an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Mahler in Texas

For last Saturday’s performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at the Round Top Music Festival, an orchestra of 88 gifted young musicians rehearsed for 22 hours over the course of six days; there were also more than four hours of sectional rehearsals. A splendid young Austrian conductor, Christoph Campestrini, used every minute of his allotted time, correcting and exhorting with precision and enthusiasm. The result was formidable: an impassioned and idiomatic account, honed to honor Mahler’s kaleidoscopic textures.
The previous week, Round Top offered a performance of the original, unabridged version of Rachmaninoff’s little-heard Fourth Piano Concerto with a world-class soloist: Eteri Andjaparidze. Other symphonic programs his summer include an homage to Diaghilev (Poulenc, Respighi, Stravinsky), Roussel’s The Spider’s Feast, and Christopher Rouse’s Flute Concerto alongside more standard fare. The chamber concerts (with faculty artists) are a cornucopia of delicacies: the composers include Faure, Poulenc, Ligeti, Enescu, and Schoenberg (the Chamber Symphony No. 1).
The Round Top musicians are selected by blind audition from schools and conservatories across the US. The average age is 22. They spend six weeks at Round Top on full scholarship. The faculty of 44 – I took part for a week as a Mahler lecturer – includes principal players from prominent American orchestras. As Round Top, Texas, is in the middle of nowhere – both Austin and Houston are more than an hour away — a sense of community is assured.
The festival’s longtime program director, Alain Declert, is an inimitable yet much imitated Frenchman charmingly disposed to vehement opinion. The founder and artistic director is the pianist James Dick, whose civility and warmth pervade the premises. Incredibly, he conceived the notion of a music festival in Round Top fully forty years ago. Two years later, a large portable outdoor stage was moved to Round Top from Minnesota. The current 1,000-seat concert hall is acoustically distinguished and architecturally unique.
What the Round Top oasis portends for its gifted beneficiaries is a good question. There are far more aspirants than orchestral jobs in the world outside. One can only hope that orchestras and musicians alike will find ways to think constructively about institutions and instrumentalists whose responsibilities must and will expand in the decades ahead.

an ArtsJournal blog