iAnthony McGill, Nathan Chan, Emilie-Anne Gendron, Zhanbo Zheng, and Hye-Jin Kim. Photo by Pete Checchia.

What Makes Marlboro Unique

Marlboro Music is known world-wide as an institution devoted to artistic excellence and to developing new leaders who illuminate all areas of music. It is where the concept of having master artists play together with exceptional young professionals was born—initiating a dynamic, collaborative approach to learning. Under the artistic direction of pianists Mitsuko Uchida and Jonathan Biss, leading musicians spend up to seven weeks exchanging ideas and rehearsing in depth some 250 chamber music works each summer.

Since 1951, generations of the world’s most respected musicians have come together on the Potash Hill campus in the rural town of Marlboro, Vermont (population 978) to share their perspectives and learn from one another, to inspire and be inspired. Participants are drawn also by the warm, supportive family atmosphere, where musicians, staff, spouses, and children share meals, seminars, chores, social, and recreational events—creating a unique musical, human community.

After three weeks of in-depth rehearsals, a portion of the musical collaborations are shared with audiences at weekend concerts, held from mid-July to mid-August. Audiences share in a spirit of discovery, experiencing exciting young musicians and hearing insightful interpretations of chamber music masterworks and unfamiliar pieces played with great passion and joy.


A Beacon of Democratic Ideals

Marlboro Music was conceived and created by immigrants. Prior to World War II, our founders, a handful of illustrious European-born musicians, had sought refuge from the horrors and life-changing disruptions of fascism, racism, imperialism, and anti-Semitism. After being uprooted from their homelands, they found new lives in America, and they committed themselves to merging the best artistic traditions of Europe with the freshness of spirit and egalitarian ideals of their newly-adopted country.

They saw in Marlboro a place of endless hope and possibilities, of new beginnings and new connections. They envisioned a welcoming, inclusive community, in which musicians of all ages, ethnicities, and perspectives would come together as a nurturing family, and have the freedom to pursue what they found to be most meaningful and beautiful in music. They focused on chamber music, that most democratic of art forms, to impart vital musical, artistic, and moral lessons to new colleagues, new generations of musical leaders, and audiences.

This vision for Marlboro was built upon a foundation of personal integrity. Founding violinist Adolf Busch—who had established himself as one of Europe’s most acclaimed artists—was one of the few non-Jewish, German-born musicians who spoke out forcefully against Hitler in the 1930s, endangering his life and career. Upon emigrating to the U.S., Busch and his son-in-law, pianist Rudolf Serkin, began helping other artists find safe haven, first in New York and then in Vermont. Among these were the eminent French flutist Marcel Moyse, Moyse’s son Louis, and daughter-in-law Blanche Honegger Moyse. At Serkin’s urging they came to teach at the newly-formed Marlboro College and, in 1951, together with Busch and his brother, cellist Hermann Busch, they would found Marlboro Music.

During this period, Pablo Casals—widely considered the foremost cellist of the 20th century—was fighting for democracy and justice in Spain. He stood in unbending opposition to Francisco Franco’s fascist regime, using his “only weapons”—his cello and conductor’s baton—to support the cause of freedom and democracy. After the Spanish Civil War, he left Spain, also risking his international career by refusing to perform in any country that recognized the Franco regime. Casals’s lone exception would be Marlboro, where he was drawn to the School’s founding ethos, its egalitarian spirit and commitment to artistic integrity. Casals would spend 13 summers there, from 1960-1973, inspiring its community and strengthening its role as a bastion of equality and democratic ideals.

While the world has changed in so many ways since Marlboro’s founding, its bedrock principles are as vital and necessary today as they have ever been. Each year, Marlboro’s influence is expanded through the work and leadership of its more than 3,000 former participants, many of whom have made significant contributions, through the transformative power of music, in promoting racial, economic, and social justice. Great music is a powerful example for us all—for our society, our nation, and the world at large. It is a living demonstration of the importance of civil discourse, cooperation, and mutual understanding. It is democracy and tolerance in action.

The community aspects of Marlboro strengthen these ideals. It is a collective whose members are committed to the belief that the finest in the art of music arises from that which is best in the human spirit. Master artists forgo appearances at celebrated summer venues in order to live on this rural campus and be mentors and role models to young practitioners of their art. It is a remarkable act of generosity and service—to Marlboro, the field, and the future. Their dedication keeps alive the light of hope and optimism that has shined brightly in this place, and which continues to illuminate a pathway to a better world.

Rudolf Serkin, Marlboro’s co-founder and founding artistic director, said it best: “Nowhere else will you find this complete lack of selfishness, this coming together of musicians from all countries and backgrounds, this dedication to the composer and the music rather than to the performer’s glory.”


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