Press Room

Q&A with Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival’s Anne-Marie McDermott

On Sunday, June 26, the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival opens its 24th season with a free solo recital by its newly-appointed Artistic Director, pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.  For six weeks from June 26 to August 3, three world-class orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Dallas Symphony Orchestra – will set up residence in the magnificent Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Performances by three of America’s most renowned orchestras, however, represent only part of what Festival visitors have in store, as becomes clear in conversation with Bravo! Vail’s irrepressibly enthusiastic Artistic Director.
Q:  Programming a music festival is obviously a complicated process with lots of moving parts.  Still, can you say that you have a defining philosophy for how you program?
AMM:  I like to get the most passionate, enthusiastic musicians to play the music they love best.  While I do have an overarching vision of how I want the programming to look when it is done, it is the spirit of collaboration that truly energizes the Festival.  For 2011, for example, I began by thinking about different thematic threads that could be woven throughout the entire Festival in order to create an exciting sense of a “point of view.”  Some threads emerge as you talk with artists and orchestras, but I was pretty sure this year I wanted to have “mini-immersions” into Beethoven and Mahler.  Above and beyond that, it is musical excellence that is the top priority.
Q:  Do you have to begin with some sense of what the Festival’s audiences have come to expect?
AMM:  Of course!  But the Festival has done so much over the past 24 years that I feel confident it will embrace my mission to build programs that not only give the public what they love, but also provide thoughtful stimulation and cause for reflection.  I want them to walk away having been touched and feeling enthusiastic about sharing their experience.  After all, no work of art affects every person the same way.  Take Mahler’s Sixth Symphony for example: anyone who loves big symphonic music has to love Mahler, but some may walk away feeling a sense of sadness while others may feel energized by its depth and transcendence.
Q:  Three major American orchestras – the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Dallas Symphony – have a summer home at Bravo! Vail.  What are some of the challenges, and opportunities, in building programming showcasing three great orchestras?
AMM:  My greatest desire is to create a real spirit of collaboration and a lively dialogue.  This is pretty easy when you are working with the best!  There are naturally some practical realities that come into play, such as how recently a work was performed and how much rehearsal time is required, or whether the orchestra has a strong desire to play something that it is taking on tour, for example.  But from the beginning there was a wonderful openness and an agreement that the only bad idea is the one not mentioned!  Advance planning is key, but I am especially thrilled that the New York Philharmonic welcomed my idea of doing a concerto with pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in 2011, since I had invited him to do a big two-piano extravaganza with me.
Q:  Did you have a specific concept in mind for getting the dialogue going?
AAM:  Both sides come with artists’ names, works, composers, and so forth.  In the case of 2011 I was very inspired by the idea of doing the chamber arrangement of Mahler’s beautiful Das Lied von der Erde (a work premiered 100 years ago) with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  After they embraced the idea it fell in beautifully that the New York Philharmonic wanted to do Mahler Five and the Dallas Symphony wanted to do Mahler Six.  The three works provided just what we needed for taking a broad look at one of the most pivotal composers of the 20th century.
Q:  Sounds like things got off to a great start!
AAM:  They did indeed.  I also had the great help of the Bravo! Staff, including John Giovando, the Executive Director, and my good colleague, Jacqueline Taylor, our Artistic Administrator.  It is a lot of work, but so much fun – like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  I feel very lucky.
Q:  Mahler Six hasn’t been done at Vail before.  Did you feel pressure of any kind to avoid works that aren’t upbeat and perhaps more appropriate for the atmosphere of a festival?
AMM:  I’m hoping the public will take a chance, not just with this concert, but also with our other offerings.  I want them to take a chance and hear the complete Beethoven piano trios, and to come hear the amazing young composer/performer Gabriel Kahane, not to mention bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile, the Calder String Quartet and so many more of the incredible chamber music we are presenting under the heading “Big Music for Little Bands”. I’m hoping to create a feeling of trust that the programs are going to be compelling.  And it is relevant and worthy to do Mahler Six outdoors.  We have a spectacular amphitheater with amazing sound.  To listen to Mahler in this environment is just perfect.  You’re surrounded by the most breathtaking and humbling scenery, with such breadth to the mountains.  What better way is there?  It is much better than listening to it in your living room on CD!  Nothing can ever replace the live music experience.  And hearing a live performance is different at every moment: the performer, the public, the theater: it all creates a dynamic, spontaneous living moment in time.  I want every one of our concerts in Vail to have the feeling of a spontaneous and real event.  I am so thrilled about the programming we’ve put together.
Q:  Besides what you do in programming your own piano recitals, what other programming experience did you bring to the task?
AMM:  Well, I have been directing a chamber music festival in Ocean Reef, Florida, as well as the Avila Chamber Music Celebration in Curacao.  I also recently became the Curator of the Mainly Mozart Festival’s Spotlight Series in San Diego.  I am steeped in chamber music and perform it everywhere all year long, so I have a good feel for what makes a successful program.  While I do not know all the orchestral repertoire, this is a perfect time in my life to take on the exciting challenge in Vail.  Putting together the players who will really ignite programs is incredibly fun – sometimes stressful – but mostly fun.  I consider it a privilege.  The year 2012 marks Vail’s 25th anniversary and I am giving it my all!
Q:  Have you had a long history performing in Vail?
AMM:  The first time I played there was when Ida Kavafian was there as Artistic Director in the early 1990s.  Ida and I play in Opus One, a piano quartet, and she invited me.  Eugenia Zukerman, my predecessor, continued to invite me.  I have been there as a chamber musician, and as a soloist, and gave a world premiere by Marc Neikrug in 2009.  I have history and many friendships there.  The public knows me, and being there is like being with family – a big, large, extended family.
Q:  In what ways do you feel the Festival has already taken a new direction in your first season?
AAM:  The extent to which I am focusing on themes is new, I think, and I have made an effort to increase the amount of chamber music.  After all, Bravo! Vail started as a chamber music festival!  It will take time for more distinctive new directions to emanate, but I am sure it will happen organically.
Q:  One last question: where does all your incredible energy and enthusiasm come from?
AAM:  I’m so in love with what I’m doing, and so fortunate that I’m doing what I’m doing.  I’ve had a long career and am looking forward to the next 40 years.  The music and my colleagues get me fired up.  It’s so important, with the craziness of the world, for us to be together and listen to great music and get transformed for two hours.  It is incredible and inspiring.  The older I get, the more inspired I get by that!
Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival takes place from June 26 through August 3.  Complete programs and information can be found at
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