PUTNEY, Vt. — Every music festival has its own myth of origins, some more modest than others. Back in the late 1960s, a New York-based cellist named David Wells began inviting his students and musical friends to gather in this small southern Vermont town for informal summer chamber music retreats. The tradition coalesced into Yellow Barn, a music festival named for the barn next to Wells’s farmhouse, where the concerts originally took place.
In this part of the country, a history like this one can easily be overshadowed. There were no visionary Russian conductors associated, nor any European musical luminaries fleeing the war. “Peter Grimes” did not receive its American premiere here. But some two decades after the event, I still recall attending a blazing performance of Bartok’s “Contrasts” in the mid-1990s, played in the rough-hewn old barn space with audience members dangling their feet over the edges of a loft. Nearby was a large and beautiful garden where, if memory serves, some of the participants’ food was grown that summer.