Music Academy of the West President Scott Reed had every reason to feel proud as he took the stage Saturday night to offer multiple thank-yous and bid adieu to a glorious festival. Never diluting its focus on the gifted classical musician of tomorrow, the Academy continues to grow year after year, and 2013 was no exception. More than 100 Fellows from 14 countries are now starting to unwind from an intensely (some might say insanely) packed schedule and decompress as they return to home and school.
But for their last hurrah, conductor James Gaffigan led the Festival Orchestra through a fittingly rich season-ending show. Instrumental fellows have followed the golden batons of master conductors this summer — Larry Rachleff, Matthias Pintscher, Leonard Slatkin, Nicholas McGegan — but Saturday rising star Gaffigan served as an ideal reminder that the whole point of the Music Academy is the future of classical music.
The real gems of the first half were eight songs by Gustav Mahler, which featured solos by outstanding vocal fellows Alexandra Razskazoff, Sara Couden, Diana Yodzis, and John Brancy set against Mahler’s romantic orchestrations. And the second half gave no indication of let-up, as Gaffigan and the orchestra pulled out all stops for an astonishing performance of Berlioz’s monumental Symphonie fantastique. It was an ideal coda to the Festival, a burst of vital bluster whose patched form appears incapable of containing a torrent of energy and menagerie of ideas. One thinks of blasting a dandelion head, an uncontainable send-off as Academy Fellows scatter once more across the globe, spreading renewed commitment and enthusiasm for the high art of music.