Hiroko Yajima, violin

Her first tour was in 1967-68

I have had the honor to have participated in 16 “Musicians From Marlboro” tours since 1968. My memories are full of the joy, excitement, and fun I had in my association with the great senior artists who have been at Marlboro and the wonderful colleagues of my own generation. Through these interactions, I have been able to learn many of the greatest musical works intimately and have been granted the opportunity to perform them over and over again.

My very first summer in Marlboro was 1966. I was still in my teens and had just come to the United States from Japan. I was auditioned and invited by Felix Galimir, my teacher and mentor from the Juilliard School. I hardly knew anyone else in Marlboro and, although I understood that some great artists would be there, such as Mr. Serkin and Maestro Casals, I really had no idea of what might be required of me. At first, this was almost too heavy a burden to bear, but I gradually came to know and work with some of the senior artists and feel more comfortable with both them and many of my talented colleagues closer to my age. You can well imagine how thrilled and astonished I was when I was asked to take part in a “Music from Marlboro” tour at the end of my first summer.

This tour, which took place in 1968, included Murray Perahia, piano; Elsa Ludewig, clarinet; Leslie Parnas, cello; and myself. The only work I played was the Hindemith Clarinet Quartet. Elsa and Leslie were seasoned artists with lots of experience. Murray, although still quite young, was an incredible performer who already was quite comfortable onstage. My initiation to “Musicians from Marlboro” was a hard learning experience. I remember long drives in the car with everybody, the luggage and the cello crowded in together. It was my first exposure of having to adjust to the acoustics of vastly different halls and to be exposed to the differing  musical tastes of my colleagues. There were also many humorous times when Leslie and Murray would come out with millions of great jokes that were:

a.) not printable

b.) often not really understood by me so that they ended up laughing harder at their clumsy explanations than the original joke itself.

The many hours of travel in a crowded car really helped us to bond.

The next tour was in 1969 and was very special both because of the program, an early Mozart Quartet, the Schoenberg Trio and the Schubert Octet, and the fact that our senior member was the late Felix Galimir. I couldn’t believe his generosity when he offered me the chance to play first violin in the Mozart Quartet K. 171! The middle of our program was the Schoenberg String Trio, which was performed by Felix; Sam Rhodes, viola; and the late Fortunanto Arico, cello. Listening to their magnificent performance from backstage every night was the greatest lesson anyone could receive in revealing what that piece was all about. It was amusing that on the occasions when the audience was not particularly favorable to the Schoenberg, Felix would exclaim with total exasperation, “They don’t deserve the repeats in the Schubert!” The second half of the program was the supremely beautiful Schubert Octet. Besides the performers listed above, we had Julius Levine, bass; Richard Stoltzman, clarinet; Joyce Kelley, bassoon; and Richard Solis, horn.  I was awestruck to have had the opportunity of playing that work with Felix so many times. He played it with such beauty and elegance that the spirit of Schubert came shining through for all of us. In response, the incomparable Julius Levine made the bass line dance, which perfectly complemented Felix’s musicianship.

I have gone on many tours since then. Here are highlights from some of them. In 1972, I was in a group with the wonderful Madeline Foley, cello, who was an inspiration to all of us. That tour consisted of five women and only one man: Rainer Moog, viola. He was teased unmercifully as the lone masculine presence.

In the 1972- 73 season, I was in a group with Lee Luvisi, piano; John Graham, viola; Ronald Leonard, cello; and Julius Levine, bass. One of the works we played was the Fauré G minor Piano Quartet. At first, I did not understand this late Fauré work at all. Lee Luvisi, who truly loved the composer and had tremendous understanding of his style, totally convinced me to love and enjoy playing it.

I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life in 1980-81 with András Schiff, piano and Gary Hoffman, cello. To play the Smetana Trio and the Bartók First Violin and Piano Sonata was a true musical feast. With these two exceptional artists, I learned that it was not necessary to debate musical points at great length. Almost everything was done in the playing. If you listened carefully you would be inspired to add your own personal responses to the dialogue. Probably 95% of the music making was taken care of in this way. The rapport with my two colleagues and with the music was so special and particular that, after the tour, I could not bring myself to play these works with anyone else for a very long time.

In 1990-91 I was on a tour that featured the Webern String Trio, an intricate and intimate work that demanded a great deal from all of us. The group was Sam Rhodes, viola; Katia Linfield, cello; and myself.  Katia kept a diary of the tour and eventually made a copy and gave it to all of us. Sam and Katia were very secure with the complicated rhythms early on in our rehearsal. Katia’s diary stated very often how S. R. would suddenly exclaim, “Hiroko, how did you get to that place?” or Katia questioning, ”Hiroko, where are you?” This became our inside joke. Our program ended with the Franck Piano Quintet, in which we were joined by Cynthia Raim, piano, and Mark Steinberg, violin. I had never been in a circumstance where the pianist actually broke a pedal during the concert, causing that whole attachment to fall loudly on the floor! Our one and only Cynthia managed somehow to do exactly that at our final concert in Stamford, Connecticut. It was just before the end of the first movement that we suddenly heard a loud noise and then a sound more like a harpsichord than a piano. We made an announcement inquiring if there were a piano technician present. To our delight and surprise, there actually was. He made a quick repair and we were able to conclude the Franck and our tour on a happy note.

My journey with “Musicians from Marlboro” has been one of the most important elements in shaping me into the musician I am today. It has been an equally strong influence on my performing, my teaching and, in the administrative area, as the chair of the string department at the Mannes College. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything!

Thank you, Mr. Serkin, Frank, Tony and everyone who helped to create and continue the idea of bringing what Marlboro stands for to a wider public. I wish all of you at least another 50 years of continued success!