Vail’s Bravo! has come a long way in 23 years |

Vail’s Bravo! has come a long way in 23 years

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Chris Lee

VAIL, Colorado – What began as a couple of concerts with sparse attendance in 1989 has turned into an international festival almost exactly as its founders envisioned. The Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival has come a long way since its inception 23 years ago.

John Giovando and Ida Kavafian were running a successful chamber music festival in New Mexico when they decided to take the show on the road to Vail that summer. They presented a series of three concerts in Beaver Creek that was basically an on-the-road presentation of music from their Music from Angel Fire festival, which is now in its 27th year.

The first summer in Vail was rough, remembers Kavafian.

“It was extremely poorly attended,” Kavafian said. “People had no idea what to make of it.”

Fortunately, the people who did attend the shows recognized the quality and the importance of it, so they pursued the idea of an annual festival. Twenty-three years later, that festival is world-renowned.

Bill Clinkenbeard was one of those people who not only had a passion for classical music, but also a passion for the valley. A friend asked him at a fundraiser one night to give her $1,000 for Bravo!, and Clinkenbeard had never heard of it.

She told him she’d tell him what it was if he’d cough up a thousand bucks.

“Lo and behold, next thing I knew I was a trustee on the board,” Clinkenbeard said.

Kavafian said the evolution of a board of directors and donors was typical for Vail – and something for which the founders have been eternally grateful.

“In true Vail style, the people that were impressed by the product wanted to buy it,” Kavafian said. “So John told them it’s not for sale, but if you’re interested, then start a festival here by incorporating and putting a board of directors together.”

Bravo! started out as a very small mom-and-pop festival, Giovando said.

“As we grew, we realized of course we needed to do something larger than quintets, octets and sextets,” Giovando said. “And we then soon discovered the perfect venue would be the Ford Amphitheater.”

Clinkenbeard remembers going to Denver with Giovando in the early days of the festival to meet with what was then called the Denver Symphony Orchestra. They wanted the orchestra to play in Vail, but left the meeting empty-handed.

“It was a disastrous meeting,” Clinkenbeard said. “We left there and still didn’t have an orchestra.”

But eventually Bravo! would attract orchestras through the hard work and dedication of Giovando, Kavafian and Bravo! board members.

“And as the popularity and the love of music grew, it became natural for us to increase the artistic level of the orchestras themselves,” Giovando said.

The orchestras have included the likes of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Colorado Symphony, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

Kavafian, who ran the festival for the first 10 years, focused a lot of attention on chamber music. She recognizes that a lot of Bravo’s success has come from the evolution of both chamber and orchestra music, but hopes chamber music becomes a priority again someday.

“That’s the area I tried to nurture and promote,” Kavafian said. “But you get a broader crowd for the orchestra concerts.”

Eugenia Zukerman, the festival’s artistic director for the last 13 years, has been instrumental in taking the festival to new levels of success, Giovando said.

“She’s done wonders for this festival and has brought it to national prominence,” he said.

One of Giovando’s original visions was to make Bravo! accessible to everyone.

From big stars like Yo-Yo Ma, who opened the festival this year with a Friday night concert, to chamber music and outreach concerts, there’s something at the festival for everyone, he said.

“We make such an effort to bring people in to the Vail community and to do our very best to make it an overall experience,” Giovando said. “You’ll hear the powerhouses and the great masterpieces, but at the same time programs like ‘Nothing But the Blues,’ and ‘Salute to Broadway.'”

Clinkenbeard loves that Bravo has not only opened the eyes of so many to great music, but also that it’s been able to be a major summer attraction in the valley.

“This thing has been a real booster for this valley,” Clinkenbeard said. “There’s the economic benefit that has been a high interest to me to watch this valley grow.”

Bravo estimates that the festival brings anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 visitors to the valley each summer.

“It’s a tremendous festival and I think very well-respected,” Kavafian said.

Giovando said he’s not slowing down, either. He wants the festival to always expand and improve from year to year.

“We have a new artistic director in 2011 and we’ll continue to build it and seize on all the strengths we have now,” Giovando said. “And take it to another place; another level.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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