By Ken Wilson–
A Roaring Twenties party in a pop-up speakeasy, a choir camp for grown-ups and a singing night out for an Artistic Director. Time travel and role play, irresistible tunes and imaginations freely roaming—when the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival and Academy hits the Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County every July, it turns a Blue Ridge Mountain hillside into a music lover’s El Dorado.
Programming such an adventurously creative festival, which runs from July 8 through August 6 this year under the theme “The Fountain of Youth,” is a lot of fun, says Richmond Symphony Chorus conductor Erin Freeman, returning to lead it for her third year: “There are no limitations to the pieces I can choose in terms of artistry. Because our musicians are so topnotch, and because our audience is so musically curious, anything will work.”
Anything this year ranges from the core orchestral and chamber music offerings to a smattering of jazz, pop, Broadway and more—even cooking classes. The US Army Chorus returns to Wintergreen even before the Festival formally opens on Thursday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m., for a free concert of inspirational, patriotic, nostalgic, and just plain fun songs.
This year’s Opening Night Party, entitled The Roaring Twenties, A Celebration of the Jazz Age, is at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, July 8, in the one-night-only “Wintergreen Speakeasy.” Pianist Edward Newman will play music of Manuel de Falla and George Gershwin. At 7:30 p.m. the festivities move to the Dunlop Pavilion where Newman will be joined by violinist Elisabeth Adkins, and vocalists Arianna Zuckerman, Vale Rideout, and Bob McDonald along with Wintergreen’s own 40-or-so voice students for music by Stephen Sondheim to Leonard Bernstein, including excerpts from A Little Night Music, West Side Story, Candide, and Into the Woods.
The Festival’s Mountaintop Masterworks series for orchestra begins on Saturday, July 15 with four works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major; Ch’io mi scordi di te for soprano, piano, and orchestra; Requiem Mass in D minor; and Ave Verum Corpus.
“Ch’io mi scordi di te is an amazing Mozart concert aria,” says Arianna Zuckerman, Chair of Vocal Studies for the Festival’s Summer Music Academy, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. “The texture of the orchestra with the piano and then the voice is transporting. It’s almost like a piano concerto with a voice obbligato. I’m so thrilled to welcome several of my good friends to Wintergreen who also happen to be my colleagues. Giovanni Reggioli and I have been working together for 25 years. I’ve worked on Ch’io mi scordi di te with Giovanni when I had to sing it somewhere, but this is the first time we’ll do it together, which is a treat.”
While the child prodigy Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 1 when he was only eight years old, he left the venerable Requiem unfinished at his death. “Rarely does anyone get to hear Mozart Requiem on top of a mountain; I’m looking forward to that,” Freeman says. “We’re going to have a chorus of more than 80 people.” About half of those 80 will be members of the Richmond Symphony Chorus. The rest will be participants in a new program called Sing with Us! —“basically like a choir camp for adults,” as Freeman puts it. “They’ll have vocal coaching and rehearsals with me and then they’ll get to go to lectures by Michael White, our marvelous Julliard professor, who’s been here now over 10 years. They’ll get to go to events and experience Wintergreen as a patron, but there will also be opportunity to dive into this great work by Mozart and perform it with the orchestra.” Three of the Requiem’s four soloists will be drawn from Vocal Intensive, a Festival program which trains young soloists to sing opera arias and oratorio solos. Zuckerman, who leads the program, will sing the soprano part.
“What we’re doing at the Vocal Intensive at Wintergreen is very unique,” Zuckerman says. “There are many summer singing programs, but almost all of the programs I know focus on opera. Most young singers never have a chance to learn an oratorio intimately and then have a chance to get it on its feet. Giving our students a chance to sing these masterworks with orchestra sets our program apart.”
Her students will give a free and family-friendly “Voices in the Valley” outdoor concert on Sunday, July 9, 7:30 p.m. at the Rockfish Valley Community Center in Afton, singing both opera arias and Broadway tunes. Picnicking is encouraged (bring a blanket) and libations will be sold.
Mountaintop Masterworks II, Saturday, July 22 at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 23 at 3:00 p.m., features contemporary American composer Frank Ticheli’s moving and meditative Rest, Dimitri Shostakovich’s surprisingly Mozartean Symphony 9, and Antonin Dvorak’s sweeping and gorgeous Cello Concerto.
Mountain Masterworks III, Saturday, July 29 at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 30 at 3:00 p.m., begins with the beautiful Concerto for Strings by Italian composer Nino Rota, best known for his Fellini film scores. Camille Saint-Saens’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin and orchestra, written for a virtuoso violinist friend, follows. The concert concludes with Felix Mendelssohn’s colorful “Scottish” Symphony, inspired by a visit to a ruined palace during a walking tour of Scotland.
Mountain Masterworks IV, Saturday, August 5 at 6:00 p.m. and Sunday, August 6 at 3:00 p.m., features celebrated American pianist Christopher O’Riley, host of NPR’s From the Top, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat Major. It opens with composer-in-residence Daron Hagen’s reflective Postcards from America and closes with Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. Dubbed Beethoven’s 10th and wildly acclaimed at its premiere, the symphony had taken the composer, apprehensive about his ability to measure up to the high symphonic standard set by Ludwig van Beethoven, 21 years to complete.
The Festival’s eight Mix, Mingle & Music programs begin with a cash bar at 6:00 p.m. followed by an hour of classical music for smaller ensembles. Freeman will team up with veteran Wintergreen oboist Bill Parrish on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Arias for Soprano and Oboe, in Mingle & Music IV, at Bold Rock Cider Barn in Nellysford on Thursday, July 20. “Bach cantatas contain some of the most glorious music for oboe and solo voice with continuo” (harpsichord and cello) “and lend themselves beautifully to a recital program,” Parrish says. “One aria is upbeat and quick and features the English horn rather than oboe. The other aria is with oboe and is slower and more plaintive in harmony and text. Bold Rock is the perfect venue for this intimate chamber concert!” Bach’s Sonata #1 in B minor BWV 1014 for Violin and Harpsichord and his sublime Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 will round out the hour.
The performance is a reprise, in spirit if not in actual content, of a concert Freeman courageously undertook with Parrish in her first year as director. “Two years ago when I’d just started this job, and hadn’t programmed anything yet, I had a major vocal issue, a cyst on a vocal cord, and was put on complete rest,” she remembers. Several months of intensive vocal therapy helped her recover her voice. “My vocal therapist said ‘you need to schedule some singing for yourself because you sing better than you speak. If you are forced to practice every day, that will affect your speaking voice and then your cords will get healthier.’ So I just forced myself by putting myself on the program. It was so frightening—I was pretty sure the notes would come out, but I had not spoken for an entire quarter of a year. So we’re doing a repeat. Different arias but same [Mix, Music & Mingle] concert.”
Mix, Mingle & Music V, on Tuesday, July 25, consists of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 for Cello and Piano and the world premiere of Hagen’s Sonata for Cello and Piano. “Our audience loves Beethoven but they also really like to learn new things,” Freeman says. “This will give us a chance to interview Daron onstage and ask ‘How does the Beethoven cello sonata inspire you to write this, and what are the things that are similar, and what are the things that are different?’ so that our musically curious audience can feel like they are connecting to the art itself as opposed to just observing it.”
The five Coffee & Kids programs, Sunday mornings at 11, feature hour-long performances, with coffee and pre-concert activities for children beginning an hour beforehand. In Just So Stories on July 9, Freeman narrates a tale by Rudyard Kipling while a flute, clarinet, violin, piano, guitar, cello, and two slide whistles embody a camel, a whale, and an elephant. Coffee & Kids No. 4, on July 30, is a narrated performance of Saint-Saens’ amusing Carnival of the Animals, arranged for woodwind quintet. No. 5, on August 6, is the world premiere of Daron Hagen’s woodwind version of the popular children’s book Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.
Freeman presents the Festival’s third annual movie night, Friday, July 28 at 7:30 p.m., conducting world-premiere scores for two classic Charlie Chaplin films: The Vagabond, with music by the Academy composition students, and A Dog’s Life, with music by Daron Hagen.
The Festival’s Morning Seminars, held from 9:30 to 11:45 a.m. Monday through Friday four weeks running, cover subjects from Mozart, Mendelssohn, and the art of the comic book, to two familiar questions for contemporary music listeners, Why is this Art?” and “Why is this Music?” On tap for Monday, July 24 is “You Don’t Say! A Game-Show-Inspired Morning.”
Mixing and mingling, questioning and conversing, and then listening intently—over the years the Wintergreen Performing Arts Festival has created a loyal and enthusiastic community from its lively and intellectually curious audience. A not inconsiderable portion of that audience chooses to make its home at Wintergreen, either “on the mountain” or in Stoney Creek in the valley below.
The Resort offers a year ‘round array of activities, including golf, tennis, swimming and hiking in the warms weather months, and skiing, snowboarding, skating and the like in the winter. Roughly 85 percent of homes there are second homes, a proportion that is reversed in Stoney Creek, where residents enjoy their activities right in the valley, including 27 holes of golf, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and twenty-acre Lake Monocan Park with amenities. Both sites offer close proximity—30-45 minutes—to Charlottesville, and the history, art and culture, foodie scene and intellectual vitality associated with the University of Virginia. Lovely and serene, rich and stimulating, the area draws people in and makes them feel at home.
“There are people who have been coming to the Festival since the very first year, and that means a lot to us,” Freeman says. “Wintergreen feels like a family to the patrons and the musicians. We all need a little music these days with all the divisions that we’re seeing. Music is so powerful because it can bring us together as a community.”