It has been one of the great honors of my life to attend Marlboro. I vividly remember arriving for my first summer. I had borrowed Pete Checcia’s old Volvo station wagon from Philadelphia and driven up with Vicki Powell. I had looked forward to attending Marlboro for years, and when we pulled of the Interstate to Route 9, I was an excited mess. I remember stopping on the road to take a picture of the “Musicians at Play” sign that I’d seen so many times in photos. It felt like a major arrival point of my life. It still does.
I’ve been beyond lucky to participate in three Musicians from Marlboro tours, and each one has unique memories. Different people, repertoire, and cities, of course, but still linked by that magical bond forged by those summers in Vermont. Magical does feel like the right word.
My first tour was built around Berg’s Lyric Suite, which had gone through two summers of growing pains with three colleagues I admire and have learned so much from: Itamar Zorman, Robin Scott and Sam Rhodes. We scheduled an extra week of rehearsals about a month before the tour, in order to refresh ourselves more thoroughly with Berg. Our first concert of that tour was on Frank Salomon’s People’s Symphony series at Washington Irving High School. It was a fitting place for our debut. New York has a large collection of Marlboro alumni, and it felt right to perform the Berg again for so many familiar faces. On a more personal note, this was my New York professional debut! Marlboro had given me yet another significant arrival point.
I’m sure I speak for Itamar and Robin in how much admiration I have for Sam Rhodes. I can’t imagine discovering Berg’s Lyric Suite with a more knowledgeable and caring musician. He knew this language as his own, no doubt shaped by his incredible experience of learning the piece with Felix Galimir and performing it his entire life with the Juilliard Quartet. Robin, Itamar, Mr. Rhodes and I spent three summers at Marlboro playing in a quartet. Two summers for Berg and a third for Haydn. What a joy this was! I remember our first rehearsal for the tour, in the spring of 2014. Sam had just left the Juilliard Quartet the previous season and at some point during the rehearsal, he told us how good it felt to play quartets again. We all beamed. We took to calling our group “our little Marlboro quartet”.
My second tour took place in February 2015. The piece the tour was built around was Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, which included violinist Michelle Ross and pianist Dénes Várjon. Dénes arrived at Marlboro in 2012, having not attended in 20 years. How lucky we were to have him back! The three of us spent two summers together, one on “Ghost” and the second on Beethoven’s “Archduke”. I remember giddily calling Michelle when I received an email informing us of an upcoming “Ghost” trio tour. It’s hard to put into words just how much playing together meant to the three of us. I think we all felt like family. Dénes’s wife, Izabella, also a pianist, joined us on this tour. I remember the first concert in Northampton, MA. Michelle and I stood outside the stage door after performing Schubert’s Notturno to open the concert. Izabella and Dénes went on stage together to perform Kurtág and Bach transcriptions for four hands. The two of us had never heard colors like that before. We both took turns peeking through the stage door, hardly believing that the incredible effects we heard were coming from a normal Steinway.
The final concert of that tour was at Marlboro College, of all places. This was not meant to be the final concert, but being a February tour, it’s not too much of a surprise that a blizzard cancelled the Boston finale scheduled for the next day. The atmosphere at Marlboro was surreal. Having never been there outside of the summer festival, it felt like I was dreaming of a familiar place that wasn’t quite the same. Michelle and I took Ames Hill Road from Brattleboro, for old time’s sake. There was so much snow that we couldn’t even see the South Pond road. This was not the Marlboro we remembered! We performed at Serkin Hall, for a relatively small audience due to the blizzard having already arrived. It was such a strange feeling to perform the “Ghost” trio in the same room we had spent hours rehearsing the piece two years prior.
I can confidently say that my summers at Marlboro were as influential in my development as a musician as any other event of my life. Having studied with and idolized Peter Wiley, I was beyond excited and nervous for my first summer there. The first piece I performed at Marlboro was Mozart’s Flute Quartet. I came off stage and bumped into my teacher, who congratulated me on my first Marlboro performance. I immediately broke down in tears. The tours were an extension of this one of a kind feeling. These were my first real concert tours, and I’ve no doubt been spoiled as a result.
A heartfelt congratulations to 50 years of Musicians from Marlboro tours, and a sincere thank you to Mr. Serkin, Mr. Busch, Frank, Tony, and everyone else who’s given us this incredible tradition.