Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Idyll for a Nonprofiteer

I began writing this in the kitchen of a family house on an island in Penobscot Bay, Maine where we had been rusticating the first two weeks of August. It was raining, otherwise I'd have been outside, on the water or the 9 hole golf course. There is no TV, lots of books and we were largely free of the endless streams of information and commercial entreaties experienced elsewhere in time and space. Pausing to reflect on the past year since last on the island - as the non-profit world continues its struggle with  the effects of the recession and faces challenges of internal governance -  I realize that since late July I had been on an idyll. It's a word little used these frantic times. It means experiencing a period of calm and contentment.

Being in beautiful places in Vermont, New Hampshire and then Maine helped. My wife and I were lucky to begin our idyll at Marlboro, Vermont where we visited friends and attended  two concerts at the Marlboro Music Festival. This event, held on the lovely campus of Marlboro College, has just celebrated its 63rd  season. It is devoted exclusively to chamber music and was founded by the great pianist Rudolph Serkin and friends. Its present artistic directors are the renowned pianists  Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida.

Marlboro Music is unique. Over a five week period there are only two public performances a week. The community of about 80 musicians, a mixture of internationally known older artists and younger performers are formed into 60-80 groups, which have the luxury of unlimited rehearsal time.  Typically only about 20% of works rehearsed are ever performed publically. Only those deemed to have reached especially excellent results will be programmed. As a result, the repertoire  and personnel are announced to the public only a week or so in advance.

Furthermore, the program handed out to concertgoers is a photocopied single sided  sheet,  simply listing the pieces and names of performers. There are no musicians' biographies and quotations from music critics. There is however a handsome booklet available that gives more information about Marlboro Music, lists of supporters, advertising, etc. The organization would appear to have a devoted following.

The auditorium is barn-like with superb acoustics. The audience sits on folding chairs. Ticket prices are reasonable. A  good seat can be had for $30. The atmosphere is informal, yet charged with the expectation of hearing great music performed impeccably. And that is the result.

Why, you might ask, would musicians of such high caliber spend most of their summer engaged in intensive rehearsal and study when  the chances of public performance are slim? The answer lies in the Marlboro tradition of community, collaboration and  learning. The focus is on music, not personalities. I could not help but notice a wonderful photograph tucked away in an auditorium hallway of the youthful (barely out of their teens)  James Levine and Van Cliburn seated at a Marlboro piano keyboard, score in view - had they any idea of the fame awaiting them?

The great music-making aside what struck me was the non-commercial aspect of  Marlboro Music. Perhaps purity is too strong a word but it comes close. What better way to launch an idyll than experiencing an organization that strips away the extraneous to allow performer and listener alike to focus on why they have come together...and that is for music.

I am back home now and the world has crept back into my consciousness - from the horrors of Syria to the perils of the Detroit Institute  of Art. My next blog post will doubtless be less idyllic, but  for now why not savor the memory of hearing Mozart in the mountains of southern Vermont and of enjoying Maine sunsets? Thanks for your indulgence dear reader.