I am not even sure where to begin when discussing the amazing experience I had last weekend at Maestro Lorin Maazel‘s Castleton Festival. This unique summer festival is bursting at the seams with talented young musicians, rising opera stars, and titans of the classical music world, all of whom are working together to present a truly ambitious performance schedule. And that doesn’t even mention the beautiful Virginia countryside that encompasses Castleton’s rehearsal halls and theaters. I suppose, however, that I should begin by providing a bit of the background that brought me to this point.
Two years ago, I started writing a piece for solo piano, titled Metropolitan. And what I originally thought was going to be a minor piece of three miniatures, turned out to be an incredibly virtuosic and powerful piece of five pseudo-miniatures. I was fortunate to be working with pianist Ian Scott at the time, who handled all of the technicality with enthusiasm and energy. Below is a recording of his performance.
My excitement about this piece eventually led me to the task of transcribing it for orchestra a year later. And I was lucky enough to get the first and fourth movements of the piece into a 20 minute orchestra reading session during the second year of my master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati. This was of course a valuable experience, but the three remaining movements left much of the orchestration of Metropolitan to my imagination.
I sought to solve this issue by submitting the piece to the Castleton Festival’s inaugural Young Composer’s Forum, which came with the prize of an orchestra premier for the winning work. And I was very grateful to find one morning that I had a message from Maestro Lorin Maazel sitting in my inbox informing me that my piece had been selected for performance this summer.
So after a process that stretched back almost two years, it was finally time to head to Castleton for a condensed and rewarding weekend of music-making. I began the long drive down to Virginia’s Rappahannock County, where the festival takes place, and found that it offers its own rewards in the form of rolling hills and green pastures that can only partially be expressed by the few pictures I took.
Shortly after my arrival on Friday morning, I headed over to the first rehearsal (and my first hearing of the orchestra) where I met Maestro David Hanlon, the fearless conductor of my piece. Friendly as he is talented, he handled the meter changes, the technical difficulty, and the wide range of emotion in the piece with a stunning precision. And the orchestra had just a terrific sound, even in the surprisingly dry rehearsal hall. There were a few spots that needed tightening up and a few dynamics to amend on my part, but I felt optimistic that it was going come together in the performance on Sunday.
After the rehearsal I finally had the opportunity to meet the great Maestro Maazel, who had nothing but the nicest things to say to me about Metroplitan. It was a moment that I made sure to allow room in my memory for, despite the thousands of orchestration-related thoughts flooding my brain after the rehearsal (a common occurrence amongst composers).
And I could continue at length about the rest of the weekend, which included two stunning opera performances and a dress rehearsal of my piece, but I will skip now to the performance on Sunday. Several members of my family and friends had arrived and at 2pm is was time for me to sit back and let it all happen. After a few remarks by Maestro Maazel about my piece, Maestro Hanlon took to the podium and we were off.
I enjoyed my front row seat and somewhat nervously, somewhat excitedly listened to each passing moment. But to be honest, as the orchestra struck the final chord, it occurred to me that the performance was all somewhat of a blur in my mind. I was confident that there were no major errors and I remember feeling very satisfied with certain sections, but it was not until I heard the audience applauding that I had any sense of how it actually went.
The orchestra had performed beautifully. Even in the most difficult passages, the musicians communicated the musical gestures and brought to life these short solo piano pieces in all of the color and power of the orchestra. And thanks to these stellar musicians, Maestro Hanlon, Maestro Maazel, the welcoming staff, and the hugely supportive audience at the Castleton Festival, it was an experience I will not soon forget.
You can find two reviews from the concert at the link below.