The Lowe Down: It all started at Marlboro
The Vermont hills are certainly filled with music, classical music, but it wasn’t always that way.
Not only is classical music far from uncommon in Vermont, it’s almost commonplace. Today, the state can boast of chamber music as good as that heard anywhere in the world. That fact can be traced directly to an event that occurred 65 years ago.
In 1949, three destitute European musicians came to Vermont to create the music department at fledgling Marlboro College. But they weren’t ordinary musicians. Marcel Moyse was the greatest flutist of the first half of the 20th century, having had music written for him by the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Martinu, among many. With him was son Louis Moyse, an equally great flutist as well as a concert pianist, and Louis’ wife, Blanche Honegger Moyse, a violin prodigy who soloed with Europe’s major orchestras.
The following summer, these illustrious three were joined in chamber music sessions by German violinist Adolf Busch and pianist Rudolf Serkin, who had summer homes in Guilford, and cellist Hermann Busch, the violinist’s brother. The following summer, in 1951, they invited outstanding young musicians to come and learn with them. The Marlboro School of Music was born.
Today, the Marlboro Music Festival, as it is best known, is perhaps the finest chamber music school in the world. Some of the world’s finest musicians have benefited from the Marlboro experience, including pianists from Van Cliburn and James Levine to Murray Perahia and Jonathan Biss; violinists from Jaime Laredo to Hilary Hahn; and cellists from Pablo Casals to Yo Yo Ma. String quartets formed at the festival include the Guarneri, Emerson and Mendelssohn, among many.
Marlboro’s influence began spreading immediately. Founders Blanche and Louis created the Brattleboro Music Center to bring great music to their new community, becoming a model for the state. Not content to perform only in the summer, they invited their Marlboro colleagues to join them in the BMC’s stellar concert series. That model was used decades later when flutist Karen Kevra, Louis’ student, created Montpelier’s hugely successful Capital City Concerts.
Blanche Moyse, after bow arm trouble ended her violin career, took up conducting the music of J.S. Bach. In 1969, the New England Bach Festival was born and, for more than 30 years, Vermont was home to some of the finest Bach performances in the world.
It even won accolades for her Blanche Moyse Chorale, made up of Vermont amateurs, at its Carnegie Hall debut in New York.
Laredo, who began his career at Marlboro in the late 1950s, has, over the last decade, become Vermont’s most influential musician. As music director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, he has put the state’s orchestra on the musical map. He and his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, who have maintained a home in Guilford for more than 20 years, also regularly assist and perform for organizations throughout their chosen state.
Violinist Soovin Kim, a product of the Vermont Youth Orchestra, also benefited from Marlboro, first as a young participant and later a senior artist. He translated that into August’s Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival at the VYO’s home in Colchester, now one of the state’s finest music festivals.
Marlboro has spawned plenty of other music festivals in the state, including Putney’s Yellow Barn, Killington and Manchester, among many. But the real thing is still here and going strong.
On Saturday, Marlboro Music Festival began its 64th season of chamber music concerts at Marlboro College. Some 80 topnotch musicians have converged on this tiny town to make music to their hearts’ content — and they’re happy to share it with us.
Jim Lowe is arts editor of The Times Argus and the Rutland Herald, and can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.