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The Commons
Photo 1

Randolph T. Holhut/Commons file photo

Marlboro Music's Frank Solomon gives a pre-concert talk before an evening performance at Parson's Auditorium.

The Arts

Sharing the joy of music

With an improved website and budget-priced concerts, Marlboro Music Festival looks to expand its audience

Originally published in The Commons issue #466 (Wednesday, July 4, 2018). This story appeared on page C1.


MARLBORO—More than ever, Marlboro Music Festival this year wants to invite the local community in Southern Vermont to join the excitement of its summer music programs.

“Marlboro 2018 is eager to share its music with the people in the area,” says Frank Salomon, Senior Administrator for Marlboro Music. “As a special incentive, Marlboro is offering $10 tickets to its concert of chamber music on Saturday, July 21. We hope that will encourage people who may not have experienced Marlboro Music to see what we are up to.”

In addition, on Friday, Aug. 3, at 8 p.m., Marlboro presents a Town Benefit Concert in the intimate Marlboro Dining Hall with proceeds benefiting local nonprofits.

“Marlboro started concerts geared towards local several years ago,” Salomon says. “At intermission, local vendors sell items like beverages and cheese.”

Salomon also wants people in the area to know they can sign up at www.marlboromusic.org to receive program announcements, exclusive recordings, treasures from its historic archive, news about Marlboro’s winter concerts, and much more.

Big upgrade

Those who have been to the Marlboro website in the past will be in store for a surprise.

“Brian Potter, our communications director, has updated Marlboro Music’s website to make it so much more reader friendly,” says Salomon. “Here you can find information about the weekly concerts when the repertoire had been decided. You also can get links to articles about Marlboro in the media across the globe.

“If you go to our archives, you will discover a detailed concert history of the festival. You will find what pieces have been played, how often, who played what and when, and how many times. You can find out what Yo-Yo Ma was playing when he came to Marlboro for the first time when he was 17, or Richard Goode at 14. You can discover the building blocks of these artists.

“By figuring out who played with whom in what piece, you can get a sense of how these musicians were shaped into the artists they became. For example, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax played together for the first time at Marlboro when they performed Brahms’ Piano Quartet in C minor.”

Salomon has been receiving a positive response to the new website.

“Here you can find information even when Marlboro Music is not in session,” he says. “I find it nice to share with people information about Marlboro all year.”

A year ago, Marlboro Music started to present on its website tributes to the most important people “who made the festival what it is,” according to Salomon. Currently there are portraits of Felix Galimir, Marcel Moyse, Rudolf Serkin, and Alexander “Sasha” Schneider and in the fall there will be a tribute to Pablo Casals.

Frank Salomon writes the introduction to each artist.

“I cover the timeline of their lives and career,” he says.

The tribute includes photos and recorded performances at Marlboro and elsewhere.

“These are musical giants who brought so much to Marlboro Music as well as music everywhere,” Salomon continues. “At Marlboro’s website, one gets an overview of what they contributed to making Marlboro Music a worldwide celebrated institution devoted to artistic excellence.”

Extraordinary collaborations

Each summer, some 85 exceptionally talented instrumentalists and singers of widely varying ages, backgrounds, and points of view gather at Marlboro College. New musical leaders are joined by eminent concert artists from around the world who live together for seven weeks as one nurturing and close-knit family.

“Professional beginning artists get the special opportunity to work with acclaimed senior artists, some of whom have been involved with Marlboro 30 years or more,” Salomon says. “Together, both get a chance to explore music with unlimited rehearsal time. The young and the veterans inspire each other, as they discover what lies beneath a piece of music.”

“Today, we live in an instant world where before anything happens, it’s on Facebook,” Salomon told The Commons in 2015. “Ours is a culture obsessed with being on top of everything. But this is not true at Marlboro.

“You’ll find we have poor cellphone reception, and television that can be only beamed in by a satellite dish. Therefore, we are able to focus more on community and its people. Here you will find human communication, one-on-one, minute-to-minute, day-by-day, for seven weeks. It’s amazing.”

The musicians who come to Marlboro can be divided into thirds.

“The first third are new artists,” says Salomon. “They have a three-year limit at the festival, which mean some can return for a second year or even a third. The new artists audition for a slot in New York. Marlboro holds auditions when an opening becomes available, but there is not necessarily one in every category every year.”

The second third are those from the first who do return to Marlboro for a second or third year.

The final third are veteran senior artists.

“Ages for new players can range from 18 up to 30,” Salomon continues. “It varies. Pianists run from 18 until 26, while wind players can be up to 28, and singers, who develop later, up to 30.”

‘A special appeal for singers’

Salomon estimates for each season there are about 11 pianists, 18 violinists, 12 violists, 10 cellists, and one or two double basses. This number remains fairly consistent because of the balance needed for string groupings. Then there are eight singers with a variety of vocal types for both lieder and vocal chamber music.

“Vocal chamber music has a special appeal for singers,” Salomon adds. “Marlboro Music is a rare opportunity for singers to work with great instrumentalists in the healthy repertoire of chamber music that includes voice. When Uchida, Goode, and Schiff took over after Serkin, they jointly felt they should emphasize vocal chamber, because everyone could learn from this music.”

When young artists apply to Marlboro, they select several works they would like to explore at Marlboro. The scheduling director then decides what pieces will be worked on during the summer, consulting in May and June with senior artists about what would be best.

“As Marlboro Music’s artistic director, Mitsuko Uchida is instrumental in inviting senior artists to Marlboro Music, as well as having a major role in soliciting suggestions for repertoire,” Salomon says. “At weekly meetings, she guides what is studied and what gets performed.

“Senior artists figure out who has the best experience for the repertoire. They check if any other young artist requested working on this piece. They put together a group of musicians to form an ensemble, considering how each might fit in, both musically and personally.

“At the end of each week, the scheduling director draws up a list of what could make it onto the public performance program. The performers might tell the director, ‘The work is going well but we need another week.’ Or, ‘Something special has happened here and could you find room on the program?’ Some works are rehearsed all summer and never are performed.”

Around six senior artists decide what will be put on the program for each concert, balancing shorter, medium, and longer works.

“They also must consider what will be on the second half of the concert, and how it relates to the first,” adds Salomon. “Often many works are available each week, and so some have to be postponed to be performed later in the summer.

“Finally, it is important that all Marlboro artists get a turn to perform.”

Artistic explorations

Seventy-five different pieces of music are worked on each week — around 200 in total. Artists spend 18 to 26 hours on three to five pieces. Most pieces have three weeks of rehearsal, or about 11 to 12 hours.

“Public performances are the outlet of this exploration process,” says Salomon. “After three weeks of daily rehearsals, Marlboro artists begin sharing with audiences the results of their in-depth collaborations. The programs are selected from the 60 to 80 groups in rehearsal at any one time; only one quarter of the more than 250 works explored during the summer can be included.”

“Each week, groups who feel that they have achieved especially successful results recommend their works for performance,” Salomon writes at the Marlboro website.

“As a result of this dynamic scheduling process, we do not know concert repertoire or personnel more than a week in advance. Yet, the performances provide exciting musical discoveries and represent the joyous spirit and dedication to excellence of the entire Marlboro Music community.”

This year public concerts are presented on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons from July 14 to Aug. 12, and on Friday evenings, Aug. 3 and 10.

“The concerts can sell out quickly, so we urge you to reserve your seats as early as possible,” says Salomon.

In addition to several weekends in the summer at the festival, Marlboro performances are also heard throughout its off-season with the Musicians from Marlboro national touring program and on radio broadcasts, recordings, and streaming from its website.

“The touring program has turned out to be an incredible proving ground for young artists who often have never performed in public on this scale before,” Salomon says. “On the other side, audiences get a chance to hear performances of intensely prepared pieces that these musicians first began exploring at the Marlboro Music Festival.”

Musicians from Marlboro will be performing in Brattleboro in March 2019.

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