Lakewood High School Chamber Orchestra makes Severance Hall debut Dec. 14

By John Benson, special to
LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Have you heard the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.”

Well, in Northeast Ohio, music teachers for nearly a century have been telling the same joke, only referencing Severance Hall instead of the famed New York City venue.

That said, the Lakewood High School Chamber Orchestra is about to make its Severance Hall debut with a free Dec. 14 “Beethoven Project” performance alongside the Cavani String Quartet.

“We have never done anything before like this,” Lakewood High School Orchestra Director Elizabeth A. Hankins said. “We’re working with the Cavani String Quartet, which developed the Beethoven project. It’s a celebration of Beethoven’s birthday.

“They’ve played every (Beethoven) string quartet this fall in different locations. The final culmination is them playing the last string quartet. We’re playing the last movement with them, along with other high schools.”

Cavani String Quartet violinist Annie Fullard said “Beyond Beethoven” fulfills the composer’s desire to not only create a better world, but also inspire further generations through music.

“In partnership with some of Cleveland’s most respected arts organizations, the Cavani String Quartet celebrates the emotional refuge and joyful musical revolution of the Beethoven quartets, combining forces with some of our most compelling living composers,” Fullard said.

“At the heart of this endeavor is our mission to share all of these true and masterful works with an audience of school-age students representing regional high school music programs — including Lakewood High School, Cleveland School of the Arts, Strongsville High School and Cleveland Heights High School.”

Over the last three years, the Cavani String Quartet has been working with the Lakewood High School student musicians.

“Dr. Hankins has created and nurtured a distinguished and respected string program in Lakewood, which is a treasure for the entire community,” Fullard said.

“Our musical relationship with the students throughout the pandemic served as a special connection, and we’re thrilled to celebrate that collective spirit together in Severance Hall on Dec. 14.”

The Cavani String Quartet has been rehearsing with 22 Lakewood High School Chamber Orchestra members two days a week in preparation for the upcoming performance.

“The kids have been madly working since the first day of school,” Hankins said. “I’ve never seen them so determined to play something so challenging. What the Cavani String Quartet is able to do is draw them out of their comfort zone and lead them into trying things a different way.

“As they developed the relationship with the piece, they have proven to themselves that they can develop the technique required and the speed. Beethoven is really, really fast, so it’s taught them how to problem solve, work together and plot out a plan to achieve a goal in the future, which is so essential that they see with hard work every day that they can achieve a goal they once thought was impossible.”

The “Beyond Beethoven” project also finds the Lakewood High School students attending lectures at Cleveland State University with a composer who created new music specifically for the Ranger orchestra.

“It’s mind-blowing,” Hankins said. “What do they say, practice until you get to Carnegie Hall? For us, that’s Severance Hall. The Lakewood kids have made it, because they’re going to be playing at Severance Hall.

“The other fun thing is how many times has the Cleveland Orchestra played in our auditorium? Now we’re going to go play in their auditorium. It’s kind of full circle for that relationship as well, which we treasure with the Cleveland Orchestra.”

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