happy 60th, marlboro!

the famous "CAUTION" sign at marlboro

There was a lot of talk about it among my colleagues from other stations over the last year: the Marlboro Music Festival is turning 60! What are we going to do?

Of course we all wanted to ‘help’ celebrate the prestigious Festival’s anniversary, but we soon acknowledged there was a bigger issue here. What does that really mean to radio folks, for a Festival that is completely self-sufficient, tremendously successful, and not in the least dependent on media for our help with publicity?

The Marlboro legend was established in 1951, rooted in the deep musicianship of a core group of recent European émigrés: pianist Rudolf Serkin and co-founders Adolf Busch, Hermann Busch and Marcel, Blanche and Louis Moyse. Its  fine reputation has been sustained the same way; through the dedication and consistent excellence of the musicians who play there. Its sole focus is creating the best possible supportive creative experience for the musicians. A popular Marlboro phrase is, “It’s about the music.”

So how could we media outsiders possibly hope to participate in some way in the famously sequestered Festival’s 60th anniversary plans?

Pretty easily, it turns out.

It began with a phone call, then an email – and then a lot of phone calls and emails as I worked to start up a relationship with folks at the Festival. To my delight they were very receptive to the idea of establishing a partnership and cooking up some kind of celebration for their special season. I purchased and sent them a 120 gig hard drive; they returned it filled with music performances from the last dozen seasons. Fantastic. Then my two fellow classical hosts and I planned our “Marlboro Month” celebration, mirroring the Festival’s performance season from July 16th  through August 14th. And I worked with the station’s online team (thanks Tim, Dan and Jonathan!) to create a special page and make a nice selection of performances available for online listening.

A highlight of the summer came with a visit to the Festival on Sunday, July 24th. It was a hot, sunny afternoon and the wooden beams of Persons Auditorium resonated with the sounds of Ravel, Brahms, and Shostakovich. At one moment during the Brahms (the monumental g minor Piano Quintet) a mocking bird outside the auditorium in a nearby tree could be heard echoing a rhythmic figure in the first movement of the piece. It’s just that kind of place.

One of my VPR Classical co-workers stayed over that night and returned to the Festival the next day to record interviews with many of the performers who were there at the time. I’ve been spending time over the last couple of weeks editing those interviews into clips we’ve been airing with our daily Marlboro Month selections. And those clips are now archived online on the “Marlboro Conversations” page. (I have around 1/4 of the interviews edited now – check back for more conversations to be added to the page later!)

Tomorrow marks the final performance of the 60th anniversary season. Around 4pmET the final chords of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (the traditional closing piece) will resound on the Marlboro campus and another summer of practice, comraderie, partnership, sharing and learning will come to an end for the year’s talented participants.

In the words of veteran violinist Bella Hristova (now concluding her third and final year at Marlboro), “…I think this place is like home for a lot of people because we’re just here for so long, without a break, in the middle of nowhere. So it becomes like a family.”

I’m working on producing a video now that will incorporate the photos, some video footage and many of the Marlboro voices we recorded this summer. It’ll be done soon. Update coming soon here.

Further reading:

Alex Ross’ Marlboro tribute from his blog, The Rest is Noise

NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog: New recordings from Marlboro

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