Michelle Ross, violin

Her first tour was in 2012-13

My first summer at Marlboro was in 2011. After three weeks of rehearsing, blue skies, and egg-McMarlboros, the “real” world has surely melted away by this point. When the first concerts begin, as a community we finally have the pleasure of sharing and receiving these musical gifts from artists who will transport you to another realm with their performances. But there is also something extra you feel at Marlboro. I will never forget that first night in the dining hall, when I encountered Schubert’s Notturno for the first time: these artists who have lived with Schubert for weeks and seem to be sharing a revelation with the rest of us, they also feel like family. It’s a special, unnameable phenomenon that happens to all of us.

Because of Marlboro’s unique rehearsal structure, we are able to rehearse in what feels like a suspended reality. A plane where curiosity prevails, where we can search and experiment and struggle, oriented away from results, rather towards the questions. The world of Marlboro is simple: we eat, we play, we sleep. We fall asleep to wind quintets being read in the distance, reading Mozart Symphonies in a standing circle, hearing the Lyric Suite live for the first time; dreams and waking life seem one and the same. Music, stripped away from ego, the professional rehearsal schedule, the review, the fee… music expands and fills the horizon. Everything extra evaporates. It is a gift to live like this. It is a gift to be able to think about music in this context, and the lessons and epiphanies are endless. And you are not alone in your nirvana, but you are one of a very large community and an even larger legacy. Senior artists inspire and challenge you in ways you sometimes are even unaware. I have often learned things a few years removed, later realizing who planted the idea in my mind. Marlboro did not only teach me as a musician, but it also taught me how to live.

Community is a very important part of Marlboro, because, in the end, music cannot exist without a community. My first performance at Marlboro also happened to be the first few public notes on stage that summer. What an honor to play Schumann’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 41, No. 2 with Ida Levin, Michael Tree, and Paul Wiancko. We then got to take the quartet on a Musicians from Marlboro tour in 2013. One of my favorite aspects of the tours might be that they happen usually one or two seasons after the initial performance. With almost two years behind us, it was very special to revisit what had become a beautiful collective memory. One week of rehearsals in Allen Cohen’s apartment was like discovering a time machine, a little gem in the middle of an NYC winter. I love tours especially because of how my colleagues can surprise me and take chances; when we have multiple performances, there are more opportunities to play things differently, and it adds a whole new layer to any ensemble: we get to know each other truly as performers.

My second tour was of Thomas Adès’ “Arcadiana String Quartet”, with Scott St. John, Matthew Zalkind, and Emily Deans. The six-week rehearsal process for this piece, and ultimate performance in the very special Brattleboro community concert in the Dining Hall, was one of my favorite Marlboro experiences. Discovering this piece together, with so much time, was a luxury. Adès’ music is like looking through a kaleidoscope, a window into an imaginative world where colors and musical allusions intersect, and the music flows out as naturally as water. Adès’ music is as complex as it is delicate, and its brilliance is largely due to its intricate rhythms and compositional structure. Therefore, having six weeks to discuss and attempt to capture every detail was very special. By the time we performed the piece, I felt like I could almost play it from memory. In these special dining hall concerts, a small portion of the audience sits on stage, behind the performers. It is an intimate environment, and I will never forget the electricity coming from the audience, their beautiful silent attention as we went on this magical and very short journey that is Adès’ Arcadiana. It is a piece that truly deserves a monumental rehearsal project from its performers. I am so grateful to have learned it at Marlboro with these outstanding musicians. It goes without saying that to have the chance to go on tour with this piece was incredible. Not only did I have the opportunity to spend six weeks living insides Adès’ world, I then got to experience the thrill of six performances of the piece.

In 2012, I had a collaborative experience that to this day fills me with warmth. Brook Speltz, a cellist and close friend, and I had the true joy of working on Beethoven’s Ghost Trio with the Hungarian pianist Dénes Varjon. To me, Marlboro is the ideal place to work on Beethoven. A composer whose depth seems to expand the more one studies, the rehearsal process can often feel like a vacillation between epiphany and frustration. You can tirelessly work in one direction, and when you think you have reached a mountaintop, the once peak seems now to be a plateau, and there is something else in the distance to discover. Dénes has a beautiful instinct for pacing our rehearsals and for searching. He reacts to harmonies with such wisdom and sensitivity and inspired Brook and me to look at the score in this way. Sometimes he would suggest we play the final Presto movement very, very slowly, in order to look at every detail and nuance up close. Then we might do the exact opposite, zooming in and then zooming out. Sometimes as a group we might reach a wall, and Brook might suggest that we go for a walk. I’ll never forget when we were working on the Largo, that ominous slow movement which seems almost like an esoteric microcosm of larger-than-life ideas. We put our instruments down, made a left out of Apple Tree into the woods, listening to a recording of Beethoven’s Opus 59, No. 1 from Brook’s cell phone, a favorite of all of ours. We returned to Apple Tree without a word and resumed working. Before Dénes and Izabella left Marlboro that summer, Brook and some friends read Opus 59, No. 1 for Dénes, who followed along with the score. It was with true elation that our group was able to work together again on Beethoven as a trio the following summer in 2013, on the Archduke Trio. It is a rare gift to resume work with one particular group at Marlboro in consecutive summers. I remember being a little nervous before our first rehearsal, almost like I was being reunited with a former love and I was worried whether or not we could recapture our connection. The first rehearsal was good, but I will never forget our second rehearsal. It felt as though we had found our groove, and our intellectual and musical chemistry had found its rhythm once again. I will never forget the night we read through the slow movement at the end of a particularly enlightening rehearsal. As we finished the movement I happened to peek through the window of Apple Tree. It was as if blissful collaboration between the three of us was being reflected outside: the sky was a deep pink.

The final week of Marlboro that summer was overflowing with amazing performances, and as is common at Marlboro, not every piece can make it to the public concerts, so we decided to perform the Archduke informally one night. A huge portion of the Marlboro family came to our informal performance in the dining hall of the Archduke Trio, that last Wednesday night of the summer, even though we had all just heard an incredible and full-length concert. Playing this piece for this audience was very touching for us. It was an intimate and profound concert, and I will cherish it forever.

Just this past winter, Dénes, Brook, and I had the joy of going on a Musicians from Marlboro tour with the Ghost Trio and Schubert Notturno and had the honor of gracing Weill Recital Hall on that tour. The first night of the tour was possibly my favorite. It was at Smith College, and they asked us to have a short question and answer before the concert. There was something about hearing Dénes and Izabella speak about their teacher György Kurtág (as his music was featured on the program), and being asked questions about Marlboro, that opened us all in a very special way. Speaking about our time together and music-making at Marlboro was the perfect collective focusing for all the performers. Being out in the “real world,” it was a gentle reminder of the rolling Vermont hills and musical clarity that comes along with those seven weeks. After the Schubert, which began the program, Brook and I listened through the stage door to Dénes and Izabella play Kurtág selections and Bach four-hands transcriptions. As we silently stood in this tiny backstage, we were bewildered by the colors Dénes and Izabella were awakening out of the piano. Not being able to see, our imaginations were able to experience this mystical world of Kurtág, framed by Dénes’s very poignant words about the man just an hour prior. I remember trying to peer through the peephole of the backstage door, and to my surprise, encountered a distant and tiny image of Izabella playing the piano, distorted by the magnifying lens of the peephole; and felt like I was in a surrealist film looking through a kaleidoscope, hearing these unspeakably beautiful colors. It was indeed a very unique way to hear this music for the first time.

Being able to say that I am a member of the Marlboro community is one of my favorite things in my life. I had dreamed of attending this festival, along with most other young musicians. Every note played and heard at Marlboro is a gift, and remains with your spirit. One never stops learning from one’s experiences in Vermont. The tours are a way for us to continue to grow as artists together, and to share our little heaven with a wider audience. I am forever grateful to Marlboro and to the Musicians from Marlboro Series.