Vail, Colo. — For nearly two decades, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra has had a summer residency at the Bravo! Vail Festival in Vail, Colorado. By winter a luxurious ski resort, Vail in summer hosts the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic in addition to the DSO. Chamber music abounds, as well—Artistic Director Anne-Marie McDermott brings some outstanding ensembles to town, and members of the resident orchestras also perform chamber concerts throughout the summer.
So what is it like to follow the DSO from Dallas to their summer home? It is outrageously expensive, and outrageously beautiful. Everything in Vail is lovely, delicious, or both, and everything is twice Dallas prices. Fancy a $20 hamburger? You can hardly get one for less in Vail Village. Indeed, it is rather shocking how quickly a simple music critic adapts to this new normal. $14 for two ice cream cones at Joe’s Deli? That seems fine. It’s very good ice cream, to be sure.
There are deals to be had, though. It’s $39 to ride the scenic gondola both up and down Vail Mountain. However, hike up the mountain via Berry Picker Trail, a fairly steep 3.2 miles, and take the gondola down for free. Your knees and your wallet will thank you, and you’ll justify that ice cream later, plus the views on both the hike and the gondola ride are unbeatable.
You’ll need to plan your bike rides, hikes, or shopping carefully, though, because Bravo! Vail concerts begin at 6:00. It seems that almost everyone goes out to dinner afterward, so make your reservations in advance. There are plenty of yummy restaurants; I had a particularly delicious vegetarian gnocchi at the White Bison.
This year, the DSO’s six programs (in eight days!) were dominantly pops concerts. All four pops programs, including the July 4 concert, were conducted by Jeff Tyzik, while the two classical series concerts were led by guest conductor Cristian Mäcelaru, due to Jaap van Zweden’s departure.
I was only able to attend one of the six concerts, due partly to my arrival date in Vail and partly to the fact that the July 4 Patriotic Concert was sold out and no press tickets were available. The concert I attended was packed, too, even though it was a Monday night. “Movie Music: Out of This World” was, like most of the Bravo! Vail programs, largely a reprise of a regular season program. As the title suggests, Jeff Tyzik led the orchestra in selections from science fiction movies (and one TV show, Star Trek), plus some Strauss—both Richard and Johann, Jr.—from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gustav Holst’s “Mars,” from The Planets. I suppose it’s science-fiction-movie-adjacent, as the kids would say.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater is a gorgeous covered outdoor space, ceilinged with rich wood. For audiences, the acoustics are surprisingly good. But for musicians, they are unforgiving. Because the music is amplified, players near the microphones are absolutely exposed if they miss a note. And musicians can’t always hear themselves onstage, either, it would seem. Uncharacteristically for this orchestra, some players seemed to get lost in a selection from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, causing Tyzik to call out a measure number. For the most part, though, the orchestra was its usual polished self. Harpist Emily Levin’s rich, elegant sound shone in the Love Theme from Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones. The horns were silky smooth in the End Credits from Star Trek: First Contact, which opened the concert—that’s especially impressive, considering the altitude. And excerpting “On the Beautiful Blue Danube,” used in 2001, rather than playing the whole thing? Always a good call, unless people are dancing. The verdict: while a few more things than expected went sideways, the audience was enthusiastic, giving the orchestra multiple standing ovations and cheers.
Bravo! Vail brings some of the best orchestras in the country to a breathtaking (quite literally, at 8,022 feet above sea level) venue. Summer is the off season in this ski town, but there’s still plenty of outdoor recreation and other resort-town amenities, which, when combined with outstanding classical music, makes for the music lover’s perfect summer vacation.