By Kevin Kelley
Legendary Cleveland Orchestra conductor George Szell’s office overlooked a parking lot at Severance Hall. He often watched as musicians went home from rehearsals to see if they were taking their instruments home with them for additional hours of practice. What Szell didn’t know is that many of them knew he was watching and took home empty instrument cases just to impress him.
That was one of the many stories Richard Weiner, a Cleveland Orchestra member for 48 years, told Thursday night at Westlake Porter Public Library. The retired primary percussionist’s entertaining talk was sponsored by the Westlake-Westshore Arts Council.
A native of Philadelphia, Weiner said he wanted to play the trombone but settled on the drum because his father had been a drummer. He attended Temple University on a $400 scholarship, which covered half of his annual tuition.
An instructor at Indiana University, where Weiner received a master’s degree, recommended him to Szell. The Hungarian-born conductor, known for his high standards, didn’t speak to him directly during his audition, Weiner recounted.
Szell, who led the orchestra from 1947 until his death in 1970, became nervous before taking the musicians on tour to New York City and insisted that members practice extra hard before playing Carnegie Hall, Weiner said.
But Szell wasn’t the orchestra’s only demanding music director. Lorin Maazel, who conducted from 1972 to 1982, once made the musicians repeat a work during the encore of a concert because he believed the first performance was poor, Weiner said.
Asked about efforts to market the orchestra to younger people, Weiner recalled that Severance Hall audiences had gray hair, both when he began in 1963 and when he retired two years ago.
“I think people move into liking classical music,” Weiner said.