The Fairfax Symphony Orchestra moved to the mountains over the weekend as it kicked off the 20th annual Shenandoah Valley Music Festival in Orkney Springs.
The festival, which runs for two weekends every summer, started July 25 and continues tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at the historic resort town of Orkney Springs, where 19th-century tourists flocked to the mineral baths.
This is the fourth year the symphony has headlined the festival, which originally began as a workshop for conductors along with a few concerts for summer visitors to Orkney Springs.
But several years ago, the festival fell on hard times and the program was redesigned as a concert series only. In 1978, the Virginia Council of the Arts recommended that Fairfax Symphony conductor William Hudson take over as artistic director. The next year, he brought members of the Fairfax Symphony to the festival.
Hudson has designed the concert series to include a variety of pops and classical works.
This year the series includes a range of works, from Wagner to John Philip Sousa to Richmond composer John Powell's "Symphony in A," a piece drawn from the folk music of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hudson says Powell, who died in 1963, transposed fiddle and banjo music from the mountains into several orchestral works. Recently, Hudson says, he was approached by C.R.I. Records, which hopes to record Powell's works at this summer's festival.
For the most part, however, the concerts reflect the 19th-century mood of Orkney Springs and the festival's original leader, conductor Richard Johannes Lert.
Hudson describes Lert as a man who was immersed in the romantic music of the 19th century, a man who "sat on Brahms' knee and knew Mahler and Strauss."
For 15 years, until ill health forced him to leave the festival in 1978, Lert taught the conductors' workshop at the festival. Conductors from all over the country came to the workshop to practice with an orchestra made up of professional musicians from major and minor symphonies.
"Nineteenth-century music plumbs more emotional depths than more modern works ," Hudson says, and Lert could take his players "through some kind of journey that, by the end of the piece, reduced musicians to tears."
The conductors' workshop was dropped from the festival after Lert left.
The orchestra members in this summer's festival--most from the 112-member Fairfax Symphony--see the event as a way to keep up their skills over the summer, Hudson says. The 85 musicians are paid a small wage and receive room and board at the festival.
But Mary Ann Peterman, spokeswoman for the symphony, is convinced that the musicians come to eat.
If that is so, they aren't alone.
The traditional dinner bell at the historic Orkney Springs Hotel means tables laden with fresh local produce, country cooking and massive portions that are legendary among musicians and visitors alike.
"The food is out of this world," drools Peterman.
All that means a delectable and delightful evening for the many local residents and Washingtonians who make the festival a must summer trip.
And for some visitors, the evening concerts on the lawn of the hotel may be just the icing on the cake.
The Shenandoah Valley Music Festival will continue this weekend, starting tomorrow, in Orkney Springs, between Strasburg and New Market, about 120 miles from Washington off Interstate 81. Ticket prices range from $3 to $20 for the concert series. For more information about the festival, call 703-459-3396.
If you are interested in accommodations at the Orkney Springs Hotel, be sure to call ahead. The hotel number is 703-856-2198.