conservatories.
The Cleveland Institute of Music gets things underway September 5-7 with Guitar Weekend, in cooperation with the fine classical guitar dealer Guitars International. It's three days of concerts, recitals and master classes, headlined by the acclaimed player of early guitar-like instruments, lutenist Paul O'Dette, who performs a collection of 17th-century Italian songs by Barbara Strozzi with the soprano Ellen Hargis (4 p.m. Saturday, September 6, Harkness Chapel, tickets $20-$25). Also not to be missed are guitar recitals by Colin Davin (8 p.m. Friday, Mixon Hall, tickets $15-$18), Ricardo Gallen (8 p.m. Saturday, Mixon Hall, tickets $20-$25) and CIM guitar department chair Jason Vieaux (4 p.m. Sunday, Mixon Hall, free).
CIM's schedule is packed with other concerts and faculty recitals, but one promises a dose of humor along with the impassioned noise: CIM Music Literature department head Eric Charnofsky serves as "presenter, pianoist, harpsichorder and banned instrumentalist" for PDQ Revisited: Music of PDQ Bach (1807-1742?) (4 p.m. Sunday, November 2, Mixon Hall, free, seating passes required). PDQ Bach is, of course, composer, educator and goofball Peter Schickele, and the works on the program - including "Erotica" Variations for Banned Instruments and Piano, S. 36EE and Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice (an opera in one unnatural act), S.2n-1 - are all his. CIM Opera Theater's fall production, Hector Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict (8 p.m. November 12-16, Kulas Hall, tickets $10-$15) brings to life the composer's final piece of music, a comedy inspired by Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. In this production, Artistic Director Bamberger keeps the singing in French, with translation projected on a screen above the stage and spoken dialogue in English, so it's both easy to follow and keeps the original language rhythm in the music.
Meanwhile, the Oberlin College Conservatory makes it worth your trip west with its usual slate of student and faculty recitals, augmented by the perennially top-notch Artists Recital Series, which opens this year with Franz Welser-Mšst conducting the Cleveland Orchestra with pianist Emanuel Ax performing Karol Szymanowski's Fourth Symphony, which but for its name could easily be mistaken for a piano concerto (3 p.m. Sunday, October 5, Finney Chapel, tickets $10-$26). They'll have played the same program twice by the time they get to Finney Chapel, but this is a great opportunity to hear the orchestra's sound in a room very different from its University Circle home.
The most attention-getting name on the Artist Recital roster this year is undoubtedly Midori, who began her international career with the violin when her age was barely measured in double digits. Now in her mid-30s, she plays a program of Schumann, Beethoven, Cage and Enescu, accompanied by pianist Robert McDonald (8 p.m. October 29, tickets $8-$24). But the most original music in the series is likely to come from Eighth Blackbird (8 p.m. November 11, tickets $8-$20), a Grammy-winning sextet that grew out of Oberlin's Contemporary Music Ensemble about a decade ago and has since built a career on its unusual instrumentation (sometimes involving things like automotive brake drums) and a growing collection of commissioned new works. The program has world-premiere performances of music by Fred Rzewski and Steve Reich.
Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory's faculty and staff recitals and its Bach festival heat up in the spring, but as the still new-ish partner of the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the school hosts an autumnal highlight when Steven Smith conducts the orchestra - one of the few in the country dedicated exclusively to new music - in a program of works by Augusta Read Thomas, Larry Baker, Karel Husa and Donald Erb (October 5, time TBA, in Gamble Auditorium, free).
The Cleveland Orchestra opens its season doing what it does best: pairing a big, fat Romantic symphony - in this case Bruckner No. 7 - with a concerto featuring a world-renowned soloist - in this case pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who will perform the U.S. premiere of British child piano prodigy and composer George Benjamin's Duet for piano and orchestra (8 p.m. September 25-27, Severance Hall, $31-$87). Bruckner is back on the program when Herbert Blomstedt leads the orchestra in his mammoth Symphony No. 8, which, clocking in at about 80 minutes, is the only work on that week's program (8 p.m., November 20-22, Severance Hall, tickets $31-$87). If large-scale symphonies aren't your thing, the orchestra goes for Baroque with a program of favorites and only slightly less-known favorites, including J.C. Bach's Sinfonia concertante in C major, Rameau's Suite from Na•s, J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and, finally, Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. Orchestra principals serve as soloists (8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday, October 23-26, Severance Hall, tickets $25-$87).
Baroque music might be the last thing about which a person would use the phrase "pushing boundaries," but Jeannette Sorrell has kept her Baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire interesting by doing just that - especially as cultures rub against each other across time, strata of society and, in this case, across geographic boundaries. The program Pluckfest II: Old World Meets New explores the musical friction of Spain and Italy rubbing shoulders with the New World as Mediterranean composers took the dance music of South America, Africa and the Canary Islands and plied it with harps, Spanish guitar and voices (November 12-16 at various locations and times, single tickets on sale October 1). The final performance of the series ought to be quite a party, as it's to be held at the church-turned-gallery Josaphat Arts Hall and will be followed by a sangria-and-tapas reception.
Now in its fifth season of bringing free orchestral performances to neighborhoods all around the region, CityMusic Cleveland starts the year with a guest at the podium, Bulgarian conductor Danail Rachev, who, incidentally, begins as assistant conductor of the mighty Philadelphia Orchestra this season. He's leading CityMusic in works by Richard Strauss, Franz Joseph Haydn and Johannes Brahms (various times and locations, September 23-28, free).
Independent chamber music series continue to thrive on both sides of town, with the West Side's Rocky River Chamber Music Society offering free concerts starting at 8 p.m. October 6 with the String Trio of New York. Not to be missed is saxophonist composer Greg Banaszak's Romances for Sax and Two String Quartets (8 p.m. November 17, West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, free).
Meanwhile, on the East Side, the Cleveland Chamber Music Society gets busy with Beethoven as the Guarneri String Quartet performs some of his most monumental and influential works -- late string quartets including No. 12, Opus 127, and No. 15, Opus 132 (8 p.m. October 7 at Fairmount Temple, tickets $5-$30).
The Cleveland Museum of Art's Viva! and Gala Around Town series continues to bring an eclectic collection of music from around the world, from Western classical to ethnic traditional. The season opens with a performance by Cape Verdean singer Lura, who sings in the islands' Afro Latin style, mixing in French Afro-pop, rhythms of Brazil and traditional African music (7:30 p.m. October 18, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, tickets $32-$34). Her mix of cultures and harmonic sense sounds a little like Zap Mama unplugged - and a little more sultry.
Viva! and Gala celebrates the 100th birthday of Olivier Messiaen with a series of performances in December and January, including the screening of a film. Pianist Christopher Taylor opens the festivities with an epic solo performance of the 1944 piece "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus," which translates to the very Wallace Stevens-like phrase, "Twenty Ways of Looking at the Infant Jesus" (7:30 p.m. December 10, Old Stone Church, tickets $27-$29). It's more than two hours long and in that time explores religious feelings from the contemplative to the ecstatic. Also not to be missed is a film portrait of the composer, Olivier Messiaen: The Crystal Liturgy (1:30 p.m. December 7, Cleveland Museum of Art, tickets $4-$8).
Opera Cleveland, once again settling in with new leadership, presents two favorites this fall: Mozart's beloved romantic comedy Le Nozze di Figaro comes first (various times, September 26-October 4, State Theatre, Playhouse Square, tickets $25-$130), followed by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck's 1891 opera based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale H...nsel and Gretel (various times, October 31-November 8, State Theatre, Playhouse Square, tickets $25-$130).
Finally, don't forget the Shaw High School Marching Band. They can be heard at halftime every week of the football season. For dates and locations, call Shaw High School at 216.268.6500. /