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Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio –When Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks” premiered in London in 1749, part of the stage caught fire. The music, though, newly composed, was a hit.

It was a similar story Thursday night on Public Square, only without the fire.

Just as in Handel’s day, a fireworks display took place, but it was the music — in this case the Cleveland Orchestra and its annual “Star Spangled Spectacular” — that came out on top.

Frankly, there were no concerns about fireworks. Unlike last year, when lingering dark clouds threatened to derail the festivities, the weather Thursday was ideal, and the display, the first major show of its kind this Independence Day holiday, came off without any problems.

This came as an especially great pleasure to Jessica Mauk, 26, of Parma, who attended her first Cleveland Orchestra Public Square concert in celebration of her birthday. Also celebrating a birthday was Terminal Tower, which turns 80 this year.

Mauk said that in lieu of a ladies’ night out, she opted for a picnic on a patch of grass with about 20 friends, including her boyfriend, Paul Kiser, a free concert and a show of fireworks, which she happened to adore.

“I tell everyone they are doing the fireworks for me,” she said, adding that she played clarinet in high school. “And I still love music.”

Mauk was hardly alone. Sunny skies, pleasant temperatures and several opening acts including a group from the Contemporary Youth Orchestra attracted a large crowd to Public Square. Officials estimated attendance at 70,000.

Smack in the middle of that crowd was Ruth Stover of North Olmsted, whose 30-member group of family and church friends occupied an elaborate, fortresslike camp in the direct sun at the intersection of Superior Avenue and Ontario Street. Most in the group were veterans of Public Square concerts, part of a tradition going back 20 years.

Yet among their ranks as well was Bryanna Neill, Stover’s 14-year-old granddaughter, who was attending the event for the first time.

“She was eager to come,” Stover said. “I don’t know why we didn’t bring her other years, and it kind of bothered me.”

Reliable, nice weather kept the audience’s focus where it belonged, on the music and on the orchestra, which was under the baton of assistant conductor Tito Munoz.

There was much to savor. Not only did the performances under Munoz meet the orchestra’s high standards, but the program was also more diverse than usual, if also a bit lighter. It featured Sarasate’s “Gypsy Airs” and Vieuxtemps’ “Souvenir d’Amerique,” in addition to Tchaikovsky’s “1812” Overture, “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Copland’s “Hoe Down.”

Thank Caroline Goulding for the variety. After a lively rendition of Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture by the orchestra, the Grammy-nominated violinist and 17-year-old Clevelander made a dashing entrance with a rapturous account of Gershwin’s aria “Summertime.”

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Story Compliments Of The Plain Dealer

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