By Kevin Kelley
The Cleveland Orchestra’s reputation as one of the five best symphonies in the country was established under George Szell. The Hungarian-born conductor, known for demanding perfection from his musicians, led the orchestra from 1946 until his death in 1970.
Richard Weiner was one of the musicians Szell hired in his 24 years as the orchestra’s music director. Weiner was only 23 at the time.
“That year he was on the cover of Time magazine,” Weiner said of Szell. “At first he was very intimidating, chiefly because of his stature and position as one of the most famous conductors in the world, and also because there was a two-year probationary period that I had to complete before I was a tenured member of the orchestra.”
Weiner will share stories of working under Szell, as well as others from his 48 years as a percussionist with the Cleveland Orchestra, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Westlake Porter Public Library, 27333 Center Ridge Road. The free program is sponsored by the Westlake-Westshore Arts Council.
Weiner said he’s asked more about Szell than any other aspect of his association with the orchestra. “This is especially the case in Cleveland, among concertgoers, and I think mainly because of his legendary status and reputation of being a stern taskmaster,” Weiner told West Life.
But there’s more to both the Cleveland Orchestra and Weiner than Szell. In Thursday’s talk, entitled “A View From the Stage of the Cleveland Orchestra,” Weiner plans to share memories from nearly a half century of rehearsals, concerts and tours with the acclaimed institution.
Marge Widmar, a Westlake-Westshore Arts Council board member, said Weiner is one of the most significant speakers the group has ever hosted.
“This is just so exciting for us to have him,” she said.
Widmar said Weiner promised to bring some of his “toys” to his talk.
“I usually bring along some small instruments to demonstrate,” Weiner explained, “and I discuss aspects of recording, touring, rehearsals and concerts that the audience may feel are interesting to know.”
Weiner received a bachelor’s degree in education from Temple University and a master’s degree in music from Indiana University. Since 1963, he has been on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music; he previously taught at Oberlin College. For four decades, he has been a member of the Indianapolis-based Percussive Arts Society, where he teaches clinics. In 1976, he received a law degree from Cleveland State University.