On a Personal Note

The Sound of Crisis

Episode Summary

Music Director Franz Welser-Möst recalls his conflicting emotions conducting The Cleveland Orchestra one last time before the Coronavirus pandemic silenced Severance Hall.

Episode Notes

Music Director Franz Welser-Möst recalls his conflicting emotions conducting The Cleveland Orchestra one last time before the Coronavirus pandemic silenced Severance Hall.

Featured Music:

SCHUBERT - Symphony in C major (“The Great”)
2. Andante con moto

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Episode Transcription


Welcome to The Cleveland Orchestra's On a Personal Note, where every story has a soundtrack. In difficult situations or moments of sheer joy, music connects us with our humanity.

Franz Welser-Möst: 

I'm Franz Welser-Möst, and I'm Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra. And on Friday, March 13, 2020, I conducted a very special concert: Schubert's Great C major Symphony was the last performance in Severance Hall for a very long time.

What is interesting, looking back, I've conducted that piece many, many times and this time, I put sort of an extra effort into it and I didn't know why, really. In the two weeks leading up to that last concert, André Gremillet, the President and CEO of The Cleveland Orchestra, and I, we talk basically every day about what's to come. Of course, everybody followed the news. And then when the governor of Ohio announced that no more then 100 people [can be] in a room, it dawned on every one of us that this is really serious. And then on Thursday morning, before the dress rehearsal on March 12, André addressed the orchestra telling them that Friday morning we will go ahead and perform, and then we would close down Severance Hall for the time being.

We all dressed up in our usual Friday morning suit, and walking onto stage everyone was calm but extremely, extremely focused. I think you could actually really feel it, grasp it with your hands the atmosphere in the room. With almost nobody in the audience, we on stage in concert dress being aware that this is the last time we make music together in a very long time. And I remember during the performance, I know exactly where it was, it was during the second movement. I thought all of a sudden, this might be the last time I ever conduct this orchestra again. So you're in a situation you have never been in before, and what was so amazing was this was as close to perfection [as] possible [of a] performance of The Cleveland Orchestra I've ever heard. In a situation which all of us we have never experienced, you feel you want to hang on to something you love and yet, there's the heaviness, the heavy weight of this farewell and we just wanted to make sure–and André and management, we talked about this–let's still record this moment because it's unique.

Something like that hopefully never will come back and it reminded me of some of these recordings you can find, live recordings, like from 1944 at the end of World War II. The world literally sort of almost came to an end. I felt the musicians [played] in a different way. We were flying together, musically. Because when you're in a situation where tomorrow is left to total uncertainty, what do you do? It might be the last time in your life. So, you better give it your best shot. And that's what everyone on that stage did.

In that Schubert's Great C major symphony, there is so much which I think was perfect for that moment and what I tried to convey to them was that Schubert's music always, it's a small world, but that it's an incredibly rich world and look where we are right now. Like in my case, I'm in my beautiful home in Austria. I have no personal contact other than my wife. So I'm sitting into small world. But yet it's incredibly rich. And yet, there's in Schubert always this underlying melancholy and there's always this feeling of farewell. So playing for this kind of music in an almost empty hall was really fitting and yet it was for all of us, I think, a very emotional moment because the musicians of this orchestra, they look at what they do as a calling rather than a job. And so in that moment, they were called.

I've conducted thousands of performances in my life already. But this one I will carry with me to my last day. In this dire, dark times we live in because of this virus, I feel really fortunate that I've been part of that very, very special performance.

Of course, when you're in a situation like that, you think, are we ever going to meet again in Severance Hall, or have we to be apart forever? I don't think so. I'm optimistic. I believe that in maybe a couple of months that we will have another very emotional moment when we actually see each other in Severance Hall, and I'm convinced that we will.


That was Franz Welser-Möst speaking about Schubert's 9th Symphony, "The Great," an emotional situation, an unforgettable performance. You can hear the actual recording of the Second Movement from that day coming up next. And if you're enjoying what we're doing with On a Personal Note, please subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts, and consider giving us a rating and review – it really helps other people find us. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and clevelandorchestra.com/podcast.