Bravo! Vail – Music Festival in Vail Valley, Part 1

by | Jul 24, 2023 | Special Features | 0 comments

Rending at Vail

by Gary Lemco

I attended the Bravo! Vail Music Festival in Vail, CO, July 11-15, courtesy of the Music Critics’ Association of North America (MCANA), which under-wrote the costs of travel and room at The Lodge at Vail. My first air travel via United in a long time, landing at the airport in Denver, then making my way to the shuttle bus and a trek into the mountains. Except for two bad patches, an expeditious and picturesque run: the first, a detour onto a former horse trail turned one lane road, where we followed behind a slow-moving dump truck speeding at 32 miles an hour, so I thought I’d perish of old age before ever witnessing Vail. The second, a rest stop at a Subway for various conveniences, only to find a sandwich maker incapable of assembling a sub in less than a half hour. At last, we return to the highway, Route 70, and continue, now amidst imposing hills and mountain vistas to the town of Vail, Colorado. 

Vail is a transposed Swiss ski resort, a series of chalets and restaurants huddled together to create an expensive, if statuesque, community devoted to the eyes, ears, and acquired palettes of tourists. The Bravo!Vail experience, though over 35 years old, is almost entirely the creative vision of Anne-Marie McDermott, pianist and artistic director since 2011. The Festival this year extends from July 11 through August 3, virtually contemporaneous with California’s Music@Menlo Festival. The difference between the concepts lies in their respective scope, with Menlo’s complete dedication to chamber music, while Vail now extends its idea of “an artistic oasis” beyond chamber music to symphonic and operatic productions, including, next year, a Puccini La Boheme led by MET conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who appeared this season with his Philadelphia Orchestra.

No time to check into The Lodge at Vail and settle into my room, since our delayed arrival infringes on the time to hustle to the Vilar Performing Arts Center for a concert by the youthful Dali Quartet: Ari Isaacman-Beck and Carlos Rubio, violins; Adriana Linares, viola; Jesus Morales, cello. Their selected repertory of five works by Haydn, Revueltas, Piazzola, Weber (Clarinet Quintet, with Ricardo Morales), and D’Rivera exemplifies the idea that director McDermott seeks: a convergence of youthful talent to disseminate both old and new pieces that enlarge the public’s perception of the immediacy of chamber music. Many of the assembled ensembles have in fact commissioned works by contemporary composers – their budgets so permitting – for premieres at Vail. From the opening work, Haydn’s Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20/5, with its concertante emphasis on the first violin, the progression of pieces increasingly emphasizes parity and individual colors among the players. Silvestre Revueltas’ 1931 String Quartet No. 2 “Magueyas” provided a highly condensed, three-movement work that displayed melodically angular and contrapuntal finesse. Argentine composer Piazzola exhibited his innate capacities for dance energies in the 1956 Tango Ballet, and Paquito D’Rivera (b. 1948) displayed an acrobatic, lithe dexterity in his Preludio y Meringue in a 2013 arrangement for the quartet. But the berries went to the infectious performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet (1815), with a phenomenal application of technical virtuosity, verve, and musical wit from Ricardlo Morales, clarinet, brother of the cellist in the ensemble, and both members of the Philadelphia Orchestra. 

Wednesday, July 12 has us MCANA members scurrying to meet the members of the Dali Quartet in early afternoon session, delightful to reminisce on the virtues of their collaboration and to reveal aspects of their individual pedagogy. The evening provides the first of the audience-grabbers: the Philadelphia Orchestra’s appearance at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D (with Hilary Hahn) and the Symphony No. 3 in C Minor (1939) of Florence Price. I concocted a rubric for these occasions, actually conceived at the July 14 concert by the Viano String Quartet, “colloquial formality,” to describe the character of the music-making. While Hilary Hahn wore an exquisitely sheened gown, Maestro Nézet-Séguin dressed in casual attire, sockless. Hahn quite carried the Tchaikovsky, impassioned and lyrically expressive at every turn, including the uncut version of the last movement. Hahn’s expressive gestures carried into the Philadelphia winds, brass and strings, which resonated with an authority instantaneously identifiable with the best days of the orchestra under Stokowski and Ormandy. Hahn played a personal encore, “Through My Mother’s Eyes,” by Steven Banks, a depiction of a child’s fighting inevitable slumber and then a lullaby. Hahn dedicated her rendition to her children,

The Price symphony is another matter: Florence Price (1887-1953), an Afro-American musician trained in New England and living in Chicago, gleaned respect during her lifetime and now enjoys a resurgence of interest. But the 1938/39 Third Symphony, for this reviewer, except for size and orchestral bulk, exhibited little, convincing staying power. Rather, its four movements, including a clearly defined, third movement dance, Juba, occasionally resonate with bits of Negro folk songs or spirituals, like “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” or “Did you hear the mockin’ bird sing last night?” for the most part, simply projects melodic fragments in bright colors: Delius by way of pseudo-nationalist impulses. To paraphrase Ring Lardner’s classic review: Philadelphia Orchestra 1, Price 0. 

Our group of some eight music critics had arrived a bit late for the recital at the Vail Interfaith Chapel by the Viano String Quartet: Lucy Wang and Hao Zhou, violins; Alden Kane, viola; and Tate Zawadiuk, cello. We missed Reena Esmail’s Poison for String Quartet and half of the Bartok 1927 3rd Quartet.  Glissando passages and cruel, contrapuntal episodes passed by in etched contours, passionate and often wildly intense. After the late Moderato section, Zawadiuk’s burnished cello provided a lament in grand style. The recital proper ended with Bedrich Smetana’s autobiographical String Quartet No. 1 in E Minor “From My Life,” which at its climax, intrudes with the high E that signaled his oncoming deafness and madness. The predominance of Alden Kane’s viola part later became the subject of much appreciative discussion. The punishing finale reminded this reviewer of that wisdom from the Mormon Book of Common Prayer, that “In the midst of life we are in death,” a sentiment no less available to Ambrose Bierce. For a jubilant, rousing encore, the ensemble played violinist Zhou’s arrangement of the Frank Sinatra classic, “Fly Me to the Moon” in a jazzy, stride figures, hot and dazzling.  In the after-concert discussion, the group reiterated organizer Anne-Marie McDermott’s insistence that Vail serve as a hub for internships for young musicians, the next generation’s new masters.  In this, pianist Illia Ovcharenko joined in the high praise of musical associations and aims.  

Continued in next installment of Bravo! Vail

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