THE BLOG

Clap Between Movements: Vail, Moritzburg, Salzburg

07/20/2011 04:12 am ET | Updated Sep 18, 2011

In the classical music game, summer music festivals are where the action is. Vail features 3 Top 10 American orchestras (Dallas, Philadelphia and New York), a great outdoor hall and a new chamber music initiative. Moritzburg is a fantasy camp for budding young professionals. Salzburg has booked the exciting young Mandelring Quartet to play Shostakovich's 15 string quartets on two successive days at Mozart's house.

What's most amazing, from the standpoint of classical music investors, above and beyond the extraordinary creative and organizational talent of these operations, is how clearly they could be replicated and adapted to local circumstances. With the right tweaking they could serve as alternative models to the standard orchestral routine, and they are purely classical music, whereas the most successful orchestral operations now depend on non-organic diversification. It would also be interesting to see, for example, what the LA Phil would do if it were thrown entirely onto its own resources.

I was in Vail last week. The Ford Amphitheater is like the greatest home audiophile system has been taken outdoors. The Philadelphia were so razor sharp in the opening Prokofiev (a suite from his modernist Love For Three Oranges) that the composer's unorthodox direction to the violins to play up-down, up-down instead of down-up, down-up, meant to simulate the sound of shuffling cards, did so visually as well.

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg played the Bruch Violin Concerto as if she were inscribing it in a heart-felt diary. She stalked the stage, danced a jig, laughed at adversity, and played along with orchestra for a few bars here and there when she needed their energy to fuel her desire. I got lost in Brahms' Second, conducted with dreamy appetite by Stephen Deneve, and woke up just in time for the heraldic ending which sounded very fine. As I say, the shell there belongs on every audiophile's pilgrimage list.

More still to come at Vail before the Festival closes on August 3, including 6 concerts by the New York Philharmonic. The musical pleasures are divine, the accommodations are appropriate to Vail's Disneyland-style design, where families with small children are welcomed with trails, sports and cultural opportunities. The clip bellows shows Nadja and new musical director Anne-Marie McDermott, with whom everybody falls instantly in love, discussing Beethoven and Schubert.

The Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival, August 7-21, is like the dream of kids who went to classical music summer camps. In addition to the concerts, there's lots of nature; there's an authentic royal Palace in the middle of a lake with ducks and swans, and talented kids on scholarship who play and study with the young professionals led by Jan Vogler, who will be relaxing as only a workaholic cellist could after wrapping up the Dresden Music Festival earlier in the season.

The theme this year is English. The composer in residence is Saxon-born Torsten Rasch. The roster of players will include Nicola Benedetti, Frank Peter Zimmermann and Alice Sara Ott. Many of them will be working together for the first time in Moritzburg and performing in ensembles that are unique to the Festival. The students of Moritzburg Festival Academy, who come on full scholarship from all over the world, perform in Volkswagen's magnificent glass factory in Dresden.

On August 18 and 19 Thursday, at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, headquarters of the international Mozart conspiracy, the young Berlin-based Mandelring Quartet will show what they've got in Shostakovich when they play the Russian composer's complete 15 quartets over a 2-day, 4-concert span, in numerical order. If the performances are anything like their complete recording for Audite, this will be a more emotionally restrained but perhaps more harrowing experience in which gestures and flashes of light and sound serve as signposts.

For a compleat Shostakovich experience, take along Wendy Lesser's new book. Music for Silenced Voices: Shostakovich and His Fifteen Quartets (Yale Univ. Press). It's more a riveting classical music novella than a practical guide. "You can get the whole story from the fifteen quartets themselves," Lesser writes, "if you are alert enough. But I am not alert enough." So while compiling her record of Shostakovich's odyssey she spoke to members of the Emerson, Alexander and Vertigo Quartets as well as the composer's son Maxim and Olga Dombrovskaya, curator of the Shostakovich archive and museum in Moscow. For vinyl hounds, chase down the Fitzwilliam Quartet on Decca. The best sound ever!