Hundreds of passionate Cliburn patrons straightened their bow ties and glossed their lips for a night of joie de vivre at "Passion Paris," the annual Classically Cliburn Gala.
The April 12 event transformed Ridglea Country Club into a French fantasia, experienced from the moment guests stepped out of their cars and onto the red carpet. An accordion player serenaded at the entrance, and event chairs Anne Marie and Doug Bratton greeted each gala-goer personally as they walked through the doors.
Check-in didn't take long. There were no paddles handed out, no cellphone numbers collected. There would be no auctions — live nor silent — no raffles, no "live give" asks. For the $600 price of admission, guests got the rare experience of an extravagant fundraising gala to enjoy without opening their wallets one more time.
In the foyer, a who's who of Fort Worth arts patrons — including Mercedes T. Bass, Marsha and John Kleinheinz, Judy Ney, Maggie and Robert Murchison, Anne and Robert Self, Michelle and Tom Purvis, JR and Martha Williams, Jeff and Olivia Kearney — nibbled petite croque-monsieurs and were handed glasses of Champagne.
A line formed quickly at bar, where they were crafting signature French 75 cocktails and other drinks of guests' choice. The bar itself was a spectacle, as a giant pyramid designed to look like the entrance of Paris' famed Louvre museum illuminated with images of icons of French architecture, art, celebrities, and more.
Another iconic aspect of Paris, haute couture, was represented in each corner of the room, where fashion models on raised platforms posed in designer looks. The theme even extended to the ladies' powder room, where a tray of Chanel perfumes and coffee-table books about French fashion and home design were on display.
When doors opened to dinner, guests entered a resplendent dining room, with long tables covered in black-and-white damask table cloths and lined with red roses as far as the eyes could see. A quintessentially French menu had been designed for dinner: Salade de la campagne; Filet mignon aux poivres with hericots verts; and for dessert, Crepe, creme anglaise aux framboises.
"Good evening, and welcome to Paris," Cliburn board chairman Jeffrey B. King said to open brief remarks on stage. He recognized the work and love of the Brattons, and gave a special acknowledgement to honorary chair Mildred Hedrick Fender, who has supported the Cliburn in numerous ways since 1962.
King also offered a toast to the organization's namesake, the late pianist Van Cliburn, "whose passion and power are why we're here tonight," he said, "and you, being here tonight, are a major part of his vision and our mission advancing classical music throughout the world."
Cliburn CEO Jacques Marquis announced that the organization had managed, produced, and presented almost 450 concerts in the past year. "Because you're here, this is what we support," he said, adding that he hoped many of the Fort Worth patrons would go to Dallas for the upcoming Cliburn International Junior Piano Competition and Festival, taking place May 31 through June 8 at SMU and the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Once the last bites of dessert had been eaten, about half the crowd headed for the dance floor, and the other half headed for the Monte Carlo-style casino tables. Many of the late-night revelers were members of the Cliburn 180s, the social group for young professionals that always keeps the parties lively.
The 13-piece Jimmy Vali Band switched sets from "light dinner party music" to full-on discotheque tunes, keeping the floor moving and grooving past midnight. The very last song got even those with aching, high-heeled feet back on the dance floor; appropriately, it was the disco fave "Last Dance."
Spotted in the crowd, having a great time throughout the evening, were Emily and Kent Watson, Kaydee and Bill Bailey, Kim and Glenn Darden, Will Moncrief, Julie Anthony, Katy Janza, Will and Tony Lott, Mary and Blake Lipscomb, Miles Bratton, Bailey Self, Christopher Weber, Wesley and Keller Reese, and many more.