I had the honor of taking part in two of the three touring groups during the first season. Since then, I have participated in the tours many times over the fifty years and so have experienced the process from ‘both sides of the aisle’ as a young musician and as an experienced professional. When I was one of the younger musicians, I was tremendously inspired and challenged by artists such as Madeline Foley, Felix Galimir, and Lilian Kallir as well as by my peers. Now as a senior member, I feel a joyous responsibility to once again immerse the supremely talented young musicians in the wonders, the precise interactions, and the technical demands of music-making on the highest level.
The 1960’s could very well be called the Golden Age of Marlboro. It was during that time that a combination of truly great musicians and the most promising, talented young people came together in an ideal, self-contained atmosphere which had the power to produce some remarkable music-making. The person who had the vision, passion and musical integrity to bring this about was, of course, Rudolf Serkin to whom all of us owe a debt which can only be repaid by our efforts to keep his vision alive and continuing for as long as we can.
Having built a secure base at the summer retreat of Marlboro College, Mr. Serkin and his close associates and advisors, Anthony Checchia and Frank Salomon, conceived the next logical step: why not export some of the beautiful music from the summer and offer it to a wider public throughout the US and Canada? Thus was born the idea of “Music from Marlboro” where several groups representing the best Marlboro could offer would go on tour to venues in major cities as well as college towns and smaller venues. I had the privilege of not only going on the very first one of these in the fall of 1965 but also on two of the first three during that initial season.
Marlboro groups always have to have a senior member to offer the wisdom that comes with invaluable experience with the repertoire, knowledge of how to work with people and the ability to focus the group’s work in order to get the best results. Madeline Foley was the senior of our initial group. She was a wonderful cellist and musician who had exacting standards that she held for herself and all of us youngsters. The rest of the group consisted of Jaime Laredo, violin; myself, viola; Ruth Laredo, piano and Florence Kopleff , contralto. Sadly, only Jaime and myself are still with us today. The program we offered was the Mozart Piano Trio in C, K. 548; the Irving Fine Fantasia for String Trio; the Brahms Zwei Gesange for Contralto, Viola and Piano, Op. 91; and the Dvořák Piano Quartet No. 2 in Eb, Op. 87. Looking forward to the experience of music-making with the wonderful artists listed above was, for me, awe-inspiring! I worked relentlessly on my own playing to try to be worthy of the standard set by them. The fact that the Brahms songs were on the program was a special challenge for me. The introduction to the first of the two, “Gestillte Sehnsucht,” symbolized in my inner ear and imagination what the spirit of the viola stood for. My efforts to match the color and depth of Florence’s beautiful voice helped to develop and refine my sound. I was delighted by the interaction with my two string colleagues in the Fine Trio and by Ruth’s virtuosity and intensity in the Dvořák Piano Quartet. Of all the memorable concerts we played on that tour, the one in New York’s Town Hall was particularly meaningful for me. I had attended a number of concerts there, but this was my debut in that legendary hall.
The second tour featured the string sextet, Verklaerte Nacht, of Schoenberg. Marlboro was fortunate enough to have had as a long-term senior member, the great violinist and teacher, Felix Galimir. He had worked with Schoenberg, Berg and Webern in Vienna in the 1930’s and specialized in music of the “Second Viennese School”. The Verklaerte Nacht was a piece for which Felix had a particular affinity. I had already recorded this work with him and had just performed it many times on the recent Marlboro European tour. I will always remember the poetry with which he imbued the tenderer passages and the screaming hysteria of themore frantic areas. It was a tremendously emotional experience for both the players with him and the audience. The other string players were Ernestine Briesmeister, violin; myself, viola; Bernard Zazlav, viola; Toby Saks, cello; and Jay Humeston, cello. Felix, Ernestine, and Toby are unfortunately no longer with us.
The tour also featured Schumann and Dvořák vocal duos with Mary Burgess, mezzo-soprano; Jon Humphrey, tenor; and Richard Goode, piano. Richard was the pianist in an early Mendelssohn Piano Quartet, and the six string players began the program with some very wonderful and quite unknown fantasias of the 16th Century English composer William Byrd. This tour took place in the winter of 1966 and included concerts in Montreal and Sherbrooke, Quebec. I remember difficult, long drives in the snow.
I participated in two other Music from Marlboro tours in the ‘60’s, one with Paula Robison, flute; Sylvia Rosenberg, violin; Ko Iwasaki, cello; and the late Lilian Kallir, piano. Lilian’s special feeling toward the Schumann Piano Quartet inspired us to give memorable performances of that work. The next tour was once again with Felix Galimir and featured the Schoenberg String Trio and the Schubert Octet. My wife, Hiroko Yajima, was also one of the players on that tour. It was the first of several we did together.
I became a member of the Juilliard String Quartet soon after that, in May 1969, and did not have the opportunity to go on another Music from Marlboro tour for a long time. When I was invited again to be part of a tour, my status had changed from a junior young artist to a senior member. By then, I had a lot more concert and touring experience and a more complete knowledge of the repertoire. In order to give guidance to my younger colleagues, I was able to draw on the experience I had in my own younger days with Mr. Serkin, Maestro Casals, Felix Galimir, Alexander Schneider, Mischa Schneider, Marcel Moyse and Madeline Foley.
In each of the 13 Musicians from Marlboro tours in which I have taken part since 1969, the most important element for me has been the various musical journeys involved. The groups are usually built around one or more works studied and performed during the summer. There would always be an intense rehearsal period of 10 days to two weeks before actual performances. During that time, all of us are immersed in that particular universe represented by the music we are studying. It is almost like all outside events, some of them important, some trivial, don’t exist. The group forms a special bond that eventually results in life, credibility, and spontaneity to our performances. Sometimes, though, that quality does not come easily. One must struggle with conflicting ideas and personalities. One hopes that the love of the music and the respect for each other will prevail and result in a compelling performance. The senior member bears the responsibility to reconcile differences and make the group cohere so we all can achieve the best result. I have had the honor of collaborating with many of the most talented young artists in all of the tours in which I have taken part. On one of them, I had the great pleasure of being able to include my daughter, Harumi, as one of the violinists.
During the spring of 2004, I was asked to suggest people and repertoire for a Marlboro tour. I wanted to feature an unknown expressionistic work of Paul Hindemith for voice and string quartet written just at the end of World War I. That would be the middle of the program just before intermission, and surrounding it on both sides would be two Mozart String Quintets, the very early K. 174 and the supremely touching G minor, K. 516. As the singer, I wanted to choose Hyunah Yu, a wonderful soprano. For the string players, I chose some of the most talented and accomplished young artists at Marlboro during that time, Frank Huang and Tai Murray, violins; Eric Nowlin, viola; and Efe Baltacigil, cello. We had a wonderful time together working on and performing this beautiful music. The tour, which took place in February and March 2005, took us to the southern part of the US: New Orleans, LA and Jackson, MS. For me, the most memorable event took place as we were all celebrating together after the Jackson concert. We were sitting in a restaurant enjoying some good food and a glass of wine when I realized that all of us were just about the most ethnically diverse group of people you could imagine. Here we were, not just sitting joyfully together but being welcomed at a restaurant in Mississippi! Although this fact was never discussed or remarked upon by any of us, it made a huge impression on me. It represented not only what the spirit of Marlboro stood for, but also what the highest ideals of our country strove for and, in this case at least, had attained.
May Musicians from Marlboro tours, now in its 50th year, continue indefinitely into the future proclaiming the spirit of Marlboro far and wide!