Maverick Concerts History


• The First Season, Up in the woodlands of the Catskills...(read more)

• Leon Barzin,
Recalls The Early Years...(read more)

• The Maverick Horse...(read more)

John Cage and 4’33"
at the Maverick...(read more)

 

The First Season
Allan Updegraff, a novelist, was one of the earliest of the many writers who settled in Woodstock. His interview of Hervey White during the first summer of concerts appeared in The New York Times on July 30, 1916.

Hervey White, once novelist and poet, and now also musical director, architect and high financier, is presiding over the testing out of a musical enterprise that he has been some ten years preparing. There have been three tests of it now, on the last three Sundays; the first was more than satisfactory, and each successive test registered, approximately, a twenty percent improvement on the preceding one. From all the nearby Catskill summering places, and from some at a considerable distance, people are coming to the music chapel that Mr. White has built on his farm in the Woodstock valley to hear the eminent musicians Mr. White has gathered to play chamber music...

On the day when Mr. White was interviewed for the purposes of the present story, the owner-builder-director was very busy. It was a Saturday afternoon, and he was washing out his best purple sateen blouse in preparation for his Sunday appearance at the chapel.

"What I'm proudest of in connection with this whole matter," he announced, philosophically rubbing yellow soap on a bad spot, "is my development as a high financier. Nearly everybody said I couldn't put this over without money. High finance is a great discovery. We are living in a remarkable age. When I invested in this farm, ten years ago," said Mr. White, dashing a few drops of sweat from his brow and resuming his offensive against the spot in a manner that suggested much tenacity of the soul, "I did it with the idea of gathering some good musicians during the summer months and giving chamber music in a rustic music chapel among tall trees at the foot of a hill. The farm cost $2000 and I happened to have $200 in cash at the time, so turned that over to the owner. I suppose a good high financier would have kept his $200, but I was just beginning, you remember."

"Thus I secured a farm, with a proper hill and tall trees, and a farmhouse that would do to live in until I could build something better; but I needed food, a music hall, and musicians. Therefore I explained to a good neighbor who owned a sawmill that I wanted to have some musicians up at my place during the summer so that I could give concerts, and that I needed lumber for the bungalows where the musicians were to live. If the neighbor would supply the lumber and help with the building, I promised to repay him out of the rent the musicians would pay for the bungalows. The neighbor agreed to cooperate. I then explained to a Woodstock storekeeper that I'd have plenty of money as soon as I got my bungalows built, a dozen musicians in them, and the rent collected from the musicians—who would, incidentally, help swell the storekeeper's summer trade. The storekeeper at once granted me unlimited credit. Yes, high finance is a great thing!"

Hervey White seated outside the almost completed hall. "I will not say there were no difficulties connected with the matter; I had expected to erect my music chapel within five years, and you see that it is just completed. For one thing, I demanded such high qualifications in my musicians that I had a great deal of trouble in keeping them quiet and contented. The better musician he is, the more readily he becomes enraged. I don't know how many times my most prized acquisitions have either departed in a rage, or driven away other artists whom I prized most highly. First violins are especially prone to demand anything from a new and rare variety of teapot to the instant discharge of all the rest of the orchestra...and my chief nightmare has been not so much my lack of funds as my fear that I should never be able to secure a proper number of rare and eminent musicians able to stand one another's company long enough to develop that esprit de corps demanded in the rendition of chamber music. At times my departing artists were so much upset that they even forgot to pay their rent—a minor matter, but troublesome."

"However, by patient endeavor, I think I have banished this difficulty for the present," said Mr. White. He held up the purple blouse on which he had been steadily operating while he talked; the place where the spot had been showed the same satiny purple translucence as the rest of the interesting garment. Perseverance had conquered.

"My present flock," he continued, after he had deposited the blouse on a blueberry bush and himself, pipe in mouth, at the foot of an illustrious pine tree, "is both unusually tractable and unusually distinguished. There have been only two threats of immediate departure in the six weeks of its existence, and in both cases the trouble was soon smoothed over. I admire and trust every one of them... Perhaps they are tractable because they are all young, and eminent because they are all already marked for greatness. Now, shall we walk over to the chapel where they make divine music, as is fitting on Sunday afternoon?"

We walked out through the pine woods that surround Mr. White's big cabin to the road that leads south-westward to meet the Ashokan Reservoir road at Glenford, main artery of Summer motor traffic into the higher Catskills. Eastward the road ran to the West Hurley railroad station, and thence to Kingston and New York, branching within a half mile of the hall, to pass through Woodstock, Bearsville and the summering places thereabout. Mr. White added to his other accomplishments, it seemed, that of being a good strategist. His position was excellently taken.

A good by-road, the lack of which was noticed and supplied by a neighboring farmer in return for an indefinite promise to pay, led across a little meadow to a clump of tall trees, shadowed by a rock-sprinkled hillside. The building appeared suddenly; in spite of its bulk it was so hidden by great trees that there was no visible sign of its presence until the road opened at its big front porch.

Except for the curious arrow-shaped inlay of some fifty six-paned windows in the front gable and the prolongation of the roof along one side to form a huge porch, it resembled nothing so much as a sizeable new barn. It was sided horizontally with rough pine boards, whose unpainted, knotty surfaces the weather was already turning a dark tan. Mr. White led the way across the spacious platform, beneath the bracing-beams of unbarked logs that will support a porch roof as soon as succeeding high finance permits... .

Inside, the afternoon twilight, let in by the mass of windows in front and by other masses high on either side of the players' platform, was softened by ivory-tinted walls. Big uprights, of unbarked logs, paneled the room, and smaller logs defined the panels at top and bottom. From either end supporting log frameworks sprang, with a Gothic suggestion, to the high, curved, unpainted pine roof. Green light from the woods outside winked everywhere through the chinks of the single-thickness walls.

"Sometimes when I get my pipe going good," Hervey White said, sitting down on one of the long, rough pine benches with amazingly comfortable backs that served for orchestra seats, and puffing at the said pipe with slow intensity, "Imagine this building as the first of a number of buildings that shall serve as a sort of Summer home for all the arts... Last Sunday nearly four hundred people, including several farm wives and two millionaires, heard Beethoven, Arensky, Debussy and Chopin played as the composers—and God, too, I think—intended they should be played."

Mr. White hastily brushed tobacco ashes off the bosom of his second-best purple blouse, where his enthusiasm had deposited them. "I'm not doing this on altruistic grounds—not at all," he objected, as if he has been accused of something. "One of the pleasantest parts of last Sunday's proceedings was that I received nearly $20 as my fourth of the ticket plunder. Twenty dollars!— twice what I'd expected—a fortune to a high financier! Before the Fall I shall be able to finish the outside of the hall with slabs...and meet the interest on the whole highly financed enterprise."

"I have an ambition," confessed Mr. White slowly turning toward the door. "I wish to amass a fortune of such size that I shall be able to become a reformed high financier, pay all my debts, and die an honest man."

By Allan Updegraff
Copyright © 1916, The New York Times Company
(Reprinted by permission).

 

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Leon Barzin
(1901-1999) Recalls The Early Years
(Barzin was conductor and musical director of the National Orchestral Association and the original Music Director of the New York City Ballet where he worked with Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine).

From the very beginning, music at the Maverick was a unique effort of professionals and amateurs. I mean "amateurs" in the finest sense of the word: lovers of the art...

 
 



Even those participants whose profession was music became amateurs during the summer months, playing and performing music solely for their own pleasure and for the pleasure of others.

In the early days of music at the Maverick, the regular season for orchestral musicians was only thirty-two weeks. That left over four months of the year. It was before the days of air travel and the international music festivals and there was very little regular summer employment. But in those days, first chair symphonists and established soloists made enough money during the year to take the summer off. Gently encouraged by Hervey White, they began coming to Woodstock. After a summer in Woodstock, they encouraged other musicians to come and spend the lovely summer months. And so the resident colony grew.

Since they were artists, they had to go on making music. There was a great deal of informal playing at our house, at Pierre Henrotte's house and elsewhere. (Pierre Henrotte violinist, concert-master of Metropolitan Open House, who organized the very first program and was in charge of programs through 1926). We, both the older and younger musicians, played wherever and whenever the spirit moved us. For us it was a very exciting kind of music making, because the senior musicians were all principals of symphony orchestras, or experienced soloists. During the regular season they had very little chance to play chamber music, so they went at it during the summer with particular relish. From the outset the musicians, experience was enriched by the daily contact and dialogue with painters and sculptors which only a community such as Woodstock could offer; an interplay of the arts which today we are still trying to achieve. Painters would ask us to look at a new work and we would ask the painters to come and listen to a sonata we were trying out.

Until the hall was built we had no place to play for a larger audience. Performers like audiences; they need them. The interplay between the performer and the audience is one of the most exciting aspects of the total experience. The musicians welcomed Hervey's announcement that what he called his "music chapel" would be built.

The wood for the building—oak and pine and even chestnut—was cut and milled locally and dragged to the site by teams, and the young people went to work. Hervey was very warm toward young people and there were always young students about who helped him around the Maverick settlement. I was sixteen or seventeen and was part of the building crew. None of us knew very much about carpentry. There was one young man, the son of a local farmer, who had become an apprentice carpenter; he came the closest to being a professional. The rest of the work was strictly amateur. But Hervey had a way of getting things done.

We were building to meet an immediate need, not for the architectural or engineering judgment of later generations, so the planks went up on the sides and you could put your hand through the gaps between the rough-hewn boards. The windows went in by guess and by God. When the green lumber on the roof proved too heavy and it looked as though the life of the building might be brief and dramatic, Hervey drew on his years of study of art in Europe and rustic adaptations of the flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals were put up to support the roof the first year.

The concerts began. From the very first performance there was a delightful mixture of formality and informality. Nothing in Woodstock can ever be completely formal. Then, as now, people came dressed as they saw fit; by foot, by bicycle, by horse and wagon and by the few automobiles which existed in the village at the time. But once the music started, it was formal. It was always performed on the highest of professional levels, as seriously and with the same dedication it would have received in New York or any other large city.

The resident community grew. Eminent musicians, such as George Barrere, who at first had no intention of settling in Woodstock, came and played—and stayed. Hervey White would build a new house and charge $125 rent for the summer—if the musician could pay. Some musicians bought property. In those days if you wanted land you pointed out where you wanted your property to begin and end. "I want from that tree stump over to the stone wall and back to the little brook." You didn't even know or figure out how many acres were involved. I still have the property in Woodstock and nobody is quite sure where the boundary lines are.

It was a very congenial group; no politics and a minimum of jealousy. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to get a particular musician to play, they were all so anxious to defer to each other. "Why don't you play this week?"

Those early years had a great influence on me. In the early 1900s everything musical had to have the European hallmark. Woodstock was a beginning for many young American musicians. I saw how little opportunity was being offered in the general musical field for our own considerable American talents. It stimulated me to start the National Orchestral Association in 1929 as a training ground for young American symphonists.

Over the years many talented graduates of the conservatories went to Woodstock in the summer for the unique experience of playing chamber music with outstanding artists before an interested and concerned audience. There were few other such opportunities elsewhere in the country.

The situation for musicians during the summer has changed considerably since then, but the idea of the Maverick remains the same. That is why musicians today have such respect for the Maverick concerts. Musicians love the tradition; they are basically idealists, and the Maverick is an idea! It is free of the commercial aspects which surround so many contemporary "festivals." Experiences comparable to the Maverick are still hard to find. It is lovely to think that the idea initiated sixty years ago has remained the same all this time, and that a concert series designed to fill an immediate need is still filling that need, in a vastly changed world.

By Leon Barzin
Copyright © 1975, Maverick Concerts. All rights reserved.

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The Maverick Horse
The name "Maverick" came to be used over the years for the collaborative colony for artists that Hervey White established on the outskirts of Woodstock. In Colorado in the 1890s, while visiting his sister, he had been told of a white stallion living in freedom in the wild known locally as the "Maverick Horse." In 1911 the Maverick Horse appeared as the hero of a poem Hervey wrote, "The Adventures of a Young Maverick." It was a fitting symbol for everything that Hervey held dear—freedom and spirit and individuality.

John Flannagan, a brillantly talented, iconoclastic (and penniless) sculptor, came to join the artists who spent summers in the Maverick. In the summer of 1924 Hervey White commissioned Flannagan to carve the Maverick Horse. Believing that all useful work was of value, and the work of an artist no more to be rewarded than any other, he paid the prevailing wage of fifty cents an hour. Using an ax as the major tool, the entire monumental piece was carved from the trunk of a chestnut tree in only a few days. The sculpture depicts the horse emerging from the outstretched hands of a man who appears in turn to be emerging from the earth. Hannah Small, who lived at the Maverick during the carving, remembers:

"Everyone on the Maverick was watching. They were fascinated. We loved everything that Flannagan did and we were terribly excited about it. I remember seeing him working; he was working frantically and he was doing the whole thing with an ax. It was the fastest work I'd ever seen. When it was finished he went off and had another drink."

The heroic sculpture standing eighteen feet high marked the entrance of the road to the concert hall (and the now-vanished theatre) for thirty-six years. For a while the sculpture had a little roof over it as protection from the elements but it began to weather alarmingly and artist Emmet Edwards, a painter who knew Flannagan well, moved it into his nearby studio to protect it.

It remained there, hidden from view, for twenty years. In 1979 through the generosity and cooperation of Edwards, the horse was moved on large wooden skids from Edwards' studio to the stage of the Maverick Concert Hall. Woodstock sculptor Maury Colow undertook to stabilize the sculpture and mount it on a stone base. It is most appropriate that this mysterious and magical sculpture presides over the last and most enduring expression of Hervey White's original Maverick.

By Cornelia Hartmann Rosenblum
Copyright © 1990, Maverick Concerts.
All rights reserved

 


 
photo of John Flannagan's Maverick Horse by Simon Russell




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John Cage and 4’33" at the Maverick

One evening in August 1952, the Maverick Concert Hall was the scene of a revolutionary moment in musical history. Here in the woods, the young pianist David Tudor performed the premiere of John Cage’s most famous—and most infamous—work, 4’33” (Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds). Although the work has often been called the “silent” piece, Cage wanted to show that a lack of notes was not the same thing as silence. The pianist read the score, turned pages, and closed the piano lid after each “movement,” but he never touched a single key.

 

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In explaining his thought processes, Cage later wrote: “I went into an anechoic chamber, not expecting in that silent room to hear two sounds: one high, my nervous system in operation, one low, my blood in circulation. The reason I did not expect to hear those two sounds was that they were set into vibration without any intention on my part…. I found out that silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around. I devoted my music to it. My work became an exploration of non-intention.” Cage wanted his audience to listen to the sounds around them and even to the sounds inside their bodies, and to realize that what we hear is what we choose to hear. This pivotal performance at Maverick expanded the boundaries of music forever.



Miriam Villchur Berg

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