Blossom Memories

As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Blossom Music Center, we asked listeners to share some of their favorite Blossom memories. These are some of the responses we received.

I watched with great interest as plans developed for Blossom, with discussion of the location, then details of the beautiful pavilion.  I had every intention of being there for the opening but my daughter had other plans for me.  She was born that very day. So my daughter, Sarah Geist Gorman, will be 50 on July 19 of this year, as will Blossom.

Several years ago my partner, Christopher Leo, made plans for his large family to picnic together on the lawn one evening.  As folks would be gathering from all directions, how were we all to find each other?  AHA!  A big cluster of balloons would do it.   But let’s avoid the most popular red, blue, yellow, and do it with all green balloons. Should be distinctive. Bad idea. That evening we gathered was BP night at Blossom, and as everyone entered they were handed green balloons.  We did of course ultimately find each other, but that evening remains a family anecdote we treasure.
Thom Geist

Would like to say that some years ago I was privileged to attend a concert conducted by Meredith Wilson. I am now thrilled that I can state that! I am now 77 years of age and probably Blossom opened as I was around 27 years of age. (About 38 years ago I had to move to Albany, NY and I lived there until 2016. I am now happy to be back home to the Cleveland area and I will look forward to hopefully attend more Blossom events!)
Lee Halter

Re.  Mr. Conrad's invitation to reminisce on Blossom '68 - I remember it well. I had my first Volkswagen and went every weekend, parked in a field, peed in a tin trough.  $1 to sit on the grass.  Beethoven, Wagner.  George Szell conducting.  ONE DOLLAR!  (The so-called demise of Classical Music may have more to do with today's ticket prices than the music itself.)

I remember one night a storm kicked up, thunder and rain.  Between movements, Szell turned around and invited people out on the grass to come in under the roof.  Someone commented dryly, 'You suppose he shows that much compassion to his musicians?' And someone else added, 'He would to their instruments.'
Nick Ivancic

As a lifelong Clevelander and a member of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus after college, I have many fond memories of Blossom Music Center. My first voice teacher and several close friends were also members of the Chorus and the car rides there, meals, and performances with one of the finest orchestras in the world, all deepened the bonds of friendship and created treasured lifelong memories.
Michael Parry

We had been in Kent only a short time before we fell in love with Blossom and the Cleveland Orchestra's summer concerts. We were among the thousands, and inside the shell, for Bernstein's appearance that summer. It was warm, and when the Maestro appeared he was wearing a white dinner jacket, and I was surprised at how short he was--we tend to think of The Great Ones as titanic in stature, I guess. My wife and I were concerned that he would leap or fall off his stand. At times, indeed, he seemed to want to go airborne. I thought his gyrations a bit over the top; questionable whether the leader of the band should be the focus of the evening, but, what the hell, on his 100th birthday we'll forgive him.
Ben and Carlyn Bassham, Kent

In June 1979, my husband and I moved to Cleveland from New York City to start our Internal Medicine residencies at University Hospitals. Our dean's advice was to go to "someplace geographically undesirable like Cleveland". We decided that we would stay 3 years and then return to New York. The night before our internship started, we along with the other new interns were invited by University Hospitals and the Cleveland VA to a dinner and concert at Blossom. The beauty of the grounds and the whole experience was amazing. The concert had a space/sci-fi theme-lots of Holst and Star Wars. I think that night started our love affair with Cleveland and 39 yet was canceled. The orchestra, now playing in complete darkness, gradually broke in to “Stars and Stripes Forever” as an impromptu finale. It seemed that almost everyone elected to perform the melody. ars later we are still here.
Patricia Radigan, Westlake

I was present during the inaugural season as a student usher and remember the opening weekend with Szell’s performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, also Aaron Copland conducting his Clarinet Concerto with Benny Goodman as soloist. In subsequent years I recall Bernstein conducting Mahler’s Second, Robert Shaw conducting Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and the unusual evening with Morton Gould conducting Gottschalk’s “A Night in the Tropics” an appropriate, but ill-timed thunderstorm knocked out the power. After a "train derailing" gradual stop and a substantial wait to see if the lights would return the announcement was made that the remainder of the concert.
Gene Milford

One of my most memorable Blossom experiences took place during a Cleveland Orchestra performance of the Overture to "The Magic Flute" by Mozart. It was evening, and suddenly, without warning, there was a power failure; all the lights went out, and the entire Pavilion, including the stage, was in total darkness. What was unexpected, and truly amazing was that our wonderful Orchestra continued on and completed the performance of the piece, in the dark, without missing a beat. Power was later restored, and the large audience demonstrated its appreciation of this remarkable feat by these fantastic musicians, with a standing ovation and thunderous applause.
Jacqueline Freedman, Shaker Heights

Recalling 20 years ago on the 4th of July, Blossom, sitting on the lawn listening to a beautiful concert with our son, 5-year-old granddaughter, daughter-in-law, and her parents who were in the U.S. visiting for the first time, all of us sitting on our blankets having finished eating our picnic supper. The parents were from Slovenia (at that time was Yugoslavia) and enchanted with all things American. It was a beautiful evening, the music was superb, when all of a sudden, Ana jumped up and began to move about in time to the music. It was a form of modern dance, and as observed by all others around us, and for us as well, it was a magical moment, never to be forgotten. 
Sally Novak, Rocky River

I came to Cleveland in 1968, from New England. My husband was an architect, and he was friends with Peter Van Dijk, the architect who designed Blossom. Peter would invite us to tailgate parties for the very beginning concerts, and we could park so close! It was amazing to hear how Pete designed the structure, the challenge of being outdoors, how to protect the instruments, and creating a magnificent structure for sound. Those were magical days.
Gail Smith, Broadview Heights

I'm not sure how many schools had this privilege, but my high school graduation was held at Blossom. I graduated in 1971 from Normandy High School in Parma and it was a great thrill to have our graduation at Blossom. What made it even more exciting for me was singing on stage with our choir and playing the concert grand when I accompanied the choir.  I've sung on stage at Blossom many times since then as a member of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Blossom Festival Chorus, but that first time was an incredible thrill to a high school senior. Blossom continues to be one of our favorite summer activities.​
Carole Weinhardt

I was one of those people who attended two of the Cleveland Orchestra concerts at the Blossom Music back in the summer of 2001. I came all the way from Rockville Maryland and stayed at a nearby Holiday Inn.  The first night I saw a concert featuring Jahja Ling conducting with Stephen Hough piano soloist. It was a wonderful concert as was the next evening concert that featured conductor David Zinman and pianist Jeffrey Kahane in another wonderful concert. The Blossom Music Festival is a beautiful area.
Michael Mendelson

While every concert at the Blossom Music Center with the Cleveland Orchestra is a special event several are more easily recalled than others. I was present during the inaugural season as a student usher and remember the opening weekend with Szell’s performance of the Beethoven 9th Symphony, also Aaron Copland conducting his Clarinet Concerto with Benny Goodman as soloist. In subsequent years I recall Bernstein conducting Mahler’s Second, Robert Shaw conducting Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and the unusual evening with Morton Gould conducting Gottschalk’s “A Night in the Tropics” an appropriate, but ill-timed thunderstorm knocked out the power. After a train derailing gradual stop and a substantial wait to see if the lights would return the announcement was made that the remainder of the concert was canceled. The orchestra, now playing in complete darkness, gradually broke in to “Stars and Stripes Forever” as an impromptu finale. It seemed that almost everyone elected to perform the melody.
Gene Milford

I was a maintenance manager at One Erieview, downtown Cleveland, where Peter van Dijk, the architect of the Blossom Pavilion, had his offices.

Perhaps you will recall the infamous “BOOM” during evening concerts, in the early days of Blossom’s existence.  A problem which confounded everyone.  The solution was assigned to a member of Van Dijk’s firm – my good friend Mauno Backland. 
 

The construction of Blossom employed huge, arching I-beams which were fashioned to telescope one inside the other to account for the expansion and construction of the roof, caused by temperature fluctuation.  Mr. Backland proposed that this problem was somehow connected to this telescoping and asked me to make some wooden wedges which were marked to measure the clearance between the two beams.  These wedges were then inserted into the joint between the two beams so that as the ambient temperature cooled, causing the beams to contract, the distance (clearance) could be measured. 
 

Sure enough, on an evening when no concert was scheduled, we proceeded with this test and when the two beams contracted, the wedges revealed a faulty weld on one beam which caught on the other causing a build-up of tension which when became too much released resulting in the “BOOM.”
 

I consider Blossom Center to be an area treasure – in addition to the above account, I sang in the Blossom Festival Chorus for several years, an experience which I will treasure always.
Leslie Girton, Rocky River

We went in 1985 to see and hear The Magic Flute. I remember my sister Cindy saying of the actor who played Papageno: “He’s cute! I’ll be his Papagena!” In 1987 we went to see “The Merry Widow.” Dad told the story of how the operetta got its name, and I responded indifferently. Later I read in the program that same story, and I told it like it was a great new thing. Dad told me about my previous (non)response, but I had mostly forgotten it. I still have. In ’88 and ’89 we were concentrating on selling the house, and in ’89 Mom and I moved to Phoenix. After we moved back in 2013, we have been to Blossom a few times. In 2014 we went to hear the Cleveland Orchestra’s composer in residence, as well as Brahms’ 2nd and 3rd symphonies. We have been there since, enduring mosquitos, long walks, and falling lawn chairs. It has been worth all of it.
Phillip Wochner

I was a member of the audience on an evening when the orchestra was to play the overture to Mozart's Magic Flute. This was well prior to the orchestra's performance of the complete opera in 1985. As a music history faculty member at Cleveland State, I had focused much of my research writing on The Magic Flute, and I looked forward to hearing the orchestra's performance of its remarkable overture. But again the weather was to play a part in the story. It was hot and humid. A thunderstorm rapidly approached as the orchestra began the program for that evening. About midway through the Magic Flute overture, there was a flash of lightning and a loud boom of thunder, and the lights throughout the grounds went out--even on the stage. I listened in awe as, without missing a beat, The Cleveland Orchestra continued through Mozart's overture and completed it perfectly in the dark!
Judith Eckelmeyer, Cleveland

[A] highlight was seeing Luciano Pavarotti in concert. For the first and only time, I stayed to get a performer's autograph. The line was very long and I was the last one in it. When I finally was next in line, the man in front of me decided to try out his Italian on Luciano, who by this time was looking a bit groggy and bathed in sweat. Finally, the man left, with a cheery, "Ciao" and I was face to face with the great man. I handed him my program, and with no eye contact, he scrawled a squiggly black line with a marker. I know it's his name, but it might as well be that of the guy who was in charge of Luciano's enormous white handkerchief.
Guenveur Burnell, Kent

I had a wonderful experience at Blossom’s 50th opening night. To begin with, it was a perfect night weather-wise. The 2 big screens in the pavilion made it so special. To be able to see up close our orchestra members, the reeds, the brass, the soloist, Joela’s hands and the director was wonderful. I watched the screen almost all the time.
Jo Ann Greiner

My favorite memory of Blossom is from a few years ago when I won the Blossom Babies Contest on WCLV.  I went to the gate as instructed and was to be one of the characters from Showboat.    It was a  was a fun gig.  I witnessed another participant in a Hawaiian getup. I overheard him as we were going at intermission to get a "drink" on the Patio.  He said he needed a drink to get through the rest of the show dressed in that garb.  He had a hula skirt and coconut bra and wasn't taking it very well.  Bill O'Connell was dressed as Sister O'Connell.  The whole experience was a total hoot and I enjoyed it very much.  That's just one of my many memories of Blossom in its 50 years​.
Kathy Klonowski

In 1975, I donated an item for use as a premium in the WCLV 95.5 Cleveland Orchestra Marathon 6. Out of gratitude, the Orchestra treated that year's donors to an evening at Blossom, complete with picnic dinner and pavilion seating. It was a memorable experience. We were sitting in the pavilion, enjoying the concert, when we noticed that it was getting dark outside, with threatening skies. Soon, lawn people began filtering into the pavilion. Then it REALLY began to rain, with thunder and lightning. The remaining lawn people poured into the pavilion and huddled at the back. The orchestra continued to play, unruffled until there was a flash of lightning and all the lights went out. The musicians carried on for a short while, but, slowly, instruments here and there dropped out. Finally, only one lone wind instrument could be heard, and it too fell silent. (Somehow, this reminds me of Haydn's "Farewell Symphony" ...) The silence was broken by exuberant applause, sprinkled with laughter and cheers.
Elaine Wrenick, Cleveland Heights

I was at [Leonard Bernstein's] birthday celebration at Severance Hall when I waited with my personal copy of his Chichester Psalms in hand, for him to sign at the end of the concert. I was the only one waiting in line and said to him “Mr. Bernstein, I just love your music and it just reminds me of good sex.” (Why I ever said this I’ll never know, but my husband always loved telling this one on me!) He responded as follows: “Yes, and you never get enough of it!”
Marcia Ungar, Beachwood

We have attended many concerts at Blossom over the years, from Willie Nelson to Joshua Bell and almost everyone in between.  The most memorable, however, was Josh Groban in 2016 . . . 

Because my wife Indra walks with a cane, I dropped her at the close in Lot A for handicapped parking. I gave her a ticket and said we would meet at the seats and ventured off to find a parking space.

I went to the next lot: full; the next lot; full, I finally was able to find a space in Lot E.

I got out of the car, it was still raining. Hard. Did we remember an umbrella? Nope. I was soaked by the time I reached the gate, which was NOT YET OPEN!! Many people had come early; consequently, all available covered spaces were taken. No cover to be had while I waited in the rain, getting wetter all the time. I must have stood there, in the pouring rain, for 20 minutes, all the while wondering where Indra was: she was not where I had left her. I had no idea if they were letting the people who had trouble walking into the venue or making them wait like the rest of us.

Finally, the gates opened, and everyone went streaming into the pavilion, dodging rivers of water as we did. By the time I got into the Pavilion, the rain had pretty much stopped, but I sat in a pool of water for the entire concert.

Concert over; we had to find the car. I was worried about Indra because it was quite a walk to where I had parked. I found out that night Blossom has shuttle buses to get you to the outlying lots. So we waited for one to open up, and got on. The driver asked everyone where they had parked, and I confidently said: “Lot E”. The driver said: “Which one”? I had no idea there was more than one, so I had no answer. We went from lot to lot: seemed like everyone on the tram knew where they parked except me. The people were great: they asked what kind of car it was. I said it should not be too hard to find, “it’s a red Corvette”. This caused mixed reactions in the group. Still, we took a tour of all the lots and no Corvette. I got an idea: I pushed the panic button on my key fob. Nothing. After a short wait, I pushed it again: we all heard a faint horn blowing and saw the lights flash on the car. The entire tram burst into applause and cheered; we got to the car and were finally able to get home. It was quite a night.

The next day, as I paid for my coffee, the cashier asked me why my money was wet, soaked inside my wallet. I had a story to tell.
Randy Malloy

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