At the young age of 19, Lorin Maazel, a poor college student, would often travel from his home in Pittsburg to New York to see the great musicians of the time perform. It was on one of these trips that Maazel found himself daydreaming and missed his exit for the turnpike. After some time he realized that he was lost but the adventurous spirit became quickly engaged with his new surroundings and he continued to drive till he found himself in the greater Piedmont region. He called the area “God’s Country” as many have done and deemed that should he ever make it in his career, he would one day return to this place and call it home.
Many years later, in 1988, world-renowned conductor, Maestro Lorin Maazel, along with his wife, acclaimed German actress Dietlinde Turban Maazel, returned to the Piedmont to plant their roots, raise their three children, Orson, Tara and Leslie, and establish a “home base” as the family often accompanied Maazel throughout his world travels. It wasn’t long before he became eager to share his surroundings. He set forth on a mission to bring the world to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to experience the very inspiration that called to the human spirit of so many artists.
In 1993, he began the process of converting an old chicken coop that once held 15,000 hens into a small theatre. The county required that the Maazels keep the old building’s foundation and footprint intact so the vision was adapted to include a bowling alley that would run parallel to long room currently used for entertaining guests. The beautiful, 140-seat wood theatre boasts a pit that is able to accommodate 20 musicians. After four years of building this acoustically superb venue, Maazel invited a few friends as special guest artists for an inaugural concert on June 21, 1997. Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, pianist Yefim Bronfman and Maestro Lorin Maazel joining as violinist put on an intimate performance for the local community. Since that very first concert, the little theatre has hosted internationally-renowned artists such as Emanuel Ax, Claire Bloom, Carter Brey & Christopher O’Riley, Jordi Savall, Eileen Ivers, Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway, Pepe Romero, Gil Shaham, and Randy Weston.
Maestro Maazel had a passion for art that he was compelled to share. He desired to make a difference in his corner of the world through cultivating young audiences as well as empowering young artists to cross that daunting barrier into professional musicians. In 2006, Maazel brought stars from around the world to Castleton Farms in a retreat-like setting so that future stars could learn from, live with and work alongside professionals in an intensive residency program in the spring and fall.
The highly successful residencies naturally blossomed into a music festival in the summer of 2009 and Maazel took up his professional baton as a world-class opera conductor producing four fully staged performances of Benjamin Britten chamber operas. In 2010, the second annual Castleton Festival opened with Puccini’s lI Trittico which was followed by Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale and de Falla’s Master Pedro’s Puppet Show. Having quickly grown out of its performance space, Maazel brought in a 400-seat festival tent, dug a large hole in the ground for a pit that could hold 99 musicians, laid some hay and plywood down for the orchestra and went on to produce Grand Opera in a field at Castleton Farms.
The summer festival provided opportunities for the young artists in residence to perform alongside mentors and professionals in the height of their careers. Young artists and students from freshman age to post-doctorate levels were taught how to finesse their craft and what would be expected of them in the professional world. This rigorous and integrative mentoring program developed into the Castleton Artists Training Seminar (CATS) and would become the centerpiece of the Castleton Festival.
Along with the Seminar, the Festival continued to grow and the necessity of a larger, more permanent, venue became quickly apparent. In 2011, a 22,000 square foot 650-seat Festival Theatre was established and opened its doors to host the third annual Castleton Festival featuring Puccini’s La Bohème and a new double-bill: Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins & Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges.
As the Festival grew, so did the number of participants. Two-to-three hundred individuals would come to Castleton for the summer. Professional directors, stage designers and technicians, make-up artists, scenic and costume designers, choreographers, stage managers, musicians, singers and the young artists of the Seminar would room together, eat together, work together and celebrate together. The local Firehouse became home to a cafeteria that could accommodate mealtimes and Castleton Farms took on the form of a community with tennis courts, walking paths, hiking trails, shuttle services and of course, the bowling alley. Participants were encouraged to explore the neighboring communities and trips to local eateries, shops, wineries and tourism locations and fell in love with the region that Maazel called home.
In the following years the Castleton Festival rapidly expanded through national and international collaborations. Its productions were presented in Oman (Puccini’s La Bohème), in China (Rossini’s Barber of Seville), in Spain (Puccini’s Girl of the Golden West) and in Atlanta. What had begun as a dream with passion had developed into a nonprofit world-class performing entity centered around a training seminar that would provide young artists with the tools needed for professional careers.
After the unexpected passing of Maestro Lorin Maazel on July 13, 2014, the Castleton Festival continued on under the leadership of his widow, Dietlinde Turban Maazel. In 2015, Maestro Rafael Payare, an award winning former protégé of Maazel, was announced as the Castleton Festival’s new Principal Conductor. Esteemed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis would also join the seventh season with his first ever Summer Jazz Academy, a partnership that had been established before Maazel’s death.
The Castleton Festival continues to grow as it prepares for 2016 and its eighth season. Under the direction of Ms. Turban Maazel as CEO and Artistic Director, the Festival has reaffirmed its mission: nurturing young talents, fostering the arts and reclaiming the human spirit through integrative mentoring, world-class performances and building of communities. The CATS program will welcome over 50 new participants, professionals from all around the world will come together to produce the highest quality of art, Maestro Payare will carry on as Principal Conductor and the partnership with Wynton Marsalis and his Summer Jazz Academy will continue with the Castleton Festival as its permanent residence.