Reflections from an Audience Member

Photo by Pete Checchia.

It has always been a pleasure to hark back to memories of my first visit to Marlboro, Vermont, so I will try to recapture the delight of that early adventure.

When I came to Barnard College, it was not the opportunities offered by the zoology laboratory, but rather the reality that I could listen to much of the Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Brahms repertoire on records in the library which enhanced my college experience! As one of very few foreign students at Barnard College in the early 1950s, I was a lucky recipient of tickets to cultural events provided by the Foreign Student Advisor, Miss Dorothy Fox. Thus I became acquainted with Carnegie Hall and the Met. On one occasion I took the bold and extravagant initiative of purchasing a ticket to hear Rudolf Serkin play the ‘Emperor’ Concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Guido Cantelli in a concert which included Rossini’s Overture to ‘La Gazza Ladra’ and the Brahms Symphony No. 1. It was the first time I had heard a live performance of a piano concerto and it was electrifying. The concert program, which had the usual biographical sketch about the soloist, mentioned Marlboro, Vermont, the Busch family, and chamber music, which intrigued me.


Photo by Clemens Kalischer

In the summer of 1956 I was determined to explore the matter further. I poured over some maps and figured out that Marlboro could be reached through Brattleboro, Vermont. The dot which represented Marlboro on the map should be someplace with reasonable amenities if they also boasted a chamber music festival, I said to myself.

Early on a Saturday morning I took a bus from Boston to Springfield, Massachusetts, and a train from Springfield to Brattleboro, Vermont. At the station I asked about transportation to Marlboro but was greeted with an expression of puzzlement and a shrug. I walked up Main Street. The overhead banners welcomed everyone to a ‘Firemen’s Convention.’ At the corner was Brooks Pharmacy with Brooks Hotel above it. I inquired at the pharmacy. Marlboro was ten miles up the road, there was a limousine which went by on its way to Albany and they would drop me off at Marlboro. I figured I was all set! The limousine came and I hopped in. I think the charge was $10.00

So we went winding up scenic Route 9 and the limousine stopped by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, which was said to be Marlboro. I tried to appear unfazed but couldn’t help wondering where the amenities suggested by the dot on the map could possibly be. I started walking. The cemetery on the left was reassuring; where there was a cemetery there had to be people!

Pretty soon I came upon a Vermonter rocking on his porch, smoking a corn-cob pipe. I asked him about the Marlboro Music Festival. “Keep walking!” he said. It was a hot summer day; I took in the delicious smell and sounds of the summer and spotted berries on the bushes by the side of the road. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, where I would spend the night and how I would get back to Boston the following day. The road was deserted. But next thing a big car pulled up beside me. A slight gentleman opened the door on the passenger side and didn’t even ask me where I was going for it must have been obvious. I thanked him and unhesitatingly got in his car. After what seemed like a long silence I said, “I’ve heard so much about the Marlboro Music Festival I just had to come…” He smiled and in a foreign accent said, “It is an interesting place…You will enjoy it.”

He dropped me off at the bottom of the little hill leading up to the dining room and drove off on the dirt road. The Persons Auditorium has not been built and concerts were held in the dining room. On weekends there was an afternoon and evening concert on Saturdays as well as a Sunday afternoon concert. I walked up the hill. There was a small crowd gathered. Then we gradually moved into the dining room which was a very intimate space. The current extension had not been built yet and there was probably barely enough room for a hundred people. When the performance started, I realized the slight gentleman with the foreign accent who had given me a ride was the late Marcel Moyse. As well, I may be one of the few current audience members who have heard Anthony Checchia the bassoonist! And the enchantment of listening to Rudolf Serkin playing a Mozart concerto with a small, young orchestra in a Vermont barn still lingers…

Except for a few intervals during my internship year, subsequently when I was in London, England for postgraduate training, or when caught up in family-related missions, I have been fortunate in being able to attend the Marlboro Music Festival, with friends and family, where over the past half century I have always found joy, inspiration, motivation to keep playing my piano, and have broadened my musical horizons. Some things have changed, faces we eagerly searched for are no longer to be found, but the soul of Marlboro remains unaltered.

Güneş N. Ege, MD. FRCS, FRCPC
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Marlboro Music greatly values the devotion and friendship of so many of its audience members, and is especially grateful to Dr. Ege for establishing an endowment fund to offer an annual Musicians from Marlboro concert in Toronto.


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