I first heard Albert Fuller in a recital of French harpsichord music (he was a pioneer in the repertoire) at Hunter College in 1967. A series of concerts by the world’s leading players presented him alongside Gustav Leonhardt and a few other American colleagues. I was 16 and from his first notes I was seduced by vitality and luxury. I thought, “I want to do that!”
When I returned to New York from studies abroad in 1973, my route was to the Juilliard School and to Fuller’s studio. Albert asked me to meet him for tea at his apartment on West 54th street. I arrived with the attitude of a boy who had moved through the disciplined and socially structured world of a European conservatory. I had never addressed a professor by his first name. The boundaries were clear, the education wonderful and focused.
I rang Mr. Fuller’s bell and was dumbstruck when he opened wearing only his white underwear. Just out of the shower he ushered me in to the living room and asked me to wait, to look around, to play his harpsichord.
That evening he invited me to join friends after one of his concerts and introduced me to New York Szechwan Chinese food at Sheila Chang’s, one of the city’s best.
From that moment on, encounters, lessons, voyages with Albert always introduced and challenged. He demanded reaction and he gave catalyst, he required balance but offered constant opportunities for growth. Life was about interaction. MUSIC was about interaction. Albert demanded that life in all its facets and forms found its way into music. Music needed to illicit a reaction from the listener. Short of that, our performances were banal, roughage, waste.
He moved me away from over-sophistication and inaudible subtlety in my playing yet invited me to events where I could drink fine Champagne and look at Rembrandts and Monets. He helped teach me that the experience of golden and precious art must be married to our experience of being animals, natural, primal. He immersed himself, bringing in his pupils, in pre-Freudian art and made it rich in meaning through his modern understanding of the mind and heart.
He showed me how to talk to an audience about the most distant aesthetics and moments in history without ever insulting them with condescension. He taught me that the glass of champagne and the Rembrandt were to be there for everyone and that it was our mission to make this possible, to open hearts and minds and opportunities.
It may be the case that even before I began my work with Albert, I was this type of musician and person. It may be that Albert and I found each other and coincided in a way that will always make me feel filial gratitude and love, and with his loss, a large open space that can never be filled. But ask his other students. Ask the harpsichordists from James Richman and Ray Erikson to Charlotte Mattox. Ask the instrumentalists who worked with him in those early adventures into repertoire and instruments (gut strings and light old bows, wooden flutes and early oboes) like Ryan Brown, Linda Quan, David Miller. Ask the singers who enjoyed the cantatas and arias worked out together.
Albert left a trail of committed, inspired, intelligent, engaged artists and for each of them, Albert Fuller represents a moment or many moments of light.
This week I went to visit Albert on his deathbed, hospice care in place at home, and cared for by two dedicated and loving friends, Patrick Rucker and Jim Roe. It was painful to see a man of his vitality no longer IN life. I held both Albert’s hands and hoped that he could feel that the blood running through him, also ran through me; that I would continue, if not nearly as well, the work he did so beautifully and generously in his life. And then I noticed that he was wearing only his white underwear.
Friday, September 28, 2007
This blog got a very nice mention and link from New Yorker music critic Alex Ross Wednesday on his blog "The Rest Is Noise."