Back at Round top

I’m on the ground for an all-too-short to Festival Hill at Round Top, my first visit here in several years. The food is still great, and the grounds are as beautiful- an inimitable mixture of the immaculate and the rough-and ready, with stone monuments and incredible woodcarving next to old sheds and dirt roads.

The Concert Hall has come a long way since I was last here- it is for intents and purposes a finished product. My first summer as a young student, we had a stage with no apron, concrete floors, plywood walls and white plastic lawn chairs (which were still in use during my last visit, now replaced with permanent seats). The steel girders were still visible round the stage. Fortunately, the sound is still perfect or nearly so.

 I had a nice surprise on arrival- I’m conducting on another concert Saturday, where I’ll be doing the Varese Octandre with a mixture of faculty and students. I’ve been dying to do the Varese since last summer’s RCICW. Had I known, I would have brought my score. The only score on campus came from the publisher with the parts- at some point the middle 8 pages went missing, so the publishers saw fit to just stick single sided copies on white 8 ½ x 11 paper in the middle. Imagine if performers took this attitude to playing the piece?! Yes, we’ll do good professional work for 10 pages, then play completely half-assed and unprepared for 8 pages, the good again…

On Friday, we’re doing the 13 instrument version of Appalachian Spring. AppSpri was the second piece I ever conducted in a concert (here, as it happens), and I’ve done it many times since. Probably the first 6 times I did AppSpri, I did the 13 instrument version, then the last 4 times, I  did the full orchestra version. The orchestra version is wonderful, especially if you don’t let it turn into Billy the Kid- it’s still a chamber orchestra work. However, the original instrumentation is miraculous, and once I got used to it again, it’s many marvels come racing back. It is so deliciously difficult- we’re doing it at the workshop this summer (it is a complete coincidence that I’m doing it here- Alain only asked me a few weeks ago), and I’m curious to see how the students cope with musically. Suzanne and I were talking after the rehearsal today- it’s a surprisingly sad, or at least pensive, piece for being so popular. Anyway, it’s like coming home to rehearse on that stage again…

Speaking of Suzanne- last time I was here was when she and I met. How crazy to come back here for the first time since that fateful summer with our new traveling companion, Sam, who seems to be enjoying his first music festival a lot.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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