Castleton Festival goes on ‘hiatus’

By C. Scott Willis via Castleton Festival
The late Maestro Lorin Maazel founded the Castleton Festival in 2009. By C. Scott Willis via Castleton Festival

• Summer season suspended as festival seeks to rebuild finances

• ‘In Performance’ events, educational activities continue

The Castleton Festival, created by the late Maestro Lorin Maazel, announced Wednesday (Jan. 20) a “temporary hiatus” of its summer 2016 season, citing the need to “build a solid financial foundation for the Festival for continued growth in future years.”

“In view of our financial challenges we have come to realize that it is the right moment to regroup and work toward a stable future while adapting our offerings for this season,” said Castleton CEO and Artistic Director Dietlinde Turban Maazel.

Monthly “Castleton in Performance” events will continue this summer, as will educational outreach programs in area schools.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Maazel explained the festival’s board of directors “is composed of very determined people, but it is too small and just can’t carry the load by itself.”

At the end of last year, “I designed about five different scenarios for the board, gradually taking off some elements of a big season, then we made it a smaller season, and then we made it even a little smaller, trying to still keep the elements of who we are intact,” Maazel said.

“Finally, we shrank to the point that we can hardly meet payroll by next month. That’s just the reality we have to look in the face.”

“I wish we had an angel pulling out a checkbook right now,” Maazel said, citing the Culpeper State Theatre’s last-minute gift from an anonymous benefactor, which saved that venue from going dark. “We just haven’t found one.”

The festival began in 2009 following years of residences and performances that began in a small theatre (originally a chicken coop housing 15,000 hens) on the Maazel’s Castleton farm. The residences linked aspiring young artists with top professional musicians. At the opening night of the 2014 festival, Maestro Maazel described working with these young singers and orchestra members as “more than a labor of love — a labor of joy.”

As the festival grew through the years, including opening the 650-seat, 22,000-square-foot Festival Theatre in 2011, it remained greatly dependent on the financial contributions of Maestro Maazel.

“My husband believed in the mission and, when we did not find immediate huge support, he kept supporting it…year after year,” Maazel said.

Then, during the 2014 festival, Maestro Maazel died at age 84 from complications following pneumonia.

“With such a sudden loss, we just didn’t have the time to regroup and build a broad donor base,” Maazel said.

Last year’s festival continued, as supporters, including jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, a longtime colleague and friend of Maestro Maazel, rallied to Castleton’s cause.

“2015 was almost like a condolence present from everyone — vendors were giving us a break, artists were giving us a break, everybody was pulling together and saying, ‘we’ve got to keep going , we can’t lose this legacy of Lorin Maazel,’” according to Dietlinde Maazel.

Castleton’s live-streamed performances reached more than 1 million viewers in over 100 countries. But the underlying financial challenges continued.

“You can’t do this a second year…everybody is exhausted and maxed out,” Maazel said.

Now, looking ahead to the 2017 season and beyond, “We are revisiting our roots and renewing our emphasis on the original mission of nurturing young talents and fostering the arts through integrative mentoring, world-class performances and the building of communities. And as we continue to refine that mission, it is clear that we need time to take stock, strategize and ensure the ongoing evolution and growth of the festival so that Lorin Maazel’s vision doesn’t merely survive, but has the roots and strength to blossom for many years to come,” Maazel said in a statement released Wednesday.

“We have a really fine product. It’s amazing how many of our alums are singing at The Met or worldwide,” Maazel added during an interview. “When I see these hundreds of kids that keep rolling in during the summer for dress rehearsals…I find that very rewarding.”

“I firmly believe it’s a good concept and we need to keep going. We just have to find a broader donor base.”