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Greene: Magic At Marlboro

08/02/12 5:55PM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) Vermont is blessed with many summer music festivals. Commentator Stephanie Greene, a freelance writer who lives on the family farm in Windham County, celebrates one that's close to both her home - and her heart.

(Greene) I've been attending the Marlboro Music Festival for 50 years. My father first brought me when I was eight. To keep me from squirming, he assigned me the task of counting all the bald heads in the audience ahead of us. I wasn't allowed to turn around, craning my neck to count any behind us. And though my pate counts weren't accurate, they kept me quietly busy as the music did its magic.

Marlboro Music was founded in 1951 by pianist Rudolf Serkin, co-founders Adolf and Herman Busch, and Marcel, Blanche and Luis Moyse. Rudolf Serkin was its Artistic Director until his death in 1991. It's a utopian experiment set on the campus of Marlboro College, and it's a very successful one. For more than 60 years, young professional musicians have gathered for seven weeks each summer to explore chamber music with master performers. Rehearsal time is unlimited. I learned from Frank Salomon, Marlboro's administrator, that the artists are not paid.

Along with musical inspiration, the 75 artists share chores and meals. The musicians themselves choose the pieces to rehearse. Of the 220 pieces in rehearsal, perhaps 20% will ultimately be performed for the public. The festival has also attracted acclaimed composers, including Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland and Leon Kirchner - who helped to establish a Resident Composer program here in the ‘70s. The resulting excellence and joy of discovery are palpable. The Marlboro Music Festival has been called the best chamber music series in the United States.

Marlboro's democratic spirit can be seen in performance. One evening, there was a power outage. After hearing some rummaging around backstage, the young pianist did the perfect double take, when none other than Serkin, himself, came out with a flashlight to light the score and turn pages. This informality and collegiality are pure Vermont. If you can't spring for an indoor ticket, you can buy a less expensive seat outside, under the canopy, at the side of the Zee Persons Auditorium. It affords protection from the elements, if not all mosquitoes.

At intermission, you can hover outside the door, city-style, or take a bracing walk up the road, under the stars. One can also attend midweek rehearsals, which are free. The Festival's presence has even helped change the character of Southeast Windham County. It's evolved from a strictly white bread, small manufacturing town to something more cosmopolitan- - a cultural center that now hosts several summer music and theater festivals. Today, Marlboro continues to thrive under the Artistic Direction of Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode, who often perform with the ensemble as well.

This season ends on August 12. It's become a tradition to perform Beethoven's Choral Fantasy at the final concert Also performing are the Blanche Moyse Chorale and any other interested singers from the area, who are able to commit to a few rehearsals. It's always an exuberant event.
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