The concert lineup for the 50th anniversary Blossom Music Festival is full of highlights, ranging from a rare solo recital appearance by Yo-Yo Ma at Blossom to Broadway superstar Audra McDonald at the celebrated summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

In one of the high points, Ma will perform Bach’s Complete Cello Suites Aug. 12, a 2½-hour concert of all six suites that he has performed in only a handful of cities around the world, including at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles last September.

“It’s very difficult both physically and musically,” said Ilya Gidalevich, artistic administrator for the orchestra. “It’s really a kind of a transcendent experience just to see one man on a stage that large playing this beautiful music.

“It’s one of the things that makes this season special.”

Shifting gears to the pops realm, six-time Tony Award winner McDonald will perform favorites July 29 by Broadway composers including Richard Rodgers, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. The soprano has been named one of Time magazine’s most influential people.

“It’s very common for us to do kind of a Broadway variety show, but it’s a little bit less common for us to invite an actual Broadway star like Audra McDonald in and have her do an evening of song,” Gidalevich said.

For the 50th anniversary season, it was also important to highlight the orchestra itself. Concertgoers will notice full-orchestra programs without soloists, and more programs featuring Cleveland Orchestra soloists rather than guests.

“The orchestra is what makes this place great and that’s the thing that we’re really celebrating the 50 years of, is the orchestra’s presence there at Blossom,” Gidalevich said.

The orchestra’s opening night at 8 p.m. July 7 will feature its own musicians Stephen Rose (violin), Mark Kosower (cello) and Joela Jones (piano) in Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, conducted by Music Director Franz Welser-Möst. It’s the only concerto Beethoven ever completed for more than one solo instrument.

“It’s sort of a little touch that we’re trying to highlight our own musicians and our own sound,” Gidalevich said.

The opening-night concert program also will feature Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Reznicek’s Overture to Donna Diana. The evening will end with a bang with fireworks.

Big family

Planners also worked to bring back people who have long been in the orchestra family. That includes Jahja Ling, who will conduct the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom for his 34th straight season. The former Blossom Festival director will conduct for the 116th time there with Mahler’s “Titan” symphony July 21, including the Kent Blossom Chamber Orchestra, celebrating a 50-year partnership with the orchestra, and Blossom Festival Chorus.

“It was important for us to bring him back and feature him on an all-orchestral program,” Gidalevich said. “It highlights both members of our family and the musicians who make all of this so exciting.”

Another returning family member will be conductor James Gaffigan in an eclectic program featuring Finnish composer Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2, American composer Barber’s Essay No. 2 and German composer Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with guest Stephen Hough Aug. 18. Gaffigan was an assistant conductor with the Cleveland Orchestra in the 2000s.

Herbert Blomstedt will conduct Brahms’ Fourth Symphony July 28, and Michael Francis will conduct the orchestra Aug. 5 in an evening of all-Czech repertoire including Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7, plus pieces by Smetana and Janacek that aren’t often heard.

“What we definitely wanted to do is shift a little bit the direction in which programming was going,” Gidalevich said. “Our classical programming is a little bit more robust, a little bit more in line with the types of things we offer here at Severance Hall, and our popular programming follows suit” in a shift toward more serious music for both.

Movie scores

In the pops realm, the Blossom Festival will expand its live film concerts to five concerts of three different programs throughout the season. In previous years, one popular film has been featured in two concerts over the festival’s final weekend.

“We’ve tried to isolate what people respond to particularly well” in past seasons, Gidalevich said. “People really like the films that we do, film with live orchestra.”

This season, they will play the musical Singin’ in the Rain July 14, Disney’s The Little Mermaid Aug. 4 and three festival finale performances of the blockbuster Star Wars: A New Hope, featuring the music of John Williams, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1-2.

For the festival’s variety of pop genres, the orchestra has brought in heavy hitters in not only the Broadway vein with diva McDonald, but also for rock and the American songbook. That includes a special, nonsubscription concert featuring rock legend Roger Daltrey performing the Who’s Tommy with the orchestra July 8.

And on the subscription series, Capathia Jenkins, whom Gidalevich described as a “tremendous” interpreter of the Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra songbooks, will return for her third straight season to perform Frank and Ella Aug. 19.

“We made a concerted effort to invite people who kind of represent to those genres what the Cleveland Orchestra is to classical music,” Gidalevich said.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.