Column: It’s a hard life at Bravo! Vail: Musings on opening weekend of festival |

Column: It’s a hard life at Bravo! Vail: Musings on opening weekend of festival

Joshua Bell, left, and Jeremy Denk performing Mendelssohn's "Double" Concertowith the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields was just one of several highlights of Bravo! Vail's first weekend.
Zach Mahone | Special to the Daily |

That was a pretty fair opening act.

Yes, it’s not every day that the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell shows up to open your not-so average music festival, but alas, we will suffer on with Bravo! Vail 2016, and apparently in years beyond. Bravo! Vail made it official on Sunday that the Academy will be joining the regular rota of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. And, yes, we are allowed a wee bit of local chest-thumping.

To review, Bravo! Vail now has the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and two orchestras from the Big Five — Philadelphia and New York — as well as Dallas. And as for the last on that list, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is not exactly the “ugly duckling” of the bunch. After all, its music director, Jaap van Zweden, is assuming the same job at the New York Philharmonic for the 2018-19 season.

These are exciting times for Bravo! Vail.

Random musings follow:


Many ask me how a sports writer became a classical-music fan. The over-simplification is Mom is a baseball fan and Pop loved the opera. I went to San Francisco Giants games with Mom and the San Francisco Opera with Pop.

In fairness to Mom, she loves classical, too, however, Pop was clearly the more musical of the two. (An international tax lawyer, he kept singing and doing musicals with his men’s club until he died. Had he made retirement, I don’t doubt for a second he would have joined our church’s choir, as well. He loved to sing.)

Yet herein lies one of the great debates of the Freud family — Bach or Mozart? Pop being a Freud, of course, felt that Mozart was the summation of everything good of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and all-things Hapsburg, whose fall he was still mourning nearly 90 years after the fact.

Mom sided with Bach, and arguments followed. (The offspring of this match votes for Romantics such as Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, as well as Beethoven and Mahler, who really deserve their own categories.)

While I will not rule in the great Freud debate of Bach-Mozart, I love seeing Mozart performed at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and gain more insight into Pop whenever it is performed.

The following is a gross oversimplification, but merit lies therein. There is a mathematical element, a cleanliness, to a lot of Mozart’s work. Take the 25th Symphony, which the Academy performed on Thursday. The first movement of the 25th takes a theme and plays around with it and then returns to it. There are new themes in the second and third movements with same pattern, and the fourth movement takes all three themes and melts them into one in a tidy bow.

Again, this is a terrible simplification, but this is what Pop was hearing because he craved order in every walk of his life. (Bach goes on riffs, which are disorderly. And, yes, so does Mozart, which is one of many reasons why this is an oversimplification, but Pop often chose to see and hear what he wanted.)

Yet at the same time, Pop was a very funny guy, and Mozart clearly had a sense of humor, as evidenced by the Fourth Violin Concerto, also performed on Thursday. (There can be no doubt about Mozart and humor — the composer wrote a serenade called “A Musical Joke,” and the operas “Don Giovanni” and “The Abduction from the Seraglio” are just the tip of the iceberg.)

There is a certain comfort to hearing Mozart. Not only is it familiar for those of us who grew up with it, but in a way, it keeps Pop with me.

Jeremy Denk

He’s obviously brilliant. (Good insight, Freud.)

What I like about him is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. While making a guest appearance on “Prairie Home Companion” a few weeks ago, he not only performed, but was in a mock ad for Earl’s School of Accents.

“My name has always been a problem … Jeremy Denk … Sounds like a guy you hired to trim your shrubbery,” he said in the skit. He then adopted a Russian accent, changed his name and started slamming out Tchaikovsky. Go to and click on “Accent script” to hear it.

This is not only a shameless plug for “Prairie Home Companion,” which I love, but also an important point about classical music. It’s meant to be fun. If you were at Saturday’s concert and saw Denk and Bell perform Medelssohn’s “Double” Concerto, you saw stunning musicians at work. You also saw two guys who were clearly having fun, and that’s the element which makes a performance great.

And while the world of classical music can often seem intimidating to the novice, it is, at its heart, people coming together to do something they love in front of people who love what they love. That is the joy of a live performance.

The drama of new

Kudos to Bravo! Vail programming for juxtaposing “The Four Seasons” of Vivaldi and Piazzolla. Nice and sneaky, people.

New is so scary in our world of classical music. And this is a constant battle in programming for symphonies. One needs to play the Bs (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms) and the other stalwarts of the genre, but new is important. As wonderful as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and others are, there was and is music written after Copland and Gerschwin and, perhaps, step out on a limb, Bernstein.

The Piazolla was fun. It was different, and the sky didn’t fall.

This is one of many great things about Bravo! Vail — it keeps on introducing newer material, which makes me keep on spending money on iTunes.

Next on deck

And here comes the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Wednesday is Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” You actually do know this music whether you recognize its title or not. It’s something you’ve got to see performed live.

And Sunday is simply a concert not to be missed, with Bruch’s Violin Concerto and Brahms’ First Symphony.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, and @cfreud.

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