James Dunham, viola

His first tour was in 1971-72 before he became a member of the Cleveland String Quartet

Congratulations to one and all for the ever-increasing success of the Musicians from Marlboro series! Over the years, the range and depth of the many participating musicians and the repertoire they have explored is astonishing. The profound effect this has had upon musical life in the U.S. – and indeed, the world – is wonderful to behold.

As a 20-year old student in southern California, I was fortunate to earn an audition with the great Felix Galimir to attend the Marlboro Music Festival. (Felix was on tour at the time with…Musicians from Marlboro, of course!) To my delight, I was invited to attend Marlboro that very summer: 1971. I knew about the Festival from my mentors who were past participants; even so, what I found was different than any musical experience I had ever encountered. Legendary musicians like Rudolf Serkin, Pablo Casals, Pina Carmirelli, Felix Galimir, Mischa and Sasha Schneider, all sitting easily with young musicians as green as I was! As you can imagine, the learning curve was steep: wonderfully steep.

It is with tremendous gratitude that I remember the invitation to participate in a Musicians from Marlboro tour that very autumn! Pina Carmirelli headed the senior members, joined by Marlboro regular Philipp Naegele and the oboist George Louis Haas. In addition, I was joined by three other young artists: violinist Ronald Copes and cellists Jerry Grossman and Steve Doane. The four of us were 20 years old at the festival, each turning 21 within weeks of the tour. I was truly overwhelmed, not only by the great artistry of these admired senior members, but also by the incredible virtuosity of my young colleagues! Once again, the learning was profound, touring widely with Stamitz and Mozart Oboe Quartets, the Beethoven String Quintet, Op. 29, and the great Brahms Sextet in Bb, Op. 18. We worked hard and were guided with great care and skill. At long last, Pina and Philipp deemed the performances acceptable: the memories of these performances remain indelible to this day. Over the years, there were many remarkable touring incidents. There are too many to relate, but a few of my favorites include:

  • In 1971, Jerry Grossman trying to leave the stage of two-year old Alice Tully Hall—and being unable to find the stage door among the hundreds of still unblemished vertical slats of wood! (The stage crew finally opened it, 20 feet to Jerry’s left…!)
  • Pina Carmirelli, overheard on our tour saying energetically: “Philipp, we must rehearse. Where are the bambini??”
  • On a later tour, making a treacherous page turn in the Dvořák Piano Quintet and finding a hilarious remark unexpectedly penciled into my music. In astonishment, I looked up to find (what else?) Daniel and Todd Phillips and Peter Wiley grinning back at me!

I have been fortunate to participate in three Musicians from Marlboro tours. In addition to the many important venues we visited across the country, each tour included performances for Tony Checchia’s great Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and, of course, the incomparable People’s Symphony concerts coordinated by Frank Salomon. The learning that came from my three summers at the Marlboro Music Festival, anchored by the deep connections fostered through these Musicians from Marlboro tours, has informed me as a musician, as a teacher, and as a person throughout my life. Friendships with fellow touring artists like Daniel and Todd Phillips, Peter Wiley, Robert McDonald, Ida Levin, Paul Watkins, and the bambinitutti, continue to this day. What can I say? You learn a lot about people when you’re on the road together! There were so many pranks (large and small!) during those trips, counterbalanced, of course, by exquisite music-making at all times.

I am forever grateful for these many opportunities. I send my thanks to Frank, Tony and all those who have kept Marlboro at the forefront of music, and I wish Musicians from Marlboro all success for the next 50 years and beyond!

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