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From 1984 To The Real Animal Farm

Lorin and Dietlinde Turban-Maazel (© Harry Rolnick)

One might quip that composer-conductor Lorin Maazel blithely stepped from 1984 (the Orwell novel for which he wrote both libretto and music) to Animal Farm (Maazel’s reality, not Orwell’s allegory). Except that Lorin Maazel and his wife, actress Dietlinde Turban-Maazel, have been living on this 250-acre property in rural Rappahannock Country, Virginia, for two decades, raising children, cattle, chickens and now a musical festival.

“Blame it on a bad car journey,” recalls Ms. Maazel. “Lorin had been driving back from a concert and he almost fell asleep in the car, winding up in this part of Virginia. Ever since, he had dreamed of returning to this area, and 20 years ago, we actually started looking for a property here. When we saw it, we fell in love, and Lorin comes here all the time.”

With Mr. Maazel’s retirement from the New York Philharmonic this year, he has had time to work in earnest on the use of Castleton Farm. The “dream” obviously evolved from the spacious and the slender manor in which they live to the Theatre House, for “serious” productions like Britten’s Turn of the Screw and Rape of Lucretia to a 250-seat lavish circus-style tent for more jovial shows like Beggar’s Opera, all three put on in this first Castleton Festival.

Those buildings are amidst the winding paths through the foliage, an art gallery and in the theatre, a wall devoted to the Maestro himself. After several years, explained Ms. Turban-Maazel, a school was created on the property for underprivileged children. With the school came the idea of a Petting Garden with some very unusual animals.

First among many is the Zonkey, the mating of horse and zebra. The result is a very tall donkey with stripes on its legs, showing filial devotion to a maternal zebra. They also have emus, lamas and alpacas, all sharing large swards of cultivated fields with a dromedary and other fauna friends.

Musically, the Maazels have presided over another evolution. A rinky-dink piano stands near one of the outdoor restaurants, and the cast sometimes enjoys performances after the operas. But over the years, other performers like Jose Carreras and Emanuel Ax, have made the journey performing with the student residents.

“At this point,” related the Maestro standing under the 250-year old American beech tree near his home, “we have a place each summer financed by The Châteauville Foundation, with performers of every different kind. I wouldn’t call it a conservatory… or a school. Oh, maybe it could be called a ‘finishing’ school’ for young musicians. They learn from first-chair players and others who have literally faced the music.”

“This year, we have players from Doha, the Qatar Philharmonic. And now the Rolex Foundation is sponsoring ten young conductors who are being mentored by three professional conductors. All of them are working on the spot with other musicians, with singers from the opera company. We are also introducing high school students from the area who may be getting their first taste of classical music.”

The actual festival began this year, and nobody quite knew the outcome.

“We were working against the recession,” said Mr. Maazel. “Yet our audiences have been excellent, mainly from the D.C. and Virginia area. But we have some galas, some nice dinners for them, and we’re already preparing for next year.”

The Maestro and his wife seem well satisfied with their progress. “These musicians say they’ve learned more in three weeks here than five years in school. I don’t know…….”

But his smile shows that Lorin Maazel, whose years with the New York Philharmonic have closed, is as satisfied with being Laird of the Land as Director on the Dais. The fit in this sumptuous rural setting seems most satisfying.

For more information, go to www.castletonfestival.org

Harry Rolnick



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