TOPICS > Arts

Maestros Mix With Students for Castleton Music Festival

July 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
In rural Virginia, a month-long program of recitals, concerts and operas is both a traditional summer music festival as well as an opportunity for students to train with music greats. Jeffrey Brown visits with founder and renowned conductor Lorin Maazel.
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RAY SUAREZ: Finally tonight: music and mentoring in the mountains of Virginia.

Jeffrey Brown has this look at a growing tradition.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Central Virginia’s Rappahannock County, the four-year-old Castleton Festival is part traditional summer music festival — this year featuring “Barber of Seville” and much more — and part music training program, where young performers have a chance to work with the likes of star mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.

WOMAN: Maestro, there is a cut in this. There is the traditional cut.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s the vision of renowned conductor Lorin Maazel, who first came here by accident as a young man when he took a wrong exit off the turnpike, and found a beautiful setting that stayed with him.

LORIN MAAZEL, Conductor: Thirty-five years later, when I was courting my wife, I brought her here, and she said, this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

JEFFREY BROWN: Maazel and his wife, German actress Dietlinde Turban Maazel, bought the house which had once served as a hospital for both sides in the civil war and then other farms around it. They raised three children here, and now use the land for an eclectic mix of animals, including emus, zebras, and a zonkey, part zebra, part donkey, and, come summer, to train and nurture young singers and musicians from the U.S. and 14 other countries.

Dietlinde teaches German classes and acting for opera singers, sometimes using humorous improvisational prompts.

WOMAN (singing): You will eat your broccoli.

WOMAN (singing): I hate broccoli.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: Maestro Maazel conducts and coaches the musicians.

LORIN MAAZEL: Both of us care very much about young people, and feel that there is a kind of basic misunderstanding, especially in the United States, that young people don’t care about classical music or theater or opera or whatever.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, you think there is a misunderstanding out there?

LORIN MAAZEL: Of course. I mean, just look at our festival. We have almost 200 people between the ages of 17 and 26 singing their hearts out, playing their hearts out, and at the highest possible level.

JEFFREY BROWN: Maazel himself was a child phenomenon, first a violinist, and then making his conducting debut at age 8. He toured the country as a guest conductor of major orchestras as a teenager, and went on to head some of the world’s leading orchestras, including in Cleveland, Vienna, Pittsburgh, and New York, and has traveled the world for seven decades.

At Castleton, the young artists live in homes on the Maazel property, eat communally in a local firehouse, and spend hours fine-tuning their craft. The Castleton Artists in Training Seminar, or CATS, is for singers. Most are in their 20s, just at the beginning of their careers.

They pay as much as $3,000 for a seven-week experience that 26-year-old Megan Gillespie of Los Angeles calls life-changing.

MEGAN GILLESPIE, Musician: It is not competitive in any way, shape or form. It’s not about you. It’s about the whole program. It’s about getting audiences to enjoy this, to love this as much as we do.

COREY CRIDER, Musician: I have sung all over the world as a result of the relationship that I have started with Maestro Maazel.

JEFFREY BROWN: Other participants are already further along. Castleton provided 35-year-old Corey Crider with housing and a stipend, allowing him to bring his wife and their three young children to the farm. This is his third summer here. And he knows that, while Castleton may not be competitive, making it in the outside world certainly is.

Crider’s been gradually building his career, beginning in college in Kentucky, through several young artist training programs, and now on various international stages.

COREY CRIDER: To really succeed, I think you continually have to be accumulating this full toolbox, this full skill set of everything that this career demands, and spin those plates and always be doing it.

I don’t think it’s a dying art form. I see it evolving, I see it changing. And when I come to places like Castleton, I see these young people coming in here with extraordinary talent and extraordinary craft at 21, 22, 23.

JEFFREY BROWN: All of this training pays off most immediately in Castleton’s other role as a summer music festival, where patrons can picnic amid the beautiful scenery, and take in opera, symphonic performances, and, this year, even musical theater, a production of “A Little Night Music.”

Castleton, in fact, is still in its infancy, a formidable challenge to create and now to keep running. This year’s operating budget was just under $3 million, and Maazel and his family kick in about a third of that. He even recently auctioned off a prized possession, a violin made in 1783, for more than a million dollars, which all went to the festival.

LORIN MAAZEL: What we’re doing is, I think, very, very important, not only artistically, but socially, because what folks don’t realize is that young people desperately needing to find some way of expressing themselves are blunted and their efforts are aborted because there isn’t that kind of support out there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Inevitably, of course, with an institution so identified with one individual, the question arises whether it can survive without him, not that the 82-year-old Maazel is planning on going anywhere soon.

LORIN MAAZEL: Every once in a while I say, why am I doing this? You know, I get sort of tired at the end of the day. But I have good genes, apparently. My father passed away when he was 106 and…

JEFFREY BROWN: One hundred and six?

LORIN MAAZEL: One hundred and six, and in perfectly good health.

I believe I’m bringing a maturity, a grasp and a width and a breadth to music-making that perhaps I didn’t have before. And whether or not that is true is not for me to say. It’s for others to determine. But I do know that I love what I’m doing more every day.

JEFFREY BROWN: For now, and for summers to come, Maazel says, his work is here at Castleton. And his music-making continues year-round. In September, he will take up his latest leadership post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.

RAY SUAREZ: For more interviews and music from Castleton, you can go to the Art Beat section of our website.