I went without knowing what to expect from the program--only that it had been in Graz, Austria for many decades and that the advertisements could be found posted on professors' bulletin boards, in music magazines and online. Aside from this I know not one soul who had attended the festival or had heard of it, aside from seeing the ads like me. It was not a total shot in the dark as I knew I could get free room and board plus a chance at busking to earn some pocket money. Five weeks, ok, if it's good I'll be ready to return and if not that great I'm only out the price of a plane ticket. Not a bad deal.
The festival orchestra was fair better than I had anticipated. There were people from all sorts of positions. The principal cellist of the AIMS orchestra is currently a cellist with Detroit Symphony and other players come from various posts that include Dallas Symphony and many are either freelance musicians and/or professors/teachers in various parts of the U.S. What's more is the quality of members that are currently students that contribute a very high quality to the orchestra's sound and verve.
Without droning on about the details of the festival I will add that the music directors were all Europeans including one who directs the Volks Oper in Vienna, one Gerrit Priessnitz. Very clear in his technique as well as his musical leadership. The concerts in which he conducted were the most transparent and clearly projected from the standpoint of sitting in the orchestra. The concert of Strauss was particularly exhilarating because of the Viennese tradition that he brought with him to the festival orchestra and the singers. The all Wagner program that Priessnitz conducted also ranked high in quality and communication to me.
All in all the five weeks felt long during the rehearsals of the final program but flew by in retrospect. I did have a good time playing in an orchestra of real, bona fide musicians. It brought back the feeling of being able to play again and reminded me how important it is to be involved in the activities regularly to continue developing and improving. If the time is right and the opportunity is there I'd do it again.