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A Long Lost Concert Program turns up on a dusty grand piano

One of the fringe benefits of tidying up a piano room filled with unsorted piles of music and the rest, is finding a gold mine of goodies that have been missing for months, if not years.

Have you ever experienced lost this, found that–found that, lost this?

It’s embarrassing, but as we age, more of the latter occurs. (found/lost, found/lost, ad nauseum)

At least one happy hunting ground experience, however, produced a recovered memento of a Tanglewood concert. The embracing story surrounded the late Isaac Stern who stole my heart playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony. It was during a music camp summer spent in Lenox, Massachusetts.

***

Tracking my 6 or so years as a violinist, I found myself in the throes of two music camp experiences. The one at Merrywood acquired a memory bank of richly woven anecdotes.

Its unique proximity to the Tanglewood Festival afforded weekly trips to Sunday morning BSO rehearsals, and interspersed jaunts to chamber music and orchestra concerts. These were the bread and butter of our musical lives.

The singular concert carved into my memory, besides one where Lukas Foss played the Bach d minor concerto, was Isaac Stern’s appearance under Charles Munch. (During the summer, 1961 there were a host of guest conductors ascending the podium.) A uniquely compact maestro, Pierre Monteux, climbed up a solid oak stool, looking like an elf, though he conducted like a giant.

After Stern’s riveting performance under the stars with a shell embracing soloist and orchestra, I should have had consideration for my fellow campers who were squeezed into carbon-emission fuming buses awaiting a missing teen. Who could that have been? (Was I a runaway- in-progress or just a love-sick adolescent hounding an autograph?)

I was off and running from the brood of Merrywooders who were bound for Ruth Hurwitz’s quaint camp-site bordering the property of French Hornist, James Stagliano. A well-known imbiber, it was a well-circulated legend that BSO Jim took a swig from his horn right smack in his orchestra seat. Was it NOT saliva he was shaking from his mouthpiece?

Stagliano’s early-morning horn calls started our day following a blaring Bach “Brandenburg” 5, piped into the second floor where we campers slept in tightly-squeezed cots.

Our daily schedule included practice periods, ensemble rehearsals, private and group music lessons, choir singing by the fireplace, and campfires. But these activities were no match for our tour de force trips to the Berkshire Festival concerts.

***

The night of one sweltering July, Isaac Stern outplayed himself igniting my immediate impulse to race after him for a morsel of human contact plus a time-honored autograph.

I found him standing regally in the Green room wearing his signature silk scarf. An adoring mom was beside him. He looked worn by fatigue, but signed my program in a gesture of kindness. I will always remember his generosity.

Tears had flowed down his cheeks during his performance making it even more emotionally poignant. Or might those droplets have been beads of sweat contoured by sizzling hot lights? It’s fascinating how the memory creates its own staging. A tender pouring would have added a nice effect.

The aftermath:

Following my autograph-seeking coup with Stern, I was hunted down by camp authorities and grounded for a week. Punishment was meted out: no s’mores at the Saturday campfire. (chocolate-covered marshmallows) and a suspension of attendance at chamber music concerts in the shed. (not a venue for paddling)

That’s not all that happened at Merrywood.

An August camp concert provided a breath-taking finale!

Read more!

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/a-breathtaking-music-camp-finale/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/performance-anxiety-and-the-pianist/

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A Breathtaking Merrywood Music Camp Finale!

If I let my imagination run wild, I would frame this writing around Robin Hood.

The backdrop was the Merrywood Music Camp, nestled in the Berkshires in a dense forest where a friendly outlaw could easily rob from the rich in Lenox, and retreat into the pines, practically unnoticed.

Merrywood was a stone’s throw from Tanglewood, home of the well-established music festival. The camp owner, Ruth Hurwitz, who resided for most of the year in upscale West Hartford, Connecticut brought a contingent of Hartt School of Music students and teachers to her rustic summer sanctuary where she housed two dozen or so campers in a three-story abode with a charming attic space. The place resembled a college co-op like the one I’d remembered at Oberlin. May Cottage, my Frosh digs had the same look with an added roomy basement that gave refuge during tornado warnings.

Merrywood’s space accommodated rows of cots on the two highest floors and down below in the living room was a grand piano, a quaint fireplace, and a Bay window with a view of the magnificent wooded landscape. A stone’s throw from the property, James Stagliano, Principal French Hornist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra serenaded neighbors with his mid-morning horn calls, when otherwise in the ranks of the orchestra, rumor had it he took a swig of spirits from the brass instrument itself.

Campers were awakened promptly at 6:00 a.m. to a blasting Bach Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 piped into rooms on insensitively loud speakers. Jarred out of their sleep, they were conditioned to revile otherwise heavenly music.

By a strange quirk of fate, I was selected to play the last movement of this very Brandenburg 5 (piano part–really meant for the harpsichord) at the final concert concluding camp. The Allegro in 2/4 meter, laden with triplets and tricky rests in between, was a challenge to count, and my first entrance of the subject, imitated by a violinist, flautist, and the whole ensemble, was a hefty undertaking. All I remember was fumbling when my motif returned one last time in advance of the culminating cadence. Before I knew it, the whole composition folded like a house of cards. The music came to a grinding halt as conductor, Neil, articulately whispered, “Back to the recapitulation.”

My heart was racing! In a frenzy, I wondered if I could acquire the presence of mind to count beats leading to my encore entrance?

Like a cyclone, a string of triplets flew by as pulsations quickened.

Suddenly I lost all consciousness of what we’d rehearsed!

Like a racing car driver, revving the engine for the last lap, I skirted into the ensemble, like merging into 3 lanes of traffic!–Meanwhile, the ensemble held its own catapulting into the final cadence!

We made it! And the ordeal was over! Thankfully it was in the past, until revisited at Merrywood’s campfire farewell.

After we gorged ourselves on barbecued franks, baked beans, and s’mores, staff presented an improvised skit, highlighting the summer’s events.

On the front burner was “Back to the Recapitulation,” repeated several times over, earning a ripple of applause amidst a good deal of chuckles. Right then and there I experienced a flush of embarrassment.

To say I felt like a social outcast, was an understatement!

After my ill-fated performance, I never returned to Merrywood, but nonetheless, i cherished memories of Stagliano’s horn calls; Sunday morning trips to BSO rehearsals with Charles Munch at the helm; pint-size, guest conductor, Pierre Monteux climbing to the podium to conduct the War of 1812 Overture; Isaac Stern playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with tears rolling down his cheeks; Lukas Foss, pianist, rendering a magnificent performance of Bach’s D minor concerto, and Eugene Lehner, principal violist, coaching the string quartet where I played second violin.

A tarnished photo

lehnerandmemerrywood

And who could forget the memorable field trip to nearby Stockbridge where Norman Rockwell gave campers a personal tour of his home. It was filled with magnificent paintings, some which graced the covers of the Saturday Evening Post.

Finally, if any Merrywood music campers are out there, please rekindle memories of our Brandenburg summer.

Let’s come out of the woodwork and find each other.
***
IMG_NEW Brandenburg

Brandenburg p 29
RELATED:

Memories, Memories: The Merrywood Property in its current state
http://www.berkshirepropertyagents.com/for-sale/sold/ma/stockbridge/158/

Another Music Camp Journey:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/appel-farm-music-camp-and-the-chicken-coops/