- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Across the country, summertime is festival time. From music to theater to dance, small towns and rural areas alike blossom with first-rate entertainment that attracts vacationers looking to add a little culture to their busy schedules.

The newest classical shindig in our region is the Castleton Festival. Nestled in the Blue Ridge foothills not far from Warrenton, Va., the festival launches its inaugural season this weekend. It’s the logical outgrowth of the Castleton Residency program, established by the New York Philharmonic’s departing conductor, Lorin Maazel, and his wife and supported by their Chateauville Foundation.

A bit like the long-running Interlochen program near Traverse City, Mich., both the residency and the festival are dedicated to the training and mentoring of young musicians.

Running through July, the festival will host more than 120 students and professionals who will present a baker’s dozen performances, including four rarely heard chamber operas by Benjamin Britten as well as symphony concerts, chamber music and master classes.

The main idea of the festival is to provide opportunities for rising young professional musicians to participate at a professional level in live performances before a discerning public. This year and beyond, the festival will focus on chamber operas that provide a suitable scale for this endeavor, along with a more reasonable cost structure.

The festival could yield additional educational and economic benefits for the rural Rappahannock County area as well, attracting tourists and national attention that might help bolster the area economy while helping enrich musical education there.

The four operas at the center of this year’s festival - all composed by Mr. Britten, Great Britain’s best-known composer in the last half of the 20th century - aren’t often heard in this area. But they’re first-rate small masterpieces and should be well worth a trip to the mountains, about a 1 1/2-hour drive from the District.

The festival opens today with a performance of “The Turn of the Screw,” Mr. Britten’s musical take on a Henry James classic. It will be conducted by Mr. Maazel himself. An earlier version of this small masterpiece was performed by Castleton performers at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater in 2006, and the current performances should be able to build on that early success.

The three other Britten operas are the composer’s version of “The Beggar’s Opera,” also opening this weekend, based on the original folk opera by John Gay; “The Rape of Lucretia,” whose plot focuses on the early days of the Roman Republic; and “Albert Herring,” an intriguing comic romp.

Mr. Maazel will conduct the opening performance of each opera. Remaining performances will be conducted by Castleton fellows, including Timothy Myers, who conducted performances of the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s recent production of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.”

Additional festival events include recitals by flutist Robert Langevin, hornist Phil Myers and oboist Liang Wang. Featured composers include Telemann, Britten, Ravel and Faure. All the soloists are principals with the New York Philharmonic and will mentor the young musicians throughout the festival.

The orchestra’s concertmaster will be the soloist in Bruch’s violin concerto, which will be performed as part of a Castleton Festival Orchestra concert.

Throughout the festival, there will be a series of master classes, including classes for young conductors led by Mr. Maazel, and classes for young singers led by soprano Nancy Gustafson and Marlena Malas, who chairs the voice program at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state.

WHAT: Castleton Festival, featuring operas “The Turn of the Screw,” “The Beggar’s Opera,” “The Rape of Lucretia” and “Albert Herring.”

WHEN: Tonight through July 19. Consult Web site for performance schedule.

WHERE: Most events are on Lorin Maazel’s Castleton Farms, 663 Castleton View Road, Castleton, VA 22716, about 60 miles southwest of the District. Recitals will be staged nearby in the Theatre in Washington, Va.

TICKETS: Opera prices, $70 to $80; orchestra concerts, $50 to $60; recitals, $25

PHONE: 540/937-4969 or 866/974-0767

WEB SITE: www.chateauville.org.

• T.L. Ponick can be reached at .

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