May 18, 2022

For the Love of Music by Kimberly Bonvissuto

The mission of the Cleveland Institute of Music goes back to its founders:

“Musical education, in addition to the thorough study of technique, ought above all else, to develop qualities of appreciation, judgment and taste, and to stimulate understanding and love of music.” – Ernest Bloch, director (1920-25)

It’s a mission rooted in the value of a dedicated conservatory education, which was recognized by and came to be a reality in Cleveland thanks to the ladies of the Fortnightly Musical Club. It was their vision – and their funding – that launched CIM into what is today one of the most prestigious music conservatories in the country.

1920s-1940s | CREATING A VISION

The Fortnightly Musical Club is credited with putting Cleveland on the map for classical music, having its hand in establishing The Cleveland Orchestra and CIM. A small group of women contributed $1,000 each to establish a “school of music where every type of student could find opportunity for the best musical education.”

Organized in 1894, the Club is one of the oldest continuous music clubs in the country. It was also the first founder-supporter of the Cleveland Music Settlement.

The Bloch Years

Fortnightly Musical Club member Martha Bell Sanders was appointed CIM’s first executive director, and she enlisted Swiss composer Ernest Bloch as the first musical director of the conservatory. He was responsible for recruiting composer Roger Sessions, violinist André de Ribaupierre, composer Herbert Elwell and pianist Beryl Rubinstein. A professional and world-renowned faculty is a trademark of the conservatory that continues today. Those faculty bring a personal touch to education that remains a core value at CIM.

The conservatory opened in the Cleveland Statler Hotel, bouncing around to several mansions on Millionaires’ Row before settling into its permanent home in University Circle.

Bloch studied in Geneva, Brussels, Frankfurt and Paris before coming to the US in 1916 as conductor for a tour by Maud Allan’s dance company, followed by a teaching position at the David Mannes College of Music in New York before accepting the directorship at CIM.

Bloch conducted the student orchestra, taught composition and established master classes and courses for the general public.i He brought high standards, international contacts and a commitment to new music to the conservatory.

“Composition is one of the core things we’ve done over the years. It’s a thread going back to Bloch through different generations,” said Keith Fitch, head of the composition department and director of the New Music Ensemble.

Fitch said CIM’s history is rich with composers, including Donald Erb, Marcel Dick and Margaret Brouwer, in addition to Roger Sessions. In celebrating the 100-year milestone, Fitch said he’s hoping to provide an overview of a century of new music through the New Music Ensemble by highlighting composers central to CIM, focusing on that legacy going back to Bloch.

“The main thing I want to do for students, composers and performers is introduce them to a great variety of contemporary music – younger composers, established composers, different languages and styles,” Fitch said. “For the guest composers and student performers, giving them the highest possible performance I can give them. I want to establish a standard of performance for new music.”

While CIM director, Bloch completed 21 works, including Concerto Grosso, which was composed for the student orchestra at CIM.ii His contributions included an Institute chorus at the Cleveland Museum of Art; attention to pedagogy, especially in composition and theory; and a concern that “every student should have a direct and high-quality aesthetic experience.”

But he enacted “radical reforms” for the time, like favoring direct musical experience over exams and textbooks. That philosophy clashed with the trustees’ desire to offer a practical curriculum and a more traditional approach to music education, leading to Bloch’s departure in 1925 to head the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Sanders took over as chief executive officer and director. Under her leadership, the school opened preparatory branches to educate younger students, pianist Arthur Loesser joined the faculty, and the school of opera opened in 1927 under Marcel Salzinger, followed in 1931 by the department of modern dance under Eleanor Frampton, who received the Cleveland Arts Prize in 1964 – the first time it was awarded for dance.

The Rubinstein Years

By 1932, faculty member Beryl Rubinstein was named the third director of CIM. That year, CIM moved to the Samuel Mather House on Euclid Avenue.

Rubinstein joined the CIM piano faculty in 1921, becoming head of the piano department in 1925, dean of faculty in 1929 and director in 1932. He recruited faculty including Opera Director Boris Goldovsky, violinist Josef Fuchs, cellist Leonard Rose and harpist Alice Chalifoux.

His 20-year tenure was interrupted twice – first in 1935 and again from 1942-44 – when he was in charge of the musical activities of the US Army’s Fifth Service Command. He carried the school through the hardship of war and the Depression.

In 1941, the Institute moved to the Jacob D. Cox residence on Euclid Avenue. In 1945, CIM celebrated its Silver Anniversary, and with the end of the war Rubinstein returned to CIM.


After Rubinstein died unexpectedly in 1952, Ward Lewis, the dean of the school and acting director during Rubinstein’s second stint in the Army, was again appointed interim director.

In 1954, pianist Ward Davenny (BM ’34) was appointed director. Under Davenny, the conservatory enjoyed a period of major growth. As the decade came to a close, Bloch died in 1959, but his vision for a school of excellence was taking shape.

CIM opened its $2.2 million University Circle facility in 1961 under President Victor Babin, who with his wife Vitya Vronsky formed one of the great classical piano duos of the 20th century. The opening of a permanent home and the appointment of Babin marked a new era for the conservatory, which evolved from a regional school into a world-class program.

As director, Babin continued to grow the conservatory, recruiting distinguished musicians to visit the conservatory – including Gerard Souzay, Nadia Boulanger and Darius Milhaud. He broadened course offerings and established a cooperative relationship with Case Western Reserve University. He was honored in 1966 with the Cleveland Arts Prize for Music.

In the 1960s, Donald Erb, head of the department of theory and composition, was gaining national attention for his unconventional use of traditional and non-traditional instruments, and was regarded as Cleveland’s most well-known and controversial 20th century composer.

When Babin died suddenly in 1972, then-President of the CIM Board of Trustees Martha J. Joseph stepped into the interim director role. She guided the conservatory through an uneasy period and recruited Babin’s successor, pianist Grant Johannesen.

Johannesen studied with pianist Robert Casadesus and composers Roger Sessions and Nadia Boulanger. He made his Manhattan recital debut at age 23 and was a frequent soloist with The Cleveland Orchestra and Utah Symphony.

In 1975, Joseph and Johannesen co-founded the Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition. This biannual event, renamed the Cleveland International Piano Competition in 1994, draws applicants from around the world.

In 1978, Joseph and Johannesen set out to reach a younger audience with the founding of the Friends of CIM, which promoted the conservatory’s Preparatory and Continuing Education Division. Joseph also led a $2 million fundraising campaign to create an endowment, which attracted a $1 million Ford Foundation grant. She also is credited with maintaining the independence of the conservatory in 1985 when trustees were considering a merger with Case Western Reserve University to ease financial pressures.

1980s-2000s | A RETURN TO GLORY

David Cerone was appointed director in 1985. Cerone was a concert violinist and former faculty member at both CIM and the Curtis Institute of Music. Cerone is credited with returning CIM to its former glory days under Babin and helping the Institute regain its financial footing. He also brought a focus on chamber music to the conservatory.

David and Linda Cerone developed the ENCORE School for Strings, an intensive summer program held on the campus of Western Reserve Academy. The program attracts faculty of international renown and students from around the world.

The following year, the Young Artist Program was established for gifted high school students planning a career in music.

Facilities Expansion

By the early 2000s, CIM was offering a full orchestral curriculum to more than 400 conservatory students and more than 1,700 students in the Preparatory and Continuing Education Division – all of this in a facility designed to accommodate 150 students.

One of Cerone’s greatest achievements was the conservatory’s successful $40 million campaign to expand CIM facilities. The campaign ended with the 2007 opening of the Recital Wing and the Fred A. Lennon Education Building, which housed new practice rooms, administrative offices, a student lounge and terrace, and a donor plaza; Mixon Hall, a 235-seat venue designed for solo recitals and chamber music; The Robert and Jean Conrad Control Room for high-tech recording and broadcasting; and the Robinson Music Library, named after Barbara Robinson, a pianist who spent her life promoting and supporting arts and culture in Northeast Ohio.

When Cerone retired in 2008, Joel Smirnoff assumed the role of director. Smirnoff was long-standing first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet and chair of the violin department at The Juilliard School before he moved to Cleveland.

Under Smirnoff’s leadership, several new programs in composition and performance were established, CIM’s international profile was raised and performing opportunities for students, faculty and guest artists were increased.


CIM’s current president, Paul Hogle, took the reins in 2016. Prior to joining CIM, Hogle served as executive vice president of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which experienced a renaissance under his leadership.

In 2016, the Institute began a year-long strategic planning process to ensure CIM remains what Fortnightly Musical Club member Mary Hutchens Smith called a “center of music education.” Blueprint:100 focuses on scholarship funding and investing in tangible improvements to the student experience.

Under Hogle’s tenure to date, CIM has experienced a 328% increase in Black and Latinx student enrollment, received gift commitments of more than $17 million to the endowment, constructed a state-of-the-art student housing complex, lowered tuition by 15% and increased scholarship funds by $1 million.

Today, CIM is working to increase scholarship and reduce the size of its student body to compete with the nation’s top schools of music and better position students to compete for jobs after graduation. At the same time, the conservatory is emphasizing diversity by creating new pathways to admission and performance opportunities for students from underrepresented populations. Learn more about these initiatives throughout this issue of Notes and at

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Notes magazine. It has been corrected and republished here, with apologies for the errors.

i Kushner, D.  Bloch, Ernest (USA). Grove Music Online. Retrieved 15 Oct. 2021, from

ii David Z. Kushner – Ernest Bloch: The Cleveland Years (1920-25). Mid-Israeli Studies Online.  Accessed 13 October 2021. []