For the young acolytes of maestro Lorin Maazel, the show goes on

BY Margaret Warner  July 14, 2014 at 6:45 PM EST
PBS NewsHour's Margaret Warner narrates “Peter and the Wolf” by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. Warner appeared at The Castleton Festival on Sunday, July 13, the day that famed composer and maestro Lorin Maazel, founder of the festival, died at the age of 84. Photo courtesy of The Castleton Festival

PBS NewsHour’s Margaret Warner narrates “Peter and the Wolf” by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. Warner appeared at The Castleton Festival on Sunday, July 13, the day that famed composer and founder of the festival Lorin Maazel died at the age of 84. Photo courtesy of The Castleton Festival

Margaret Warner narrates “Peter and the Wolf” Sunday at the Castleton Festival. Photo courtesy of The Castleton Festival

Margaret Warner narrates “Peter and the Wolf” Sunday at the Castleton Festival. Photo courtesy of The Castleton Festival

When I was asked to narrate Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf at the Castleton Music Festival this year, I was surprised, flattered — and also a bit nervous. My days of being able to read a musical score are decades past. And famed conductor Lorin Maazel, the impresario who founded the Castleton Festival in rural Rappahannock County, Virginia, would be conducting the orchestra — and me.

If only it had been so. In fact, Maazel, who had battled an autoimmune disorder for years, fell ill early in the festival’s four-week run, and younger guest conductors took his place at rehearsals and performances. Then Sunday morning, just hours before our 2 p.m. matinee, the Maestro died.

General manager Nancy Gustafson announced the news to the darkened theater, to gasps from the many in the audience who had not heard. Then, in an astonishing tribute to Maazel — and the spirit of the Castleton Festival he and his wife created — the show went on.

“He had very exacting standards. He demanded a lot of you. But he never put you down, even when he was telling you that you could do better — not like other big musical figures you get the chance to train with.”
The theme of the afternoon was “Story in Music,” with “Peter and the Wolf” and three original orchestrations created by Maazel himself for that special day. As I said to the audience, for more than 65 years, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” has introduced children to the instruments of the orchestra, and indeed the very magic of music. So to perform that work and those he’d created especially for that day was a fitting tribute to Maazel. With his wife, German-born actress Dietlinde Turban Maazel, he had devoted the last six years — and some of his own wealth — to creating on his own country property a festival that trains young musicians who have already been captivated by the magic of music, and introduces them and their talents to the wider world.

Backstage afterwards, I collapsed in a folding chair next to young tenor Tyler Nelson from Utah who had sung Ottavio in “Don Giovanni” to rave reviews a week earlier — and offered him my sympathies. “Maestro was so encouraging to me. I’m going to miss him so much,” Tyler whispered back. “He had very exacting standards. He demanded a lot of you. But he never put you down, even when he was telling you that you could do better — not like other big musical figures you get the chance to train with.”

The New York Times obituary noted: “Perhaps because he grew up in the limelight, conducting orchestras from the age of 9, Mr. Maazel was self-assured, headstrong and sometimes arrogant.” Arrogant, perhaps, to the wider professional musical world.

But to the young people who flocked to his eight-week summer program and camp for stars-in-the-making, he was the man who — as he described it himself — had found in young musicians the “labor of love — and labor of joy” of his life. And theirs.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect the name of the general manager of the Castleton Festival. It is Nancy Gustafson.