Making High-Brow Art Accessible to the Masses

Wintergreen’s musical stage

by James A. Bacon

When you think of symphony, modern dance and other high art forms, Nelson County, Va., is not the first locale that normally leaps to mind. Bluegrass, maybe. Not Beethoven. But Nelson County is home to the Wintergreen Resort, and  Wintergreen Performing Arts puts on one of the most marvelous music festivals in Virginia. That festival, which encompasses more than 200 events over five weeks, is one of the state’s great treasures.

My wife and I visited friends in Wintergreen this weekend to escape the sweltering Richmond heat (only 92° on the mountaintop, not 102°), do a little hiking (with a emphasis on “little,” given the temperature) and expand our cultural horizons. Saturday morning we took in a lecture, Film and Postmodernism, learning to appreciate for the first time in our Philistine lives the difference between “modernism” and “post modernism.” That evening, we listened to  Symphony No. 7 of the late-19th century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. The next morning my wife and friends enjoyed a “coffee concert” of contemporary classical music.

Had we been so inclined, we could have taken cooking lessons or embarked upon tours of Nelson County’s burgeoning organic and artisanal foods community.

Wintergreen pulls in artists from around the country to perform in a wide range of classical genres. The organizers like artistic diversity. This year the festival is entitled “Innovation 2012.” By way of explanation, Artistic and Executive Director Larry Alan Smith cites the insight of Steve Jobs:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

I loved the fact that I could attend the symphony wearing shorts, Topsiders and a short-sleeved shirt while sipping on white wine. Beats getting dressed up. One  take-away lesson is that the high-brow arts should break out of the concert halls and be performed in venues where the plebs and riff-raff can partake. Another is that Virginia needs more events like this.

The Wintergreen festival stretched my mental boundaries, which I need to do more often. As Jobs said, engaging in new experiences fosters creativity. That’s true for individuals, and it’s true for entire communities. The Charlottesville and Richmond metro regions are fortunate to have Wintergreen in their back yard.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Good ideas and I am glad you had a big time, but one point: hardly anyone dresses up any more to hear an opera or symphony or see a play. It sure wasn’t the case with the audience when I saw John Lithgow on Broadway a week or so ago. Summer events have always been causal, notably Blossom, Tanglewood, etc. Speaking of which, it’s great to have Wintergreen, but Wolf Trap is also not far away and it’s been around for years and is a bigger draw for artists.

    1. Of course Wolf Trap is a much bigger draw. But, then, Wolf Trap is in the Washington metro region. Wintergreen is in Nelson friggin’ County! That’s what’s amazing.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    No need to insult Nelson County!

    Wintergreen has had severe financial troubles. It isn’t the first time, but it does show some of the challenges of the market and geography, not to mention a snowless ski season that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO with climate change and human generated carbon dioxide.

Leave a Reply