by Gabriele Carcano September 17th, 2010


Marlboro – such stuff as dreams are made on

It is hard to talk about a dream you had.  How can you find the right words to really describe what you felt and lived? How to communicate those feelings to someone who was not experiencing the same? That’s what I keep thinking, trying to write about Marlboro Music Festival where I spent this last summer. Especially because it has now the taste of a dream, something different from the reality, with different rules.

It started with a call during Christmas time, Mitsuko on the phone asking me to consider applying to participate at Marlboro. She explained to me that it would be for a seven week period, only chamber music, living all together at Marlboro college. I was so happy and surprised by this proposition and I could not have an idea of how it could be to live for such a long period there (now I would say such a short period). Then months went by, I had the confirmation by Richard Goode too (the other, wonderful, artistic director) and even if I could not yet figure out how to be ready, the moment to leave for the festival came. From Boston airport it took 2 – 3 hours by car to reach the state of Vermont and its beautiful woods, and finally the driver announced our arrival in Marlboro: a huge city of not even 1000 people.  The college, on the top of the hill, is a charming place, white buildings in the grass surrounded by woods. The welcome was very warm and I started to know what this dream looked like.

Life in Marlboro is sharing: the dorms, the bathrooms, the pianos, the meals, beers in the coffeshop, the ride by car to have a quick swim at “The Pond” (a lovely lake close to the college.) Every week a different crew of people helps to serve meals.  Life is perfectly organized, everyone working there really does his best to keep this place like a musical fairyland and to give us the possibility of keep our attention only on music.

Marlboro is a small community of 70-80 musicians, almost completely isolated from the rest of the world for seven weeks. They go there just to play chamber music, to explore repertoire and learn. After a few days I started to realise that this is one of the reasons that made this place so special. Every chamber group is made up of younger participants with one (or two) seniors (members from Guarneri and Julliard Quartet for example!). All members of the group can decide for how long to keep rehearsing a piece, whether to stop work on it, or to propose it for a concert (they only started on the third weekend). That means that there is the time to really know the piece and to get close to the people you play with. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often in real life and it made me feel so free. The work is very inspiring and you have the chance to play with great musicians spending some weeks of their busy life rehearsing with you. Everyone is only focused on music and on working deeper and deeper on the repertoire. Also, because of that, every concert is a very special moment, every group who performs is sincerely involved in it. The result is always very intense.

Intense is a good adjective to describe life in Marlboro. Life in a small community is like a magnifying glass of feelings and relations. There is a very strong and special energy made by this combination of all those special people living together. To play with, or to listen to such wonderful musicians every day makes you live unbelievable moments at  a very high frequency, tears came very often during the concerts!  Some of the most spontaneous and intimate moments of life in Marlboro are readings: at any time of the day, or late in the night and after rehearsing all day, people meet just to read some more music together. It is like all those people want to play together as much as they can, like getting nourishment. I had some of the most intense and unforgettable musical moments of my summer (of my life?) during those readings (some of them also with musicians from the BBT family: Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, Jonathan Biss and Mitsuko Uchida too!).

I had in Marlboro a lot of those moments when you feel that music’s flow reveals the flow of life and you’re moving in it.  Those moments when you also feel that you’re telling about something very secret and fragile, and then, in chamber music, it happens that you suddenly realise that the voice that’s speaking is not only yours, but the one of another person playing with you and talking about you and about the same feeling. Hopefully other people can feel the same with you. It’s like seeing yourself in a mirror and at the same time to be a mirror for the others too.  Nobody needs to talk, a quick look has a deep meaning and the power of an electric discharge. In those moments I have the impression that even the world looks different, using Baudelaire’s words “Il y a des moments dans l’existence où le temps et l’étendue sont plus profonds, et le sentiment de l’existence intensément augmenté.”

When the weeks passed I realised how much this experience was more and more influenced by the contact and the relationships with all those people. It was not only the music but the fact of being together and to get the chance to really meet them. I’m sure that for everyone the real personality came out more clearly in that context then in normal life.  Something is easier and I think everyone felt safe over there, more relaxed and natural. Our inner child came out: we threw napkin balls during EVERY meal, we played games, we acted during an evening of sketches, we danced country music. Or simply we had time to sit in the grass, to go on the roof looking at the stars, to breathe and to enjoy the silence and the presence of the others. It was clear that this energy I felt came from the combination of all those people together and the climax was surely the final concert: the tradition is to perform Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy – Mitsuko at the piano, almost all the strings and wind players in the orchestra, all the others sang in the choir (yes, I did too!). To be on stage all together after seven weeks was simply unbelievable: an explosion of life. How to find a better way to close the dream?

After saying goodbye to everyone to go back to normal life was quite hard, I need a long while to absorb those seven weeks. Even though I knew that I will go back next summer I kept being sad, but then life moved on and something happened again. Ten days after Marlboro I had a solo recital. I really felt different going on stage, in a kind of way I was not alone at the piano. And then, the day after, I went to listen to a concert at the same Festival. I sat in the audience and I saw how everyone was listening to the concert – with love. That was like the weeks before: a group of people joined together for the music. At that moment I thought that maybe the concerts are our “Marlboro” and the people in the hall are our Marboro community – people who only care about music and who want to hear that voice talking about and to them, looking for those moments of truth that art can create. That was a great feeling and in that moment I knew that those seven weeks were real and they exist in us all. Not only a dream but just something I was dreaming about until the moment I found it in Vermont and, then, in myself.

Gabriele Carcano joins forces with fellow BBT winner Ramón Ortega Quero in a showcase concert at the home of Bob Boas, 22 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NR on 25th November 2010.  Their varied programme ranges from Bach to de Falla, plus repertoire including Beethoven and Debussy for solo piano. For booking, contact Bob Boas boas22m@btinternet.com telephone: 020 7436 0344