Blossoming Gala celebrates 50 years of Kent Blossom partnership

The painting “Blossoming Garden,” by the late School of Art alumna Jance Lentz-Hatch, was on display before its auction at the Blossoming Gala on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. 

Alexandra Sobczak

For Christine Worthing Janicki, the Kent Blossom Music Festival was something she was aware of years before she was a Kent State student.

Her father, Richard Worthing, is the former dean of what used to be the College of Fine and Professional Arts at Kent State. He always took her to the festival concerts while she was growing up.

By the time Worthing Janicki was a student, her biggest doubt wasn’t whether she wanted to do the program — it was whether she’d get in.

“I grew up listening to these people,” Worthing Janicki said. “They were so amazing.”

She auditioned a few different times before being accepted into the program her last year at Kent State and again her first year at Northwestern University, during the summers of 1991 and 1992.

While in the program, she studied with Richard Solis, the principal horn in the Cleveland Orchestra. She played assistant horn to him.

“We did a side-by-side with the Cleveland Orchestra,” she said. “He stopped playing (and said), ‘You just do it.’”

After she played his part, Solis said to her, “You got to play first horn with the Cleveland Orchestra.”

It was an especially memorable experience for Worthing Janicki in the Kent Blossom Music Festival.

Blossoming Gala

The Blossoming Gala celebrated 50 years of the Kent Blossom partnership with an evening of performance in the Student Center Ballroom Saturday.

With 170 guests in attendance, the event brought all three branches of the Kent Blossom partnership together for the first time — the Kent Blossom Music Festival, the Porthouse Theatre, and Kent Blossom Art Intensives.

Since the Kent Blossom partnership began, 10,000 students have participated in its programs and 4,000 public events have occurred.

The Kent Blossom partnership began in 1968 between Kent State’s Hugh A. Glauser School of Music and the Cleveland Orchestra. Students from around the world auditioned to study under a faculty composed of professional musicians and Kent State professors.

Forty-three students spend five weeks “fully immersed in music,” said Ricardo Sepúlveda, the director of the Kent Blossom Music Festival. Students play their instruments for over eight hours a day, focusing on classes, chamber music and one-on-one lessons. This prepares them for a concert at Blossom Music Center, where they perform both as a group and in a side-by-side with the Cleveland Orchestra.

“Getting to work with those musicians … it’s amazing,” Sepúlveda said. “It’s one thing to actually see them perform, but to build a friendship and just see them transform lives of students, that’s amazing.”

The partnership began to preserve the “longevity of classical music,” Worthing said. A year later, the partnership extended to theater through the creation of the Kent Blossom Theatre, now called the Porthouse Theatre.

“I think as artists we understand that it’s not just one art discipline that needs to be supported,” said Eric van Baars, the director of the School of Theatre and Dance and the executive producer of Porthouse Theatre. “Art is integral in many levels to everyone’s life.”

Van Baars hopes students receive professional connections through the partnership. “Understanding the professional world in all three areas” and networking are important, he said.

Across all three disciplines, students work closely with professionals in their field. Worthing said these programs often serve as a “transitional experience” from studying to being a working artist.

The Kent Blossom Art Intensive began in 1969 and added visual arts to the performing arts involved in the partnership.

For five weeks, guest artists teach students and critics from New York critique students’ work. Students focus on one body of work.

“Students’ work has just skyrocketed,” said Marie Bukowski, the director of the School of Art. “Where they started is a completely different place from where they had ended. So now … they really have that momentum … and have a great portfolio to start their career.”

The evening at the Blossoming Gala began with a silent auction in which guests could bid on items such as a season of Great Lakes Theater tickets, VIP passes to the Kent State Fashion Show, tickets to the Porthouse Theatre Opening Night Extravaganza, tickets to the Cleveland Orchestra and Kent Blossom Music Festival, a package of local museum passes, a “Hamilton” poster signed by Tony Award-winning costume designer Paul Tazewell and more.

There was then a sit-down dinner while the KSU Jazz Collection played.

Guests spent the next portion of the night focused on featured performers. Each performer was involved with Kent Blossom in the past — one was an instructor at Kent Blossom Art in 1969, one was a student at Kent Blossom Music Festival in 1970 and one was a performer on the Porthouse Theatre Stage in 1985.

Philip Pearlstein, an influential painter and guest artist at the first Kent Blossom Art Intensive, spoke to the audience. Known for his radical switch to modernist realism nudes, Pearlstein discussed his journey through artistic styles and his time teaching. He always wants students to find a way to create art that’s different from what their teachers introduced. Samples of his artwork were on display for guests to view as they entered the Ballroom.

David Shifrin, a Grammy-nominated clarinetist and a student at the Kent Blossom Music Festival in 1970, performed two pieces, one with Steinway artist and Kent State professor Donna Lee and one with Kent State’s Efferus String Quartet.

The final performer of the night, Kent State alumna and Tony Award-winning actress Alice Ripley, sang songs from Broadway shows she has been in, as well as one original song.

Ripley performed before a live auction that raised $4,550. The money raised throughout the night through the silent auction, live auction and audience donations goes to scholarships for students participating in any branch of Kent Blossom.

To conclude the evening, Ripley performed with a group of musical theater students.

“Being up there with Alice Ripley is literally a dream come true,” said Montria Walker, a senior musical theater major. “I just took away a sense of freedom that I had never felt before as a performer and as an artist. Just more freedom in my movement, more freedom in my everyday life and … how I approach work.”

Alexandra Sobczak is the art and architecture reporter. Contact her at [email protected].