Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wintergreen fest marks 20th year

The Wintergreen Summer Music Festival opens its 20th anniversary season this week with a new artistic director, Erin R. Freeman, overseeing more than 200 events ranging from concerts to seminars and workshops. Twenty compositions will be premiered during this year’s festival, which opened on July 6 and runs through Aug. 2 at the Nelson County mountain-top resort community.

Freeman, who also is director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus and director of choral activities at Virginia Commonwealth University, planned the Wintergreen season with a focus not just on the festival’s anniversary but several others as well.

The sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War will be marked on July 29 with the premiere of Daron Hagen’s “Dear Youth,” a work for soprano, flute and piano based on letters written by women during the conflict. Ed Ayers, the noted Civil War historian who recently stepped down from the presidency of the University of Richmond, will speak on American culture and community of the era.

Hagen also has composed a new soundtrack for a July 24 screening of Charlie Chaplin’s classic silent film “The Tramp,” which was first seen 100 years ago. Another centenary of sorts comes with soprano Ariana Zukerman’s performance of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915,” a setting of words by James Agee.

“Tracing connections, chronological or otherwise, is the fun part of putting together programs,” Freeman says. Atmospherics are another factor – an important one in an event in which most major concerts are staged outdoors “where the birds or weather conditions sometimes are louder than the music.”

One such matching of music to its surroundings is planned for July 14: “Ushering in Twilight,” a program of chamber music and song by Schubert, Nielsen and Halvoresen that “winds down instead of up,” as Freeman puts it, with the music presented in a sequence that becomes more quiet and introspective as darkness falls.

The headline offerings at Wintergreen are four pairs of orchestra concerts, featuring such familiar works as Beethoven’s Fifth, Schubert’s “Unfinished” and Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphonies, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (with Winston Choi as soloist) and Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major (played by Zuill Bailey), and midday and evening series of chamber programs, highlighting works by Bach and Schubert alongside classics of Beethoven, Britten and Stravinsky and new and recent music by Michael White, Jack Gallagher, Christopher Theofanidis and Libby Larsen.

The festival’s musicians, drawn from the orchestras of Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as university music faculties, double as performers and teachers. “Many of them have been at Wintergreen for years,” Freeman says. “It’s easy to fill slots here – a month in the mountains in midsummer is a good gig.”

In conjunction with the festival, Wintergreen runs an academy for students at high-school to post-graduate levels. “There are 68 this year,” Freeman says, “studying not just instruments and voice but conducting, composition and arts administration.” Student chamber performances, presented free, carry Wintergreen’s offerings into surrounding communities, often at venues not commonly used for concerts.

“One of the unusual things about this festival is that it’s not just about people sitting in the audience at concerts,” Freeman observes. “Wintergreen attracts people with a lot of curiosity about music and other art forms, and our seminars and workshops are just as well-attended as our concerts.”

To obtain a season brochure or more information about the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival, call (434) 325-8292 or visit the festival website, www.wintergreenperformingarts.org