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Cleveland Orchestra CEO Reflects on 100th Birthday, High-Profile Terminations

Photo: Roger Mastroianni / The Cleveland Orchestra

The Cleveland Orchestra steps onto the national stage in an episode of the PBS program, “ Great Performances,” Friday night.  The show focuses on the orchestra’s 100 th birthday last year, which was marked with both celebratory events and high-profile terminations.

Andre Gremillet, president and CEO of the orchestra, sat down at ideastream for an interview looking back at 2018. 

Attendance and subscription sales were up, and the orchestra cut its deficit from $4.2 million to $1.3 million. 

“Clearly ticket sales is always a big factor,” said Gremillet.  “Fundraising was up, and we really used the centennial as an opportunity to increase the exposure of the orchestra, especially as it relates to the impact in our community. But, there’s still a way to go. $1.3 million is still too much of a deficit. We have work to do.”

Last October, the Orchestra issued the results of an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against concertmaster William Preucil and principal trombonist Massimo La Rosa. They were both fired.

“What I am hoping is that, going forward, we have a culture where people feel comfortable talking about these things and coming forward,” Gremillet said.  “I think we’ve shown very clearly there would be no tolerance for this kind of behavior.  It was an incredibly difficult year.  I’m so proud of the orchestra, I mean, one coming to our concerts would have had no idea what they had to deal with.”

Gremillet said there will be auditions in the coming months for a new concertmaster.

Music Director Franz Welser-Most with President and CEO Andre Gremillet [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

During his tenure, Music director Franz Welser-Most has re-introduced opera as a regular part of the orchestra’s offerings.   Building sets, bringing in a cast of performers and other concerns make such productions expensive events.

“They aren’t cheap,” Gremillet said.  “But, they are very important, artistically speaking, in terms of the orchestra becoming even more flexible, and really playing repertoire that they would not otherwise play.”

Gremillet added that operas have proven to be a draw for out-of-town visitors.

“Last year with ‘Tristan and Isolde,’ we had people from all over the country, from New York to Pittsburgh to Detroit, even from Europe, coming specifically because of this opera,” he said.

From 2013 through 2016, the Orchestra held a series of neighborhood residencies, taking the musicians out of the confines of the concert hall and into local neighborhoods and playing for some audiences that had never stepped inside Severance.  Gremillet said such outreach will continue.

“We’re going back to all these neighborhoods with mini residencies and activities,” he said, adding that the plan is to do that by collaborating with area organizations to determine what local residents would like to see and hear.  “A lot of what we’re looking at is how we can increase the impact that we’ve had.”

In addition to visiting local neighborhoods, there is going to be a push to make the orchestra’s traditional home more inviting to visitors. 

“For many people, Severance Hall still remains a place that’s a little bit intimidating,” Gremillet said.  “When you don’t know the hall, this is not the most welcoming place from the outside. We really want to make Severance Hall more accessible.  How we accomplish that is really the tricky piece.”

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.