From 1986 to 1993, I worked in Marlboro’s New York office, where my responsibilities included managing Musicians from Marlboro tours. Though I had not yet been to Marlboro when I worked on the first few tours, I already sensed the special camaraderie between the musicians and knew it must be a very unique place.
In 1988 I spent the first of six summers in Vermont. Despite the fact that I was there as a staff member and not as a musician, I truly felt that I was part of the “Marlboro Family” and made many deep friendships there which continue to this day. In 1990 I actually got to share the Marlboro stage with Luis Batlle, Gregory Hopkins and Mary Westbrook-Geha for a performance of Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Vanished. Well, almost. I wasn’t actually on stage; I was one of the three off-stage singers who (don’t) appear in the middle of the work at a particularly powerful and atmospheric moment. My colleague Martha Bonta, who worked in the Box Office, joined me and a ‘real’ singer for this trio. It was truly a memorable experience to be part of that thrilling performance.
So imagine how excited we were to find out the piece would be taken on a Musicians from Marlboro tour! Martha (who also worked in the NY office) and I begged to be able to go, and they couldn’t refuse our no-fee offer. After a few days in Vermont rehearsing with Luis, we embarked on an eight-concert East Coast tour. I can’t fully convey how fantastic it was to perform (and hear) this program eight times. Always a bit different, and with the occasional mishap—in Stamford, CT the fire alarm went off halfway through the concert, and the hall had to be evacuated. There was no fire, but we waited so long outside in the cold November air that eventually the audience left, and the rest of the concert was aborted. (Thankfully, the Janáček had already been performed!)
In 1991 MFM made its first European tour since 1965. In honor of Adolf Busch’s centenary, the program featured his Sextet, along with the Mozart Horn Quintet and Dvořák Sextet. I arrived in Florence halfway through the tour, to be met by the news that Marie-Luise Neunecker (horn) was ill and had gone home to Germany to recover. (She re-joined the group at the next venue.) The presenter in Florence was convinced that she had another engagement somewhere else and had never intended to play the concert. Furthermore he intimated that we all knew about this and were colluding in the deception! I stood there outside the hall, jet-lagged, for about 30 minutes while Maria Bruzzese (the wonderful Italian manager who had booked the Italy dates) tried to disabuse him of this, to no avail. The audience loved the concert nonetheless, even without the Mozart. My other recollection of that tour is that every concert fee was paid in cash for some reason. I grew increasingly uncomfortable as the pile grew larger and remember a very Italian ordeal at a bank trying to wire it back to the US. (Maria helped once again, signing paperwork stating that she was not part of the mafia!)
I learned first-hand that being on tour is TIRING. And I wasn’t even playing! Just the act of travelling, checking in and out of hotels, figuring out where the artist entrance to each hall was, and most importantly, finding a good place for dinner after the concert, was exhausting. Forget about sight-seeing—there was little time for that. Each night, as I sat listening to the artists give their all on stage, I thought to myself “where do they get the energy?”
Unquestionably, the MFM tours that had the most impact on me were the “Crazy 8s.” This was a program featuring the Mendelssohn Octet, with Pam Frank, Ivan Chan, Naomi Katz, Eric Grossman, Scott St John, Uli Eichenauer, Julia Lichten and Gustav Rivinius. The group was first assembled for 40th Anniversary concerts at the Met Museum and Carnegie Hall, with David Soyer playing second cello. Gustav stepped in for the tours, of which there were three: East Coast, West Coast, and Europe. Yes, an MFM tour with NO SENIOR! Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet and the Mozart C Major Quintet filled out the program. I decided to take part of my vacation and travel with the group on the West Coast, sharing a hotel room with Pam. When the group traveled to Europe, I accompanied them for half of the tour.
Not only did these musicians have the stamina to play the concerts, they also seemed to have endless energy to… play cards! A bastardized version of the game Crazy Eights somehow emerged during the first tour, with countless new ‘rules’ added daily. There were penalties if one didn’t remember all the rules (which nobody could), and the games usually erupted into fits of laughter within minutes. We played at the breakfast table, on trains, in the airport, in hotel rooms….I think Uli might have documented the rules at some point for posterity, but who knows where they are now. Great music, great friends, great food—boy, did we have fun!