The Bravo! Vail festival is a big one. It spans six weeks and encompasses at least one concert nearly every day of its run. With so many concerts, concertos, solos, soirees, orchestras, octets, clarinets and pianos, it can be hard to know what to see and what to keep your ear out for.
If you’re unfamiliar with classical music or have never been to Bravo! Vail before, the breadth and scope of the festival can seem a bit intimidating. But have no fear because the Vail Daily is here to help the newbies learn the language and steer you with training wheels before getting on the big bike. Follow our guide to this year’s Bravo! Vail festival and we’ll have you listening to classical music just as well as Beethoven himself. Heck, maybe even a little better than that.
What makes Bravo! Vail different from other classical music festivals is it has three orchestras on the same stage in a single season. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra opened the festival Friday evening at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and continues its residency until Friday, July 4. The Philadelphia Orchestra is in house from July 5 until July 17. The New York Philharmonic will delight the crowds with sound July 18-25. In addition to the big three, there are chamber music concerts, free concerts for families and a soiree series.
Some may hesitate to attend a classical music concert, worrying they may be out of place among the top hats and glittery gowns. Due to many outdoor venues, at Bravo! Vail the attire is much more informal and people tend to dress for the weather more than for the fashion pages. As far as whether one should clap or cheer, do as the music moves you.
“Sometimes if people haven’t been to a classical music concert before, they fear there’s a certain protocol they have to follow when they go to a performance,” said Anne-Marie McDermott, artistic director of Bravo! Vail. “Back two to three hundred years ago, the protocol was so much different. If they liked the music, people would stand up and start yelling, they would say, ‘Play it again!’ People felt much freer.”
For a true novice who feels completely out of tune to classical music, you may know more pieces than you realize.
“If you go to the movies or hear a commercial on television, you hear a tremendous amout of classical music and don’t even think about it,” said Jim Palermo, executive director of Bravo! Vail.
Concerts for the clueless
Music even the most tone-deaf can enjoy will be Disney’s “Fantasia,” a screening of the timeless film with live music from The Philadelphia Orchestra on July 9. Scenes from both the original version and “Fantasia 2000” will be presented along with memorable pieces such as Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” and Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” Fun fact: The Philadelphia Orchestra recorded the original score for “Fantasia” in 1940.
If you want more movies and music, then there’s also a night of Hollywood Film Score Classics on Wednesday. Some familiar scores from the screen include John Willams’ suite from “Jaws” and main theme from “Star Wars.”
If you’re more a fan of jazz hands, then check out Broadway Night: The Music of Frank Loesser with the New York Philharmonic (July 24).
Famous names to drop
The real reason many come to Bravo! Vail is to try and get a selfie with a star just like at the Oscars. There are quite a few of the who’s who you’ll want to see live and not just behind your smartphone. On July 5, violinist Joshua Bell returns for his second Bravo! Vail performance. Although it took many years to get Bell to the festival for the first time, having him back again was a no-brainer.
“They (the Vail audience) embrace the place so much it makes the musicians feel at home,” McDermott said. “When (Bell) got off the stage, one of the first things he said to me was, ‘When can I come back?’”
Another can’t-miss musician this summer is Midori, a Japanese-American violinist playing on July 18. She’ll be tackling Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Fun fact: There’s a YouTube video of Bell playing this same Violin Concerto, if you want to see both of the greats’ take on this piece.
One name to know is Joyce Yang, a 27-year-old pianist playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the New York Philharmonic on July 25. Yang said this piece has “intense passion and intense nostalgia wrapped into one.”
“If you’re hearing it for the first time, it will grab you really easily,” Yang said. “It just has this intense power behind it, and if you know the melody well, it will bring you back.”
Yang has a captivating stage presence that’s just as fun to watch as it is to hear her play. When she’s onstage, Yang said she’s visualizing the music, not hearing the notes in her head.
“I often see music in color,” Yang said. “I see a landscape like the one that Kandinsky paints. It’s a splash of color and lines all racing before your eyes. I feel like I’m creating a new landscape whenever I make music.”
Experience classical music like the cool kids
This year’s Bravo! Vail After Dark series gives newbies yet another chance to try classical music without straying too far from their comfort zone. Held at the Vail Ale House on July 19 and Crazy Mountain Brewery on July 26, these shindigs combine the local’s love for brews with some pretty cool tunes. Playing at Vail Ale House is Third Coast Percussion, a young Chicago-based ensemble.
“They’re going to be playing classical music, but it has a real energetic beat and a lot of percussion,” Palermo said. “The idea is to connect with different audiences. The audience that connects with the Vail Ale House tends to be younger, (and) more locals.”
At Crazy Mountain Brewery will be Le Train Bleu, a New York City collective who are some of the “hottest classical musicians on the scene,” McDermott said.
“Both of these groups are young and hip and experimental,” McDermott said. “Our hope is this will attract people who don’t come to our concerts and get them hooked on classical music.”
Close your eyes and just listen
The classical music catalogue is such a colossal canon it’s impossible to learn everything before you go. But really, there’s no need. The reason these pieces have remained so popular for so long is because they resonate with the heart, not the brain.
“Just give it a chance,” McDermott said. “Just show up at a concert and experience the whole vibe that happens, the energy level that not only exists onstage, but in the audience. People (can) just show up and make their own judgements about what they like and what they don’t like, because we don’t all like the same things and that’s okay.”
Edwards resident Laura Olderog said one should seize their chance to see this kind of music live.
“If you’ve ever had any desire to see any of these world-class orchestras, this is your opportunity,” Olderog said. “The environment, being in the middle of the mountains, the price, the comfort, it’s the best opportunity to come and see something that’s very special. Some people pay hundreds of dollars for one performance to see some of these musicians, and we’ve got them right here.”
Even though much at Bravo! Vail has been heard before, each note, sound or melody can feel different every time, which makes classical music captivate people in a way other styles cannot.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” McDermott said. “Every concert is a whole new experience.”
For a full list of Bravo! Vail concerts and events, visit www.bravovail.org.