You Get a Lot to Like
Antonin Dvorak: Serenade, Op. 44
Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto # 2 for Two Pianos
Felix Mendelssohn: Octet
Musicians from Marlboro
Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode (pianos)
No, the Marlboro Music Festival is not corporate sponsorship gone mad, but rather a unique opportunity for young interpreters to join seasoned chamber musicians for an extended period of coaching and study. Paradoxically, the de-emphasis there on performance before an audience actually intensifies the concert-goer’s overall experience. Programs are only decided upon at the last minute and it is conceivable for a group of musicians to prepare one piece for an entire summer and never actually play it before a live public. But there is more of a bond between artists and aficionados in Vermont than the invigorating air. To attend a concert at Marlboro is to be let into a select circle, to feel an integral part of glorious music making, to become one of the cognoscenti. These dedicated festive individuals metamorphose into audience members when they are not performing and share with their paying customers the glorious art of active listening. Such was the vision of founder Adolf Busch as nurtured by long time director Rudolf Serkin. Now Mitsuko Uchida and Richard Goode are in charge and they took their show on the road to New York this week in two concerts designed to display the best of the Marlboro tradition: the collective skill and intellect of veteran and novice performers.
Last evening’s Carnegie Hall concert was a much more formal affair than the recent event at the Metropolitan Museum, but was no less satisfying musically. The Dvorak is a particular favorite of wind players (and their parents) but rather obscure to the general public. Scored for oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, double bass and one lone cello, which always reminds me of Woody Allen in “Take the Money and Run”, this is a high spirited piece filled with circus music, marches and whiffs of peasant dance. Never have I heard it blended so expertly as on this occasion and the extreme tightness of play indicated that it had been rehearsed long and hard in the summer and resurrected this communal week as the performers jetted in from all over the country for a special 50th anniversary reunion.
The choice of the Bach to introduce the new co-directors was inspired. The antiphonal nature of this music, right out of the San Marco songbook, allowed Mr. Goode to play a phrase majestically and Ms. Uchida to answer delicately. These two are charismatic, if not downright angelic, figures and presided over the Festival Orchestra, lovingly led and prepared by Isidore Cohen of Beaux Arts fame, as pater and mater familiae. In addition to their fine phrasing and solid keyboard technique, the two house parents radiated a benevolence that bodes well for the continuing nurturing nature of the summer festival. Ms. Uchida is particularly aglow over her new assignment, a chance to give back so much from her arduous years of study. Her extremely expressive face played the entire concerto in dumbshow and her outstretched arms at the conclusion were those of an earth goddess inviting all of us into the fold of her universal protection.
The Mendelssohn was an apt conclusion. This optimistic music of a teenager seems so fresh when set against the interminably angst-ridden pop music of our era. The octet was typical Marlboro: performers in their 20’s alongside those in their 70’s. Again the long hours of rehearsal paid off in a gorgeous whole and made me think anew about that ubiquitous New York problem: too many good artists and not enough cohesive ensembles. At Marlboro there are no “pick-up” groups. Each performing unit stays together until it is ready to present the best interpretation possible of its chosen work and until Busch’s process has run its course: the total integration of voices and the renewed education of all of its members. In an age of the fast buck, it is comforting to know that there are places where it is still the music that matters.
Frederick L. Kirshnit