All of the lights in the Castleton Festival auditorium were off, allowing the brilliance of the spotlight on Maestro Lorin Maazel’s podium to be the symbolic recipient of the standing ovation.
Not many people knew, when they arrived at the box office to pick up their tickets to the “Story in Music” symphony experience, that they would be attending a concert that would morph, sadly, into a memorial service for the man who created the idea, venue and laboratory of musical excellence.
The concert scheduled for July 13 could not have been more perfectly planned if it had been designed as a memorial service for his life. Some last minute arrangements, upon learning of his death that morning, moved all of his compositions to the second half, where his family would be joining the attendees.
As the Maazel family walked in, lead by his wife Dietlinde, everyone stood in silence as if on cue. You could hear a needle drop with the punctuated sounds of gentle sniffing as people worked to hold back full-throated sobs. The unscripted poignance of the show hung in the air as a surreal mist of disbelief and sadness with the reality that the show must go on. And go on it did — and will.
Perhaps the most profound connection that resurrected Maestro Maazel’s spirit was the performance of his two compositions for the children’s books, “The Giving Tree,” and “The Empty Pot.” He was inspired to write these after seeing a play performed by his children when they were young, and produced by their mom, Dietlinde. Here they all sat now, surely caught up in the memory of that time together as a family — preserved forever in these magical and delightful pieces.
Layers of poignant moments crescendoed with the reading and then performance by Sir James Galway of the classic Irish song, “Danny Boy,” which historically ensures all eyes are wet with tears. Sniffles turned to sobs across the auditorium and several performers struggled to hold back a flood of emotions through the lyrics that paralleled this current reality.
Appropriately enough, it begins with the pipes calling down the mountainside as the notes from the flute fell over the hills of Castleton. We will all come back next year, when summer’s in the meadow, and will continue to support the performers in sunshine or in shadow.
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.
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.
Now that stump of the Castleton Festival is set securely in the ground with roots of longevity that will carry on the legacy of the brilliance of Maestro Maazel. Many young performers for years to come will sit there and grow their skill to continue bringing joy to millions around the world.
The lit podium was empty for a moment, but when the lights came on, five young conductors, personally selected by Maestro Maazel to lead, took their place behind it and symbolically kept his sound, vision and legacy alive.
And the words in “Danny Boy” — “You must go and I must bide.” — serve as a rallying cry to preserve and continue his vision so that he can sleep in peace, knowing his dream of the Castleton Festival will never die.
Member, Castleton Festival board of directors