Blossom is the Cleveland Orchestra’s equivalent to the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood: the weekend venue during the summer, when the Orchestra plays in an open-air pavilion and the audience sprawls out on the surrounding lawn with their picnics. I don’t think New York City actually has an equivalent: the Philharmonic’s parks concerts aren’t as frequent or regular, and Blossom isn’t free. The ticket costs for Blossom and the minor hassle of getting there (a little under an hour from Cleveland; closer to Akron, actually) probably keeps the crowd there smaller and more interested in the music. The frequency of performances — every weekend for the summer — also allows greater quirkiness in the selection of music: you don’t need crowd-pleasers each and every show, though the Cleveland Orchestra has that, too.

We went the past couple of weekend. A few months ago, we bought a ten-pack of tickets for $120, compared to the regular lawn ticket price of $18. The ten-pack also includes four upgrades to assigned seating in the covered pavilion, so it’s a good deal. Having already paid for tickets also makes it more likely that we’d actually go to Blossom, rather than just talk about going, so we’re forced to see a little bit of the cultural scene around Cleveland.

As said, it’s a bit under an hour’s drive from downtown Cleveland to Blossom. Taking I-77 south to exit 143 is faster, cheaper and more pictureque than taking I-80. The road winds past cornfields and forests once you get off the Interstate, and the turns are well marked. There are a few farm stands on the way, and the route intersects biking and hiking trails, I guess along the towpath of the old canal system in the area. We took the I-80 route on the way back, because these roads are straight and well lit; we didn’t want to navigate the curving roads in the dark, even though there’d be a lot of other people going the same way.

Try to arrive an hour earlier, or you’ll be stuck in the unpaved parking lots a long walk away from the venue. That, and the lawn will be crowded and you’ll be forced off to the side. Almost everyone brings a picnic. We came with fruit salads and cheese in this cooler we’ve had for years but never really used until now. Folding chairs are good, but the ushers will enforce a height restriction on the chairs if you sit towards the front; I picked up a couple of short-legged chairs that also doubled as backpacks from Wal-Mart during the week (the pouch is big enough for sweatshirts and beachblankets, but not enough for our cooler). If you have assigned seating, you can’t take most of your picnic gear with you. Everyone leaves neat little piles of folding chairs, coolers and blankets on the other side of the low wall on the edge of the pavilion when they take their seats, so this apparently isn’t a problem. Besides the usual concession stands, Blossom also has a regular restaurant, but we haven’t tried it.

Here’s a panorama (made using Autostitch from a set of handheld shots off the 50 f/1.8D) of the scene at Blossom, just before the music begins:

Blossom Panorama

We used our first pair of upgrades last week for pieces I hadn’t heard of. The Clarinet Concerto was relatively new, written in 2002 or somesuch by a Serbian composer residing in the Cleveland area. The middle movement is actually amazing. The main piece, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, didn’t interest me as much, but then I’m a philistine: I was finishing up Harry Potter during the piece.

Last night’s concert was sort of space themed. The Orchestra did Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, perhaps best known as the theme from 2001, followed by Holst’s The Planets, with accompanying NASA space imagery displayed on giant screens: computer animation generated by forty years of unmanned discovery. Between each movement, a commentator would introduce each planet, though he seemed to attribute a certain prescience to Holst that really wasn’t there; the piece was written in 1914 and the composer’s themes and qualities for the planets derive more from mythological and astrological roots than from any contemporary scientific knowledge: Mars is the bringer of war because that’s what Mars/Ares does, after all. But this concert was, nonetheless, fortuitously scheduled: not only is the shuttle flying again (though perhaps only for this one mission), but another planet was discovered that day. I hadn’t heard The Planets in a while — where is the CD? — and it was good to hear it live.

Here are the photos from both concerts:

Blossom Cleveland Orchestra

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