Bravo! Vail celebrates 35 years |

Bravo! Vail celebrates 35 years

From humble beginnings, the Bravo! Vail music festival has grown to become one of the preeminent classical music events in the world

Bravo! Vail celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.
Bravo! Vail/Courtesy photo

The Bravo! Vail Music Festival has been a fixture in the valley for 35 summers, growing from a small collection of chamber music performances to become one of the preeminent classical music festivals in the world.

The festival began in 1987, led by John Giovando, the founding executive director, and Ida Kavafian, the founding artistic director. The two had been working together on the Music from Angel Fire festival in New Mexico, when Giovando’s friend recommended bringing classical music to Vail.

“It wasn’t easy, but it was worth every ounce of energy, and Vail was such a welcoming community and so eager to present something like this,” Giovando said.

In the beginning, the founding board members operated on a shoestring budget, volunteering their time to put on a handful of chamber music performances. The musicians performed in a Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater that had yet to be completed, and Kavafian said that there were many times in the early years that the performers would play through rainstorms without the protection of the existing overhead structure.

Founding artistic director Ida Kavafian and executive director John Giovando started the festival in 1987.
Bravo! Vail/Courtesy photo

“It was raining everywhere, on everyone, and we invited the audience to come up on the stage and sit with us because there were so few of them,” Kavafian said. “That first year, we had three concerts, and at probably all of those concerts there were more people on stage than in the audience. It was not an easy birth, but John and I could see the potential, so we persevered.”

Music for everyone

While there was not a large existing fanbase for classical music when the festival started out, Bravo! was designed to be an accessible platform for the genre. 

“There was a lot of education at the beginning — people had to learn what classical music was,” Kavafian said. “Some people knew, but the majority of the audience grew to learn about it.”

Giovando said that they took initiatives – like offering cheap lawn seats — to help get people in the door who might not otherwise get to experience high-level classical music.

“We wanted it to be for everybody, and not intimidating to anybody,” Giovando said. “That’s the way we started building it. We would reach out to different groups to get them in there, and tell them to just come and hear one. It’s not going to kill you — just listen to Brahms once.”

In time, the audiences grew, and so did the roster of performers. The first orchestras to be added to Bravo! Vail’s music series were the National Repertory Orchestra and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra, followed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in 1989. After the addition of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1999, Giovando knew that making Bravo! one of the nation’s premiere classical music festivals was in reach.

“I just knew that it needed to take another step up, and I started preaching to the board early about the New York Philharmonic; wouldn’t it be terrific to get America’s flagship orchestra here?” Giovando said. “Lo and behold, we went to New York and we cut a deal with them, and we got them to come to Vail. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t cheap, but boy was it exciting.”

Today, the Bravo! Vail Music Festival not only features residencies with four of the country’s leading orchestras, it also brings elite chamber musicians and soloists from all corners of the globe to perform in venues across the valley. Giovando helped to get the Vilar Performing Arts Center built, which now stages the majority of the festival’s chamber music shows.

While the growth of the festival’s performances and attendees has been explosive, Giovando said that it matches the vision he and Kavafian had from the start.

“It was always in our head, all of it. We never let the dream go,” Giovando said. “I always knew, if Vail was going to strive for excellence in that community — to be the top ski resort in the world, or be the top of anything they try to do there — we should too.”

A bright future

Kavafian served as artistic director for ten years, and Giovando as executive director for 25, before passing the festival into new hands. Today, their shoes are filled by Anne-Marie McDermott and Caitlin Murray, respectively, who are ushering in the next decade of Bravo! Vail.

“From humble but strong beginnings, it now clearly stands as one of the greatest classical music festivals in the country,” Murray said. “We are looking to the future with enthusiasm, and big dreams and goals. We see many opportunities to continue to build upon the artistic excellence we already offer, and to serve the community in new and exciting ways.”

Murray also emphasized the importance of education to Bravo! Vail’s mission, and how the festival’s success over the last few decades has enabled it to provide exposure and empowerment to the valley’s youth.

Education and community engagement are a central part of Bravo!’s mission and vision for the future.
Bravo! Vail/Courtesy photo

“We are creating a new generation of musicians and music lovers right here in Vail,” Murray said. “The children of this valley have the opportunity to take advantage of having an incredible cultural resource right in their own backyards, and we are committed to making sure they are able to do so.”

Today, Kavafian and Giovando return to Vail often to enjoy the festival that they created as spectators, and celebrate how far it has come in 35 years.

“I just like listening to everything, and seeing the excitement of the audience, and hanging out with the musicians that I’ve known all these years,” Giovando said. “I love the music, and when you hear it from that level of musician, and that level of orchestras, it just creates an enormous sound in a beautiful venue with such an appreciative audience.”

“It’s great to get to that milestone, and have this festival be so incredibly cherished and loved by so many people,” Kavafian said. “I just want to say: happy big birthday.”

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