Is there a better place in America to be in the summer to watch some of the world’s best musicians and dancers showcase their impressive talents than Vail? The answer is no.
All the other acclaimed music and dance festivals happening this summer are vying for second place, including the very fine Aspen Music Festival, 102 miles to our west, and the internationally famous Spoleto music and dance festival held in Charleston, South Carolina, 1,800 miles southeast of us.
Beginning with classical music the last week in June and continuing through the first week in August, people who enter the Gerald. R. Ford Amphitheater are treated to great performances by great musicians. Bravo! Vail completed its 36th season earlier this summer by bringing the London-based chamber orchestra, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic, to our fair valley. That’s classical music’s answer to the the murderer’s row lineup of the 1927 New York Yankees led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
The three symphonic orchestras are all marvelous and individually unique. Each has its own unmistakable sound, but the quality of the music is uniformly excellent. I can’t play a note on a piano or even carry a tune, but I sure know when a piece of music thrills me.
You don’t have to be a music connoisseur to go ga ga over Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World,” or Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, the latter played by a 19-year-old South Korean musical prodigy named Lucian Lim. Lim was given a sustained standing ovation lasting 10 minutes from a hysterically appreciative audience. The young phenom is so good now that it boggles the mind to imagine how much better he might actually become when he reaches the ripe old age of 24.
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While classical music is performing at the Ford Amphitheater, cool jazz, hot jazz, funky jazz and jazz fusion are blasting out notes under the tent at Lionshead on Thursday evenings and at Solaris Plaza Sunday nights. Vail Jazz is celebrating its 29th season this summer but sadly without the leadership of the late, great, Howard Stone, who died last August. Stone was an incomparable impresario, a showman, a dreamer, a visionary, a man so deeply in love with jazz that he and his wife, Cathy, created one of the longest-running and most successful jazz festivals in the country.
Vail Jazz ends its summer season with the upcoming Labor Day Party (Aug. 31- Sept. 4 )which brings legendary jazz luminaries like John Clayton, Dick Oatts, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe and Lewis Nash to our community for four days and nights of foot-stomping, finger-snapping, toe-tapping, music. The jazz legends are also consummate educators and thanks to the Vail Jazz Workshop program, 10 lucky recent high school graduates with aspirations of becoming jazz professionals someday are invited to participate in an expense-paid week of intensive instruction from these masters of their craft.
I’m a sports addict who checks ESPN for up-to-the-minute sports info long before I watch cable news. I love to watch athletes do what I never could do even in my dreams. That’s the reason I’m equally enthralled watching modern dance companies perform as part of Vail Dance, now celebrating its 35th summer season.
For me, modern dance is the perfect vehicle for merging athletic magnificence with artistic brilliance. To perform at the highest levels of modern dance, the dancers must possess the strength, stamina, and speed of athletes and the agility, fluidity and energy needed to make art out of the movement to music. Dance is like sports, except that nobody is keeping score.
Some of the greatest dancers in the world coming from internationally famous dance companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and the Martha Graham Dance Company, have graced the stages of the Ford Amphitheater and the Vilar Center since 1989. Audiences in early August got to see those three great dance companies as well as an abstractly stylistic dance ensemble, the L.A. Dance Project, a sensational Brazilian tap dance company, Music From The Sole, and Philadelphia-based Ballet X, a dance troupe that can do things with their bodies that would require the services of a good chiropractor if any of us dared try.
The fact that Bravo! Vail, Vail Dance, and Vail Jazz have been bringing great music and dance to Vail for 36, 35, and 29 years, respectively, is because each of the enterprises is led by artistic directors who know how to take art and make magic. Damian Woetzel was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for whom he performed and choreographed ballets from 1985-2008. He has been the artistic director of Vail Dance for the past 17 years and has a side gig as president of The Juilliard School, the performing arts equivalent of Harvard.
Anne-Marie McDermott is an acclaimed classical pianist and a member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. She has been Bravo! Vail’s artistic director since 2011. The month-long music festival has gotten better and better each year under her stellar leadership.
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Drew Zaremba, who took over Vail Jazz from the late Howard Stone this summer, is a widely respected music educator at the University of Northern Colorado, an accomplished jazz musician and a gifted musical arranger whose compositions have been performed by the BBC Orchestra and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
There are many places in the world left on my bucket list for where I must visit before I die. They include Machu Picchu, the Galápagos Islands, Tahiti, Madagascar, Zanzibar and the Canary Islands. I hope to get to them someday. But not in July and August. Never in July and August. Vail is the only place I want to be when some of the world’s finest musicians and dancers roll into town.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at [email protected]