The cool culture and history in Cleveland

I was shocked to learn there are so many, many museums in Cleveland! So many, as a matter of fact, that I barely touched the tip of the iceberg. Several ethnic groups have their own museums, such as Ukrainian and Hungarian. There’s even a museum of witchcraft. I crammed four extraordinary cultural places into two days and had a blast.

The Maltz Museum in Beechwood is Cleveland’s museum of the history of Jews in Cleveland. Their outside masonry is made from Jerusalem stone, the same as at Western Wall.

They also have temporary exhibits that include other marginalized communities, dealing with still-timely issues, such as voting. I learned that the first Jews in Cleveland came in the 1830s from Bavaria. The community was tightly-knit, industrious and prospered. Though there were occasional internecine conflicts with later immigrants from Eastern Europe, the lot contributed to civic life, were veterans, adopted social and cultural institutions.

I adored the display of boxes and containers with “labels” made from photos of the city’s Jewish storefronts.

I was surprised to learn that the musical theater genius, Joel Grey, was raised in Cleveland! I knew his dad was Yiddish theater empresario Mickey Katz — my late friend, Stuart J. Snyder, loved him.

What can I say? The Western Reserve Historical Society is just plain cool. Their fabulous costume collection comes from people who lived in Cleveland. Rooms are set up just like leading citizens had them. Period music plays at each spot, connecting the sense of place with the sense of time.

The local artists’ exhibits are as diverse as the city itself. The Rev. Albert Wagner was an African American who migrated north from Arkansas and lived life to the hilt. His paintings reflected this and his personal displays were eclectic, busy, shocking, appealing.

We always hear about Ohio during election season and their voting exhibit reflects decades of importance.

There are beautiful vintage cars and a working vintage carousel. Anybody can ride it! I rode it – twice!

The Cleveland Museum of Art is a substantial and substantive place of cultural importance. Really, you could spend days wandering among the collections. A special Impressionist through Modern exhibit was bequeathed by one couple.

There are individual exhibits showing the art of several Asian countries, Africa, Great Britain. There’s photography, illustrations from the Middle Ages. You could see the spark this museum lights in the city: so many people used the stools supplied by the museum to sit and sketch the masterpieces for hours. People from all walks of life, of all ages, enjoy its beauty: all but the temporary special exhibits are absolutely free.

If you’ve never been to an art museum gift shop, start here! There’s something amazing for everyone at all price points.

There are not very many people who can have regular access to the best of the best in life — I don’t care who you are. But I learned as a violinist in Chicago that their orchestra always ran neck-and-neck with Cleveland Symphony as one of the best in the world. In its formative years, it was staffed by the finest German and Eastern European musicians. They’ve been conducted by many of the finest, most exacting and musically illustrious conductors ever born: Nikolai Soko­loff, 1918-33; Artur Rodzinski, 1933-43; Erich Leins­dorf, 1943-46; George Szell, 1946-70; Lorin Maazel, 1972-82; Christoph von Dohnányi, 1984-2002; and Franz Wel­ser-Möst, since 2002.

The orchestra’s main season is at Severance Hall, probably on the top 5 list of glamorous concert venues in the world — it’s like a giant Art Deco-Egyptian revival mansion! Under George Szell, he removed and had re-crafted an acoustic shell that redirects how sound is received. It results in a very distinctive sound and the cognoscenti talk about “Szell’s Shell”.

I attended Maestro Welser-Möst conducting Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. It was simply majestic. The clean, crisp and exciting performance was well appreciated by the whole audience. I was talking to some audience members and listening to chatter: many people were retired professional musicians, some with quite the pedigree. The entire audience leapt to its feet at the end, for a lengthy standing ovation with many bows. I highly recommend treating yourself to an unforgettable performance!

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