Wednesday, September 26, 2007

photo: Albert Welcomes Guests to Helicon

For 21 years, The Helicon Foundation presented a series of intimate chamber music concerts performed on period instruments in Albert Fuller's apartment near Lincoln Center. (The series moved across the park in 2006-7 and continues there in our new home, The Kosciuszko Foundation, 15 E. 65th Street.) His generous music room, which has 22 foot ceilings and seats upwards of 80 (70 comfortably, 90 when certain stars performed), took the appellation, The Helicon Studio for these events, becoming "The Rendezvous Lounge" afterwards, as musicians and music lovers mingled in the afterglow. (Cue the conga music, thank you Mr. Kozinn.)

Here is Albert welcoming guests at the second floor entrance probably around 1999. Vivacious Helicon Members Dennis Reiff and Patty Otis Abel took the photo.

photos from 1992 and 1993

In 1992, Albert led and played this concert by the Helicon Ensemble in Weill Hall.

Playing on gut strings in public scared the daylights out of me, but I was grateful to Albert for the opportunity nonetheless.

After Alice Tully's stroke in 1993, Albert brought his students the Italian pianist Marco Rapetti, the Swedish cellist Johan Stern and me (whom Albert had collectively introduced to his Helicon audiences as the "Testosterone Trio," or "The Testostertones") to Miss Tully's apartment in the Hampshire House to play for her. I'm almost certain we played Brahms, though Albert has it as Schumann on p. 147 of his Alice book, among other elaborate improvisations on the facts of that extraordinary afternoon.

Tribute by the classical guitarist, Eliot Fisk

The passing of my beloved friend and mentor, our adored Albert, fills me with sadness. He was an indispensable musical model and inspiration, of course, but so much more for all of us . . . He was our guru of love and of the sacredness of human sensuality, of our right to try to be happy in spite of everything. He gave us all so much. He will truly always be "UNFORGETTABLE" (music of Nat King Cole), and his beautiful loving spirit will be with us always.

Article by David Fuller, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Buffalo

For half a century, I have watched happy faces fall as they tell me how pleased thay are to meet me and how much they have enjoyed my recordings, my concerts, and even my books, and I tell them, I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong Fuller. It happened easily, since we moved in many of the same circles, he was less than a year older, and I even played the harpsichord, sort of. In fact, that was how we met. It was 1953-4. I had come back from three years abroad and had developed enough curiosity about harpsichords to want to get one. Since I was knocking around Boston and Cambridge, I bought one of Hubbard & Dowd’s first four instruments, already second-hand, and joined the little club of which Thomas Dunn and Albert were the principals. Albert had just come through the hands of Ralph Kirkpatrick at Yale, and was willing to give me lessons (like him, I had begun as an organist). The setting of those lessons, spaced out informally over two or three summers, was one of the great shingle-style “cottages” at Manchester-by-the-Sea on Boston’s north shore, belonging to the brilliant and infinitely cultured Gregory Smith and his family, one of Albert’s very closest friends from his Washington days to Gregory’s death. I never spent more than a night or two there for my lessons, but those visits were non-stop party-time with non-stop music. Albert, who spent summers there, christened it “Nerve-Ending-by-the-Sea,” exactly right for bunches of high-powered people living on the edge. He was the Smiths’ window onto the world of professional music, to which in those days their social position decreed that they must ever remain fascinated outsiders. Albert was then playing on and off with the New York Chamber Soloists, and I remember one party that culminated in a couple of Brandenberg Concertos in the living room with both Albert and Tom at their harpsichords (which normally lived in a sort of conservatory they called the “tile pile”), the orchestra, and invited guests. No matter whom the house-guest list included during my visits, it was clear that that it was from Albert that the fun and the life radiated.

This capacity to illuminate whatever he touched reached its culmination in the enterprise that he called “Aston Magna,” after the Berkshire estate of Lee Elman where it began in 1972. An idea of its pioneering importance in the period-instrument movement in this country can be had from the article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001). I knew it for the interdisciplinary Academy it spawned in 1978, and at which I lectured on aspects of French harpsichord music in 1979, 1980, and 1982. Why French? Because I had been sufficiently ravished by Albert’s playing of this elegant and elusive music in the old days at Nerve-Ending to make it my career and write my dissertation and a great deal more besides on it—and to dedicate an edtion of music by Armand-Louis Couperin to him (A-R Editions. 1975, and still in print!). The original mix of disciplines and outlooks at Aston Magna was enormously stimulating, but what was so peculiarly “Albert” about life there was the cooking. He managed to find chefs who could turn out three meals a day for weeks, each one different and each one sensational, and this for dozens of people in an institutional setting. He was a first-class cook himself, by the way, and developed a particularly violent passion for Chinese food, becoming a close friend of the New York restaurateur Sheila Chang and even learning a bit of restaurant Chinese to use with waiters. I had a lot of this cooking, since for years I used his apartments at 162 W 54th St. and 27 W 67th St. as my New York hotels. In 1968, I stayed with him a few days in a rented house in Fire Island Pines, whither he had brought a clavichord on which to prepare his recording of Bach’s E-minor partita. I shall never again be able to hear that toccata without the remembered sound of the surf almost drowning out the whisper of the clavichord.

The reader who would like to experience something of the rich, enveloping personality of this extraordinary man can find it reflected in a remarkable and engaging way in his memoir of Alice Tully (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999). For the sake of his memory I hope that it, too, is still in print.

David Fuller (no relation), September 23, 2007.

Blog posting by a Helicon Member. (Thanks!)

I love music -- many, many different kinds -- and one place I have had the honor to be for a few short years is at the performances of The Helicon Foundation, a chamber music society that usually meets in New York City, always in a small space and always with astounding musicians playing pieces that (frequently) I have never heard.

Albert Fuller was the founder of this society, as he had also been of Aston Magna. Every performance I have been at was magical.

Posted by olympiasepiriot.

Letter from the pianist Graham Johnson to Albert's dear friend, the tenor Robert White


Dearest Bobby,

Albert was a great musician and a marvellous man. He had a level of perception and understanding of the "bigger picture" of both life and art that made him an invaluable mentor and an enchanting if exigent friend. His ability to understand the significance of someone like Alice Tully in the history of the arts in New York, and within the history of that great genre, the mécène, is typical of his perspicacity. He sought to draw bigger and more lasting conclusions from the details of life he experienced. He was always the philosopher. There are literally hundreds of young men and women, perhaps like me no longer young, who learned to know themselves and to love themselves a little better through Albert's artistic and philosophical intervention. He believed in the power of intervention and the power of art, and as such was a partaker of the mysteries as well as a creator of them. He could change a life or turn it round over cocktails.

Of course he was an early music specialist and he will go down in history for his work in the fifties and sixties with people like Dowd regarding the great harpsichord revival that fuelled a thousand other developments in all walks of musical life. But he retained voracious interests in ALL aspects of music-making and he greeted those whom he regarded as talented with an openness of heart that will always be unforgettable. I shall never forget him and his sometimes irascible kindness, Like all great artists he was capable of being moody and self-absorbed, but he remained to the end someone who respected talent, when he saw it and found it, as an utterly sacred thing to be nurtured, helped, advised and encouraged. One of the greatest teachers, thus, that I have ever known. After an evening in his company when he was on form, one could be lifted to another place. Whatever our problems we were artists and part of a family that nothing could destroy. He made one feel part of a blessed community of kindred and supportive spirits.

He treasured a signed portrait of Mae West I bought him at the Argosy Bookstore after staying with him in 2000 with Brandon. Couperin and Aretha Franklin, Alice Tully and Mae West, that was our incomparably curious, incomparably iconoclastic Albert. I joked with him that the great art gallery in Vienna must have been named after him .... the Albertina. It should have been. Goodnight dearest friend.