I agreed to turn pages for the Musicians from Marlboro concert about a month and a half before the actual concert. Of course, at that time, I couldn’t predict how much work I would have on that particular night, and when my friend drove me to the Clark Art Institute, I have to admit I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to expend the next few hours. However, it is no small thing to say that this concert was, apart from being the best chamber concert I have ever had the privilege to hear, something that changed my life.
Big words for a little concert, you might say. Well, the night started off strangely when I was introduced to the musicians. Instead of being the older, more professional artists I had expected to encounter, the first person I met was a guy who looked and acted just a little older than myself: Amadi Hummings, the violist of the group. He was really down-to-earth, and I couldn’t get over the fact that he was so young.
However, that was before I met the rest of the group. Reiko Uchida, the pianist for whom I would be turning pages for, was a slight girl, quiet and sweet. Nina Marie Lee was the cellist, who I had seen earlier warming up on stage; I had thought she was a college student practicing in the Clark Auditorium (I don’t know what I was thinking). Scott St. John, the violinist, had a second position as the group’s home videotaper. They were all in their 20’s, and so full of personality I was literally charmed just to be in the room with them.
Each musician had a past as varied and respectable as any seasoned professional. Scott, the eldest of the group at 28, had won numerous awards and had soloed with such prestigious orchestras as the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras. Nina was a Masters student at Julliard, having been awarded top prizes in national competitions as well. Reiko had made her debut with the Los Angeles Repertory Chamber Orchestra at 9. Amadi had travelled all over the world, and was already in his fourth year as Assistant Professor of Music at Old Dominion University.
They told me about the Marlboro Music Festival, where they had been grouped together to represent the Festival this year. This would be their seventh concert in the past two weeks, I was told, and it would also be one of their last. They all looked a little sad when they said this; as for me, I couldn’t believe that a group built this type of rapport, having been together such a short time.
I was offered cookies. I watched them re-enact Simpsons’ scenes for their home video (and watched as they had to retape the scene several times to get it perfect). They all changed in the room near me, and I watched as Nina complained about the cold (and was of the secret knowledge that she was wearing her sweatpants under her voluminous skirt). I pretended to act as though this were like any other concert I had ever turned pages for, when in actuality it wasn’t. No one I knew spent the several minutes right before their concert screaming jokes at each other, and writing each other notes on the dry-erase board (Amadi loves Reiko, Scott loves Amadi loves Reiko loves Nina, etc.). By the time 8 p.m. rolled around, I still didn’t know if there were repeats in the music I should be worried about. I felt like they should be meditating or praying, something to prepare themselves. Apparently, I was the most nervous of the ensemble.
The moment they walked on stage, however, the atmosphere between the group did not change. They were just as funny with each other as they had been before; I saw Nina smile at Reiko, I saw Amadi grinning.
Perhaps this is why the force of their music struck me so much. The first piece, the Quartet in C minor, Op.7, by Vitezslav Novak, was so beautiful that I almost forgot to turn pages. They all had their own style of playing: Reiko was intent, serious and calm, with a huge playing presence which overpowered her physical presence; Amadi was playful but powerful, playing the viola with mercurial touches; Nina flung her hair around as she immersed herself in the music, completely lost in beauty; Scott played with perfect assurance, expressively and easily bowing away. Their youth gave them an intensity that was intriguing in its depth and maturity, and the combination of their individual styles gave the group as a whole a completeness rarely found in small ensembles. There was nothing missing, nothing lacking; within themselves, the four people, and the four instruments, found solidarity.
The last movement, the Rondo, was especially excellent. They were so in tune with each other that they knew instinctively how to feel the music, how to move and flow with each other’s tone. The piece ended to a loudly cheering audience, receiving two curtain calls. The moment they got off stage, they immediately began critiquing their playing; I couldn’t believe they could possibly have anything bad to say.
The second piece was Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, so Reiko and Amadi took a break while I went into the first row to watch Nina and Scott play. They had earlier joked about how a past reviewer said that Nina and Scott almost started a fire when they played the Ravel, and that the next thing they needed to do was rub their bows together. In my opinion, they surpassed this observation. The passion Nina and Scott exhibited was of a sort I had never seen. They bowed together, plucked together, and breathed together. I felt as though I was walking on a tightrope; the piece had so much passion, so much fire, that it was almost out of control. However, every time the piece reached that precipice, one of them reached out and roped it back to sanity, relieving the audience. I saw some older people gasping for breath at one point, and I was glad I wasn’t on any kind of medication, as I probably would have needed to have been revived. The musical chemistry between the two of them was even more powerful than for the quartet as a whole. When the piece ended, I was whooping away with the rest of the youngsters.
The final piece, the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, B. 162, Op.87, by Antonin Dvorak, was truly the climax of the evening. Even though I was stressed about being on stage with all this incredible talent, I was completely swept away. The second movement, the Lento, was the most beautiful piece I had ever heard. I tell the truth here: I thought I was going to burst into tears on stage. I definitely saw other people crying in the audience.
The musicians, however, were so lost in their music they were oblivious to everything else. I was surprised they could play so intensely, so powerfully, and not lose their passion for one instant. Instead, the quartet rode the high crest of the wave all the way to the Finale, at which point they seemed to come back to earth to receive their many curtain calls.
After the concert, I tried to express my gratitude for letting me turn pages for them. I couldn’t fully express the honor I felt, how overwhelmed I was to be in their presence, but the musicians were all equally gracious (one said I was “the best page turner they ever had,” but I am sure they were just trying to make me feel special).