ALBERT FULLER - Thoughts in Passing
How do I celebrate the life of someone as remarkable as Albert Fuller? How do I explain those feelings of loss, the loss of truly one of my very closest friends, mentors, best, best buddies in the whole world?
Albert was unique. I--and virtually everyone I ever have known that came in contact with him in the glory years, in Albert's youth and very enlightened older age, before he got ill these past several years and slowed down--all agree that there was no one like him. His radiant sense of humor and appreciation of the offbeat and bizarre, informed so much of what made him special.
His words and insights could sometimes be 'sharp', but they were always to the point. This ability was apparent from early on. Albert loved to tell how he handled a stern headmaster's challenge when he was a mere 9 year old boy in his Washington D.C. grade school. The teacher glowered at Albert in his seat and said, "MASTER Fuller, did you give me a dirty look?" Albert replied, with great calm, "Teacher, you might have a dirty look, but I didn't give it to you!"
The experiences that I had through Albert's kindness, his loving friendship, his caring about me as a human being, as a musician.. as an artist..enhanced my life in myriad ways....Albert reminded any and all of us, students and professionals alike, that we each must be (pause) "The Artist of Your Life". "Don't let people put you down!", he'd say. "Don't let ANY one smother your art! And the biggest person to watch out for in all of this, is your SELF, because YOU'RE the one most responsible for keeping that spark of art alive in your heart!"
Albert helped us achieve this so often by his own enthusiastic example......whether it meant cooking an absolutely FLAWLESS, Glorious, Chinese meal for a dozen friends, or a classic French meal, or an Italian one..or a Belgian waterzooi, (Pronounced vatter-zoy), ..whatever the cuisine, Albert could throw it together at the drop of a toque..(PAUSE) And there'd always be 'Music' following dinner, either live or in recordings of extraordinary performances from Monteverdi to ALMOST Montovani...by that I mean, Aretha Franklin would share the spotlight with Wanda Landowska or Janis Joplin with Couperin's Leçons de Ténèbres. If the music-making was superb, that's all that mattered to Albert.
I met him in 1961 when I was 24 years old– can it be nearly half a century ago?- at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, I sang in numerous concerts with Albert at the helm. So many beautiful performances took place as well with Mel Kaplan's New York Chamber Soloists...Albert inventing away at the clavicembalo. As Artist-in-Residence at the NYU Medical Center over on East 30th Street, Albert presented many seasons of extraordinary concerts under the aegis of his great friend on the NYU Medical Faculty, immunologist Dr. Zoltan Ovary.
I will never forget the glorious Baroque operas Albert arranged and conducted here at Juilliard in the 70s, as well as endless instrumental and vocal works performed through the years at his Aston Magna and later, Helicon series. A stunning Platée- of Rameau- radiantly sung by then Juilliard student Barbara Hendricks under Albert's direction- is only one of many events that remain burned in my memory. His beautiful apartment on West 67th street with the two-story living room was the scene of so many wondrous musical evenings. Pianos and harpsichords and viols and lutes were constantly coming in and out of the apartment as young performers took their places for yet another 'soiree musicale' chez-Albert.
Lovely performances took place as well in a number of the several sumptuous apartments lived in by his great friend and musical benefactor, Gregory Smith. I recall a special evening of French poesie and Couperin music at Gregory's french-boiseried home on 73rd street just off Vth Avenue - The Pulitzer Mansion. Albert played harpsichord, Hugues Cuenod sang and Jean-Louis Barrault and his wife Madeleine Renaud read Racine and Moliere texts.
Albert had a great friendship with Alice Tully who was in his home so often for dinners and concerts. Through Albert, young performers got to know and perform for this legendary lady in the most gracious and personal of ways. How fitting that Albert was to be Alice's affectionate and perceptive biographer.
Another great friend and colleague was Hugues Cuenod, the Swiss tenor, who made his Met Opera debut in 1986 at the age of 84 in the Zefirelli production of "Turandot". I heard that performance, seated between Albert and Alice (who was born the same year as Cuenod..1902). Recently this past Summer, to the astonishment of us all, Albert, confined to a wheelchair, flew- ON HIS OWN- to Switzerland to celebrate Cuenod's 105th Birthday(!), and, as Albert put it all too prophetically, "to say 'goodbye' to Huguie."
I'd like to end this note on Albert by reading from an email I received from another dear friend and colleague, the distinguished British pianist Graham Johnson, who too, was devoted to this wonderful man. Graham writes: "..Albert 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. 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. Albert made one feel part of a blessed community of kindred and supportive spirits."
Graham says in closing, "Albert treasured a signed portrait of Mae West that I had bought him at the Argosy Bookstore in Manhattan after staying at his flat in 2000. Couperin and Aretha Franklin.... Alice Tully and Mae West.... that was our incomparably curious, incomparably iconoclastic Albert."
12 November 2007