Esther and I will always remember our first arrival for the Marlboro Festival, as we were looking for the right road and stopped to ask a front porch, rocking-chaired, pipe-smoking local where the festival was, and he answered with characteristic brevity: “Don’t move a darn inch!” We had arrived (nearly) with just one more turn around the next corner. And, who was there to greet us? Headmaster Rudolf Serkin, with the strongest hugs and smiles to welcome us into instant family status! His next breath was to ask me if I knew the Schoenberg “Serenade”, Opus 24, because Leon Kirchner was going to conduct a festival performance of it in three days.
I had never even heard of it, but he gave me the score, and I started immediately to decipher the twelve-tone map and to prepare the colorful German text. The performance went well, and a recording was scheduled for a later return to Marlboro. For decades, that recording was the only available LP of the “Serenade” that eventually was re-issued as a CD.
Later came the exciting “Music from Marlboro” US Tour in mid-winter, a richly-varied program of Bartók, Schubert, Mussorgsky and Brahms with Pina Carmirelli, Richard Goode, and John Barrows. Those superb performances will live in memory forever. The only snag encountered was when we had a performance in Boston followed by a Town Hall concert in NYC the next evening. Flights cancelled due to heavy snow and a rush to the train station. That turned out to be the train ride from Hell! Over-sold, standing-room-only through the entire trip and hot, dry unbreathable air with smokers everywhere. I was sure that this would be my early demise in what had been budding career. Woe is me!
Thank God I am a basso, since a husky, dark sound could pass for legitimate in those dire circumstances. My manager attended and told me that I sounded like “Sarastro on Steroids”. Winthrop Sargeant thought we were great. Go figure!
Finally, I was honored to participate in the Carnegie Hall tribute to Rudolf Serkin, singing the touching Beethoven Elegy in memoriam. All in all, the Marlboro experience occupies a precious, unique place in my heart, and I am grateful for every moment remembered.
Addition: For me, rehearsing and performing those magnificent songs of Schubert and Mussorgsky with Richard was an indescribably gratifying (and edifying) experience for me. For our tour, Rudolf Serkin had urged me to explore the later volumes of Schubert lieder to find the songs that were composed specifically for the bass-baritone voice. That revelation, in the hands of Richard, opened up a new world for me. Richard’s energy and wide emotional range empowered me. And, in the Mussorgsky songs, his wide range of vivid theatrical power unleashed a fierce, savage realism, a magic carpet that drove me to unforeseen heights.