Partnership negotiations underway with unnamed university; new direction likely for legendary festival
‘If we can formulate that I think [Castleton] can come back on its feet’
Dietlinde Turban Maazel has successfully pressed her reset button.
“I needed a break,” the actress, stage director and co-founder of the Castleton Festival acknowledges in an interview. “Sometimes you just have to take a step back, take a deep breath, press the reset button, and then start anew. And I think that’s happening.”
Plus, she stresses: “I didn’t have time for grieving.”
Three years ago this month, on a busy Sunday morning at the Castleton Festival, Turban Maazel lost the love of her life: acclaimed conductor, composer, violinist, and devoted husband and father Lorin Maazel. By her own admission her world was suddenly turned upside down, and it would remain there for some time.
“It takes you almost a couple of years for this to actually sink in,” she reflects. “For this whole time I could not even look at pictures of Lorin. If I was on YouTube and stumbled upon a moment where you see him conducting . . . I just couldn’t [watch].”
Today, not only is the New York City resident at Castleton to direct this weekend’s much-anticipated performance of Galileo’s Torch, she has goosebumps from the distinct honor of finally becoming an American citizen — taking her oath during a patriotic ceremony performed on July 4th, no less, atop the lawn of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
“Lorin was going to be my sponsor,” says the German-born Turban Maazel, who homeschooled the couple’s three American children in Europe while her maestro husband, also American, ran opera houses in France, Germany and Austria.
“Only when Lorin became music director of the New York Philharmonic did we finally start settling down [in America]. That’s when we bought this [Castleton] property,” she explains. “And that’s when we started applying, kind of belatedly, for my green card. But this was post-September 11th, so then it was suddenly not so easy.
“Despite the fact I have three American children and a famous American husband it took me four years to get my green card. That was 2008,” she recalls. “The few times I had traveled back and forth [overseas] I was always pulled into that [airport] immigration office. It is thoroughly unpleasant; they take everything away from you, and make you sit there for hours. Mini-torture.
“So I was so glad when this green card came through, it was fabulous. Then [we decided] I’ll take this next step [to U.S. citizenship]. And then Lorin is gone. But I didn’t want anything to happen where my kids and I didn’t have the same status. That would be scary.”
So on the heels of her husband’s death, Turban Maazel, whose artistic career took her from Munich theaters to Hollywood studios, and then on stage as soloist for numerous symphony orchestras, forced herself to begin the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. It took three full years. She’d wanted to become an American, she says, ever since she was a child growing up in a divisive post-World War II Germany.
“It was a very emotional moment being up there in Monticello,” she says. “There were 900 people sitting on the lawn and 74 people were sworn in. It was quite elaborate, with music and what have you, and once the whole ceremony was over we were invited to say a few words.
“They handed us the microphone, but only a handful of people wanted to get up . . . And I thought, ‘OK, I need to stand up and say something.’ So I thanked a significant American citizen for having introduced me to this country, and [teaching me] about its values, and then I mentioned his name — Lorin Maazel. And there was this hum going through the entire lawn and the audience . . .
“It always saddened Lorin that he was not perceived as an American citizen,” his widow adds. “He was born in Paris, he has a name that could look Dutch or Russian or Israeli, he was of Russian-Jewish descent, and so he was not the typical American conductor you know.
“But beyond his work as a musician he often considered himself a diplomat, using music as a tool to bring people together. One of the examples, he was high commissioner of the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and with that he gave many benefit concerts . . . I mentioned [at Monticello] his trip to North Korea with the New York Philharmonic, that was really significant. And I said in my own small way I want to continue this legacy.”
That legacy includes Castleton, where sadly, in the wake of Lorin’s passing, the summer festival seasons of 2016 and 2017 had to be canceled for budgetary reasons.
“The challenge here, obviously, is if you lose the main sponsor, the big figure, and the founder all in one package, you can’t recover just like that,” says Turban Maazel. “Even though a core of the board members are still very, very interested and wonderful people, they can’t lift it. We don’t have that one gazillionaire somehow in our back pocket. That means it needs a partner.
“It can’t be done in a rush. It has to be done right, with the right people and the right team.”
To that end, she says “there were people coming out of the woodwork a year ago — the Kennedy Center, and Shenandoah University [among others], all nicely reaching out to me saying, ‘Can we help?’ But then when we looked further, it’s like, ‘Oh we are not in good financial shape, either.’ Maybe some people thought I sit on a gold mine, but we have all these expenses to keep this place. You can imagine what that albatross is.
“So nothing materialized there, but there is something very concrete in sight,” the actress reveals for the first time to the Rappahannock News. “It’s not ready to be announced yet, but there is a university whose two deans visited recently . . . and they got the spirit of this place totally.”
While she didn’t disclose which university, Turban Maazel suggests she and the potential partner “would like to think in terms of an artist colony and making [Castleton] very exclusive — not growing in numbers, because to do big-time opera as we did [in previous seasons] is totally unsustainable. You need those millions [of dollars] to put it on. And 300 participants was an explosion.
Instead, she foresees “creating a concept” that incorporates Rappahannock area talent, children and adults alike, “with people from the outside coming literally in for sort of a specific retreat, which then ends up in performances — if we can formulate that I think [Castleton] can come back on its feet. And I actually hope that a pilot project of that nature could be started in 2018. I’m going to fly to see these guys in October and we’re going to take our negotiations another step forward.”
And that, she certainly knows, would please her late husband, who poured so much of himself into the Castleton experience. Indeed, it was 20 years ago last month — June 21, 1997 — that the maestro inaugurated Castleton in Performance (the prelude to the Castleton Festival) in the Theatre House on Castleton Farms, a former chicken coop for 15,000 birds.
Seated outside the coop-turned-European-style pocket theatre this week, Turban Maazel, who teaches acting at Rutgers University, among other places, says Lorin “never wanted this festival to be a Maazel festival, never about him. He was very hesitant to program his own compositions.
“But I had convinced him a year before [his death], saying, ‘Come on, you wrote such lovely little pieces’ — Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree, and then The Empty Pot, which is such a timely piece right now about succession in politics.
“So he said OK, OK, lets plan that Sunday concert for an afternoon and it will be entertaining and lovely. And I was supposed to be the narrator of these concerts for text and orchestra. So this was how it was planned — it was if he had planned it.
“I still remember that insanity of a Sunday morning, where he asked literally that all the cables be shut off. And he passed on. And at 2 o’clock that same day we sat here in the concert — with his music that he had planned a year before. I was nearly numbed with all of that. I was in total denial.
“And then the show must go on.”
Galileo’s Torch, by James Reston, Jr.
Friday, July 28, 8 p.m.; Saturday, July 29, 7 p.m.; Sunday, July 30, 5 p.m.
For over 400 years, Galileo has awed and inspired the world. As the founder of modern science and the embodiment of the conflict between science and faith, Galileo remains one of the most fascinating and tragic figures of his age . . . and, arguably, ours. Featuring John Lescault as Galileo and Judge David Tatel as Grand Inquisitor. Directed by Dietlinde Turban Maazel.
Theatre House at Castleton Farms, 7 Castleton Meadows Ln., Castleton, Va.
Purchase tickets at www.castletonfestival.org or call 540-937-3454