McDermott: What makes a winner at Bravo! Vail |

McDermott: What makes a winner at Bravo! Vail

Anne-Marie McDermott
Bravo! Vail
Anne-Marie McDermott
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Come and hear some of Bravo! Vail’s award-winning musicians at the following concerts:
  • The Philadelphia Orchestra: Denève Conducts Time for Three July 8 at 6 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
  • The Philadelphia Orchestra: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater
  • Immersive Experiences: Prokofiev Piano Sonatas I and II July 17 and 18 at 7 p.m. at the Donovan Pavilion
  • Community Concert July 20 at 6 p.m. at the Bush Creek Pavilion

Bravo! Vail opens our 36th annual music festival on June 22, and I could not be more excited by the breadth of incredible musicians joining us this summer. Among them are an impressive number of early-career competition winners and finalists.

While awards and accolades can certainly elevate a musician’s reputation and profile, do we take these into account when inviting musicians to perform as part of Bravo! Vail? And how much do these competitions matter in judging the musicality of an artist?

Competitions in music have a long history dating back to ancient Greek and Roman times. The first held in the U.S. took place in 1925 and was created by the cellist, banker, and philanthropist Walter Naumburg. Since then, it has served as a career-launching platform for dozens of famous musicians.

It is thrilling to witness a gathering of highly talented individuals competing for the title of “Winner” or “Gold Medalist” while performing towering works like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto or Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. Technical brilliance, energy, stamina, and speed are as captivating in music as they are in sports.

But what is most exciting about music competitions, and why I have served as a juror now for the Van Cliburn Competition, the Young Concert Artists Auditions, as well as the Dublin and Ljubljana International Competitions, is that music has the power to reach the inner depths of our humanity, our emotional side. The qualities and skills that an artist brings to making a piece of music sound musical, or be deeply touching, are not ones that can be objectively measured or quantified.

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Illia Ovcharenko was the winner of the 2022 Honens International Piano Competition.
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When I judge a competition, what inspires me is not only the high level, diversity, and number of young musicians who are seriously engaged in learning and performing classical music today, but more meaningfully, the number who are actually creating an emotional connection between themselves, the composer, and the listener. The ones who have something genuinely moving and imaginative to say and have put their technique at the service of music, are the ones who capture my attention. 

Yunchan Lim from South Korea performs the final concert with Jury Chairman and Conductor Marin Alsop and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra for the Finals of the Sixteenth Cliburn International Piano Competition in Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas on June 17, 2022.
Ralph Lauer/Courtesy photo

This summer at Bravo! Vail, we happen to be welcoming six different pianists and a quartet of string players who have recently competed in and won prominent competitions. These artists include Yunchan Lim and Anna Geniushene—Van Cliburn International Piano Competition’s Gold and Silver medalists respectively—and Van Cliburn Finalists Ilya Shmukler and Jonathan Mak; Bruce Liu, 2021 winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition; Illia Ovcharenko, winner of the 2022 Honens International Piano Competition; and the Isidore String Quartet, 2022 winners of the Banff International String Quartet Competition, in addition to GRAMMY-Award winning artists and other award winners.

Bruce Liu will make his Bravo! Vail debut this season.
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Did I invite them because of their prizes? No. In fact, one was not a prize winner at all when I invited him, and two others were competitors but did not win any prizes. To me, they are all champions and worthy of our time and attention—not because of their placement in any competition, but because of their placement of music in their lives.

Please join me at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival for our entire winning season, June 22-August 3. For more information, visit or call 877.812.5700.

Anne-Marie McDermott is the artistic director for Bravo! Vail

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