Castleton’s Maestro is gone; the show goes on

Maestro Lorin Maazel, a force of nature who 25 years ago set down roots with his family amid the kindred forces of nature found in these rolling green crescendos and diminuendos of Rappahannock County, died Sunday morning, July 13.

Maestro Lorin Maazel passed away Sunday (July 13). As he would have wanted, the show went on.Courtesy photo
Maestro Lorin Maazel passed away Sunday (July 13). As he would have wanted, the show went on.

It was a week shy of the close of the sixth annual Castleton Festival which he and his wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, started at their farm in Castleton.

Later on Sunday, as everyone who knew him said he would insist, the show went on — poignantly, and with what are by now familiar moments of meaning and vitality at the annual opera and classical-music showcase, and training ground, for young artists from around the world.

The concert on the afternoon of the 84-year-old internationally acclaimed conductor’s death — of complications from pneumonia after a months-long, fatigue-related illness that prevented him from conducting in the festival — was a family-friendly program collectively titled “Stories in Song.”

After Castleton executive director Nancy Gustafson’s emotional pre-concert announcement that Maazel had died that morning — prompting gasps and moans from many in the audience of 500 who had not turned on a radio or a laptop that day — the afternoon became an almost supernaturally apt memorial for Maazel.

“It was almost as if he planned it,” said Anne Pallie, an ardent longtime Castleton supporter and volunteer, wiping away tears in the Festival Theatre’s meadow-turned-parking-lot after the show. “But it was planned months ago.”

The concert featured several of Maazel’s own compositions, including his Irish folk-tune-based “Vapours and Capers” with famed flutist Sir James Galway as soloist. Galway’s rendering of “Danny Boy,” especially when the young musicians of the Castleton Festival Orchestra took hold of the theme, brought half the audience, both narrators and more than a few orchestra players themselves, to tears.

It included an astonishing, climate-changing performance of “Nataraja,” a challenging piece conducted unflinchingly by Vlad Vizireano, one of the dozens of promising young conductors hand-picked by Maazel to work and learn at Castleton over the years, from a similarly lionhearted and lovely score by Michael-Thomas Foumai — the winner of Maazel’s 2014 Young Composer’s Forum.

Foumai, who was in the audience Sunday, said his composition was inspired by the Hindu god Shiva, the cosmic dancer who must destroy a weary universe in preparation for the god Brahma to start a new creation. A tall order — and filled by the young composer with audacious sonic mood swings from violent, dark dissonance to achingly delicate, string- and bell-driven beauty. Again, it was a tour of the hollows and heavens — a journey some in the audience didn’t seem completely ready to take —that was handpicked by the missing maestro.

Maazel with cellist Daniel Lelchuk (right), one of the many young musicians he helped influence and tutor.Courtesy photo
Maazel with cellist Daniel Lelchuk (right), one of the many young musicians he helped influence and tutor.

“I would have liked to have met him,” Foumai said after the performance, having only arrived in Castleton that day. “I am just so glad it was performed here.” He paused, and looked at the orchestra. “I can tell, from this orchestra, that he loved them.”

Also on the program Sunday were:

• Prokoviev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” a favorite of Maazel’s since childhood, with actress Maria Tucci standing in for Dietlinde Maazel, who arrived with the couple’s three grown children and Maazel’s other children to sit in the front row for the program’s Maazel-centric second half, the audience rising to stand quietly as they filed in;

• Gustafson’s brief second-half introduction, in which she suggested there might a more appropriate tribute than a moment of silence for a man devoted to music since Arturo Toscanini himself handed a baton to the then-7-year-old child prodigy to conduct the NBC Symphony — at which point the audience leapt into a standing ovation. It would have continued indefinitely had someone not dimmed the spotlights on the empty podium and brought up the stage lights.

• Maazel’s own “The Empty Pot” and “The Giving Tree,” children’s stories he’d decided to set to music not long after Dietlinde had marshalled a cast of 5-year-olds to perform both pieces for a recital at the Waldorf school (later the Hearthstone School) that the couple founded at their Castleton Farms estate in the mid-1990s.

“Giving Tree,” with Tucci’s warm narration and an intense, heartfelt solo turn by cellist Daniel Lelchuk, is Maazel’s setting of the Shel Silverstein children’s book — which tells the story of a tree that gives up, over time, everything to make a boy happy. In the end, all that remains of the tree is a stump — but all that’s desired by the boy, now a frail old man, is a place to sit and rest.

“Many have asked what the future holds for Castleton and I tell them that people don’t go to Mt. Vernon to see George Washington, or Monticello to see Jefferson or Montpelier to see Madison — they go to honor their lives and ensure that their legacies continue,” Castleton board member Nina May wrote on Monday (her complete letter is on page 4).

“And that is what we know will happen, because like the stump in ‘The Giving Tree,’ the maestro’s life was based on years of giving — to the arts community, to young musicians who are called to their craft and to a world that wants to preserve the majesty of classical music.”

The Festival . . . goes on

Despite the fact that the Castleton Festival’s offices lost both phone and internet service on Sunday — due to the now-routine July passage of epic weather through Rappahannock — general manager Gustafson said calls, letters, emails and other expressions of support have been coming in steadily “from all over the world.”

“So many people have called,” said board chair Judith Hope, working from her D.C. office (where the phones work) on Tuesday. “James Galway said he will do whatever it takes to help keep Castleton going — and he donated his concert fees for Sunday. He said he would not accept anything for playing at Castleton. [Acclaimed soprano] Denyce Graves said, ‘I will sing wherever and whenever you want.’ [Pianist] Emanuel Ax, Wynton Marsalis — who was Maestro Maazel’s protege when he was a 19-year-old classical trumpeter with the Pittsburgh Symphony, under the baton of Lorin Maazel, they’ve all offered to help. Conductors have called from all over the world, and they say, ‘We must not let Castleton drop one inch — and we will help you,’ ” Hope said.

Masestro Maazel conducts a production of TBA.Courtesy photo
Masestro Maazel conducts a production of TBA.

Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy said he’d understood for a couple of years that the Castleton Festival’s board, restructured and revamped significantly last year, had been planning — at Maazel’s urging and with his help — to put the festival into a place, financially and artistically, where it would long outlive its founder.

“But it was still a shock, on opening night, to see him in such a frail condition,” McCarthy said, speaking of Maazel’s difficult walk from backstage to a microphone to introduce the 2014 festival’s “Madama Butterfly” production June 28. “I had to keep reminding myself that he was 84 — all of the time I’ve known him, he always struck me as being 20 or 25 years younger than he really was. The shock of his passing is already wearing off, and now I’m just appreciating all that he did for this community . . . He never condescended, he always appreciated this place and these people, and I think he genuinely felt glad to be here, and welcome here, and I hope he did — because he was.”

“We’d had a rehearsal for ‘The Giving Tree’ with him a few weeks ago,” said cellist Lelchuk, who, at 25 and now a principal cellist with the Louisiana Philharmonic, has been a Castleton Festival Orchestra member since 2010, longer than any other. “It was just me, the conductor Kensho Watanabe and Dietlinde and Maestro Maazel, the four us going over the piece for about 45 minutes. He was in great shape and conducting through the piece, and coaching on different sections, what you do in this measure, in that measure. It was a very personal, detailed rehearsal with him, and the last extended interaction I had with him.

“All of what we did at that rehearsal has stayed with me, and it’s something I’ll cherish for a long time,” Lelchuk said. “Actually, every rehearsal I had with him. There was always something happening with him that he transmitted to the orchestra, and to the singers, something that he was able to bring out of himself and somehow transmit to us — that’s why he was able to elevate the performances at Castleton to such an amazing level.

“He gave the greatest gift to all of us who were lucky enough to have played under him,” Lelchuk said.

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Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 534 Articles
Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.