In June 1982 I left San Francisco in a rental car on a cold foggy morning and headed south on Route 101. The San Francisco Opera brought me to California for the first time in my life the previous year, and I was back again this summer. In the car with me were a map with written directions and phone numbers (no cell phones then), a bottle of water, and a 3-ring binder of sheet music—tenor arias by Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart, and probably some Schubert songs.
Highway 101 follows the general route of El Camino Real, the 600-mile "Royal Road," conceived by Spain in the late 1700s to connect the missions and towns along the Pacific coast from San Diego to San Francisco.
The eight–lane highway heads south along San Francisco Bay and past the airport where I had arrived three weeks before. Beyond that point I was in unfamiliar territory. The highway skirts the city of San José and heads south past the towns of Morgan Hill and Gilroy. It then leaves the urban environment behind, and winds through 20 miles of rolling hills, all golden in June of 1982 and dotted with a kind of California oak tree I had never seen before.
In a place called Prunedale, I exited Route 101 (and El Camino Real) and drove west on Route 156 toward the Pacific Ocean. The road leaves the coastal hills and passes through broad, flat agricultural land in the Salinas River delta. When it nears Monterey Bay, the highway joins Route 1 and heads south along the Monterey Bay dunes. This is the Cabrillo Highway, one of the most scenic roads in America, reaching from Oregon to Mexico along the California coast.
Almost 2 1/2 hours after leaving San Francisco, I turned right at the "Carmel" sign and drove down a hill into a small town I knew almost nothing about. There was a Bach Festival there and my agent in NYC had set up an audition.
I found my way to the side door of Church of the Wayfarer and awaiting me there was one of the most charming, persuasive and inspiring persons I have ever met. The inflections of his Hungarian accent and the pitch and modulation of his voice gave his speech the character of a vintage cello. It was mesmerizing. I also experienced what I later learned was a well-known part of his charm: during the time that we were together that day, he made it seem that nothing else in the world interested him except talking with me. His name was Sandor Salgo ("Shahndor Shahlgo"), he had been Music Director of the Carmel Bach Festival since 1956, and in my personal experience he was one of the surprisingly few conductors who actually deserve to be called "maestro" while in conversation with them. He introduced me to his American-born wife Priscilla, and to Ken Ahrens, the keyboardist on the Festival staff, and I handed Ken my 3-ring binder.
With Ken's accompaniment, I sang several selections—no doubt Bach and Handel, although I don't recall specifically. I do know for sure that I sang the tenor aria "Un aura amorosa" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, because Maestro Salgo reminded me of it more than 20 years later, several years after his retirement from conducting.
The 1983 Carmel Bach Festival presented the St. John Passion, and Maestro Salgo invited me to sing the Evangelist (the narrator). I spent the month of July at the Cypress Inn, in a room with a tiny balcony overlooking Lincoln Street and Church of the Wayfarer. That summer I fell in love with Carmel. Since then I have participated in 26 Carmel Bach Festivals, first as tenor soloist, and later as Dramaturge, master class teacher, lecturer, and researcher. That first meeting with Sandor Salgo in 1982 was an important link in the chain of connections and events that resulted in this book.
In 2012, the Carmel Bach Festival celebrated its 75th anniversary, and I was looking for interesting material to use in scripting a narrated concert about the Festival's history. I began by studying early Festival programs and other ephemera. When work took me away from home for a few months, my friend Richard Flower searched the microfilms of the weekly Carmel Pine Cone and gathered a trove of valuable and inspiring press clippings. I drew on all this material to create a 2,300-word script for the anniversary concert.
It is common knowledge in Carmel that two women—Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous—"founded" the Carmel Bach Festival in 1935 and managed it until their deaths in the 1950s. (Dene is pronounced "Deen.")
Decades of published articles in the Carmel Bach Festival program books and the local press have drawn from a basic inventory of commonly known events, facts, dates, and supporting characters; only rarely over the years did a writer add a new detail to the established but sketchy chronicle. Moreover, the photos that appeared year after year seemed to be drawn from a dozen or so images of Dene and Hazel taken during the final decade of their lives, at a time when the community was honoring them for what they had created many years before.
It became clear to me that a fuller, richer story was waiting to be told. I found myself wanting to know more about Dene and Hazel in their early creative years: what made them who they were, and what led them to Carmel? How did they actually accomplish things in Carmel, and why did their organizations endure?
In August 2012, I paid my first visit to the Henry Meade Williams Local History Department of the Harrison Memorial Library in Carmel, California. The Local History Room's holdings, managed by the superb History Librarian Ashlee Wright, were essential to the writing of this book. In the space of about a year, I viewed every page of every issue of every newspaper published in Carmel-by-the-Sea from 1922 to 1960. In the Local History Room I also found wonderful photographs, concert programs, and other historical records. Through all this material I caught a glimpse of the village coming into existence, and I followed Dene and Hazel as they entered the community and became a part of it.
My research went far beyond Carmel, and by the middle of 2013 I had collected more than a thousand pages of primary source material including a century of newspaper clippings, vintage photographs and postcards, oral histories, extensive and detailed family trees, and countless other documents and records.
Research sources included the archives of the organizations that Dene and Hazel founded on the Monterey Peninsula, as well as other archives across the country: libraries and museums, universities, historical societies, theaters, private collectors, and friends, students, and descendants of individuals discussed in this book. I obtained a staggering amount of (literally) vital information on the internet via genealogical research websites. Information about all these sources is organized in the Appendix and End Notes. The Acknowledgements pages list the names of the many wonderful people and organizations who generously helped me along the way.
Dene Denny and Hazel Watrous had enormous, generous hearts, great strength of character, and very high standards. In their work together, they recognized and collaborated with artists in every discipline who shared their mission: to connect with others, to help others to connect with each other, and to create artistic excellence and shared joy. I am grateful to be able to tell their story.
All material © 2015 David Gordon and Lucky Valley Press.