Trusted Advisor to People-of-Accomplishment and Family Enterprise


By Marta Vago on July 16, 2018

Among the members of Augustus Juilliard Society are many alumni who have included The Juilliard School in their long-range plans. One of these generous individuals is Dr. Marta Vago, who first came to Juilliard as a Pre-College student, eventually earning two degrees in piano from the School. Marta shares a link to Juilliard with her husband, Stephen Manes, a fellow alumnus whom she married more than 40 years after their Juilliard days. In addition to her studies at Juilliard, Marta earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Temple University, and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia Pacific University. She and her husband now live in Santa Monica, California. We spoke with her about her time at Juilliard and why she supports the School.

How did you come to study at Juilliard?

My family escaped from Hungary during the 1956 political uprising. When a staff member at the HIAS refugee agency learned that leaving Hungary meant having to abandon my piano studies at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, she reached out to Marion Szekely-Freschl – a Hungarian-born prominent vocal teacher at Juilliard – for help. Mme Freschl introduced me to Irwin Freundlich on the Juilliard piano faculty, who offered to take me on as a student, assuming I passed the entrance audition. I studied with him for close to 11 years – first in the Preparatory (Pre-college) Division – and earned my Bachelor of Music Degree in 1966 under his tutelage. I received my Master of Science Degree in 1968 as a student of Jacob Lateiner.

What do you remember most from your time at Juilliard?

My memories of all my years at Juilliard consist of many layers. I remember the high level of musicianship and performance standards that defined the school itself. Rubbing elbows with incredibly gifted fellow students, many of whom became household names in the music world. Playing chamber music with string players of the highest caliber. Singing in the Juilliard Chorus, including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the new Lincoln Center under the baton of Leonard Bernstein. Perhaps most significant was the opportunity to interact with students from different places and cultures, both from around the U.S. and the world. Getting to know and appreciate people from different origins and backgrounds at Juilliard made a huge impact and informed my professional activities for decades to come.

Are you still in touch with Juilliard classmates?

Since I changed professions after I graduated from Juilliard, I lost touch with many of my classmates. Of course, one exception is my boyfriend from my early Juilliard days, a fellow student, Stephen G. Manes. Stephen and I first met as teenagers, and dated for a time while at Juilliard. Each of us went on to marry other people, and eventually we lost touch. Forty-two years later, we connected again when Stephen was in Los Angeles to perform and he invited me to lunch. Five months after that we were engaged. We’ll be celebrating our eighth wedding anniversary in November 2015. [Stephen Manes, B.S. ’61, M.S. ’63, is now Professor Emeritus of Music at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He returns each year to Buffalo where he performs at the University and the Western New York area.]

How did your profession change after you left Juilliard?

My career evolved over the decades. I started out as a psychotherapist, specializing in the “care and feeding” of high achievers in business and the professions. To the best of my knowledge, I was first to help entrepreneurial couples manage the complexities of working with the one you love. That focus segued into being a pioneer in the field of family business consulting. While working with colleagues from various professions to define the skillsets required to assist family enterprises, I also led an executive roundtable for CEOs of both private and publicly traded companies. I have over 100 articles in publication and numerous interviews on radio and television to my credit. I was frequently sought out by journalists, invited to speak at conferences and seminars around the world, and retained as consultant to family enterprises in the U.S. and abroad. A career highlight was my being chosen in 2004 to receive The Family Firm Institute’s highly coveted International Award for promoting the understanding and success of family enterprise across cultures and continents.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

After the arts, travel has always been my first love. I feel fortunate that my husband and I can indulge our “culture vulture” tendencies both in the Los Angeles area and during our travels. We recently returned from Perth, Australia, where we visited dear friends and attended several events during the annual Perth International Arts Festival. We were privileged to hear West Australian Opera perform “Madama Butterfly;” attend an unforgettable concert by Les Arts Florissants with William Christie; and experience a riveting performance of “Reflections on Gallipoli” by the Australian Chamber Orchestra. We also saw the Black Swan State Theatre Company and an amazing installation on Cottesloe Beach, featuring over 70 works by sculptors from around the world. These experiences were merely highlights of all things cultural that we were able to hear, see, and do in Perth in two weeks’ time.

What inspired you to include Juilliard in your long-term plans?

My family escaped from Hungary with the proverbial “shirts on our backs.” While both my father and my brother worked long hours, starting over in a new country while learning a new language resulted in financial struggles for many years. Without the full scholarship Juilliard had generously provided me, I would never have been able to attend the School, let alone graduate from it. I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to study at the top institution of its kind in the world. I’ve always said that my musical education was the best preparation for life I could have had. Even though I changed professions, I doubt I would ever have achieved the professional prominence I came to enjoy without my years at Juilliard. Juilliard is much more than an alma mater to me. I consider it an integral part of my identity both as a person and a professional. It is for this reason that The Juilliard School is the sole institutional beneficiary of my planned giving.