Wintergreen Mountain is a summer attraction in its own right, set atop one of Nelson County’s picturesque Blue Ridge peaks with easy access to the area’s rich supply of hiking trails, vineyards, cideries, distilleries and pick-your-own orchards. In July, they add the Wintergreen Music Festival’s live concerts to the list of enticements. Every summer since the mid-1990s, “Artists come from all over the world to perform,” says Artistic Director Erin Freeman. “We have orchestra, chamber music, jazz, tango, movie night, coffee talks with the musicians every morning, [and] masterclasses people can observe,” and a music academy whose history traces back almost as far as the Festival’s.
“We’re in the business of classical music programming and of designing experiences that feel welcoming,” says Executive Director Julianne Akins Smith, combining “destination, community and artistry.” Put more simply, they’re making “a lot of music to match the views,” she says.
Experience the beauty of the Wintergreen Music Festival this summer from July 1-30. A celebration of nature, melody and hidden gems featuring masterclasses, student performances and symphonies, this outdoor festival brings together the best of classical music.
A Classical Music Festival with Stunning Views
The open-sided acoustic performance tent makes the most of those views. Grassy hills subside into valleys below, cool evening breezes blow, and the musicians bring world-class talent. “The sound is over the top,” says Freeman. “The sky over the mountain is changing every minute. If you’re lucky, a cloud floats through the tent on its way to its final destination.”
“The sky over the mountain is changing every minute.”
At a recent summer concert, a passing cloud heightened an already magical evening when headline artist, Joseph Conyers—now principal bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a Wintergreen Music Academy alum—performed a unique double bassist full recital. As he played Rachmaninov, Freeman says, “a cloud comes in and moves at the same tempo as the music.”
Another former alum, Elizabeth Vonderheide, eventually became a headliner. “She came to us in 1997, the first year we taught students,” Freeman says. “She represents all of our passions.”
Bringing the Classics into the Great Outdoors
Experience the intrinsic relationship between the beautiful Wintergreen landscape and music that encapsulates natural beauty. Orchestral concerts include classics by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and more. In all, experience five incredible American concertos, 10 world premieres and commissions, music from Motown and much more.
“We don’t have the formality of a concert hall,” says Smith. “It’s much more like summer camp for adults.” Local patrons host many of the musicians, so when they attend Festival events, they also renew acquaintances with performers, originated over suppers in their own or neighbors’ homes.
This year, the festival will host two unique musical nature walks in collaboration with the Nature Foundation at Wintergreen. The first is a powerful homage to the original residents of the land, the Monacan tribe, featuring Native American and modern flute. The second highlights powerful horn music, bringing a taste of the Swiss alps to Wintergreen.
Building a Community for Music-Lovers
Blending personal with professional leads to a deeper connection with the whole artistic experience. “At a concert hall, you see the orchestra, but you don’t see how hard they’re working,” says Freeman. Thanks to its communal focus, “[at] Wintergreen, you have the opportunity to see the athleticism of [the music world], the psychology of it, to embrace the ‘why’ of the arts.”
Beyond Wintergreen, the Festival hosts off-site performances at local venues such as Veritas Vineyard, Valley Road Vineyards, Bold Rock Hard Cidery and Devils Backbone. “Each location creates a whole different vibe,” Freeman says. Smith describes it as “Music to match the wine,” or the beer or cider, as the case may be.
The people are friendly. The place is breathtaking. The music is supreme. “If you need inspiration this summer,” says Freeman, “this is a really great place to find it.”
Our Events & Festivals Calendar will keep you up-to-date on all of the ways you can enjoy the best of Virginia’s musical offerings. To discover more about Virginia Wine Country’s talented artists, authors and musicians, visit the Style & Culture section. ~
JODY HOBBS HESLER is an author whose book reviews, and other writing appear in a variety of publications. She holds an MFA from Lesley University and teaches at Writer House in Charlottesville. You can learn more about her work at jodyhobbshesler.com
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