Culture in the Vail Valley

The Classic Music Man

Vail Valley CultureJohn Giovando remembers the moment as though it were yesterday.
At the time, Giovando, an attorney with a love of classical music, was General Director of New Mexico’s Music from Angel Fire. He and acclaimed violinist, Ida Kavafian had also established a successful chamber music festival with musicians from Music from Angel Fire.
“I was sitting in my office at 128 Grant Avenue, #7, in Sante Fe, daydreaming – in a visual way – of a new event,” Giovando reflects, thoughtfully. “I was thinking about it from all circumstances: where, when and even how it would take shape and form.”
About that time his friend, Stephen Tinkler, a Denver attorney, happened to call and Giovando shared his vision with him. As Giovando recalls, Tinkler, who has a condominium in Vail, mentioned that in order to hear any kind classical music, he had to drive “over to Aspen.”
And so, began John Giovando’s journey. “I wrote an entire business plan about how to bring this small chamber music festival up on tour,” explains Giovando, “and presented it to attorney Jay Peterson, and the Town of Vail. Ida and I wanted to create a first year series with artists from Lincoln Center and jazz from the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“We got very nice responses from Jay Peterson and the Town of Vail but, at the time, the Vail Institute was thinking about bringing in the National Repertory Orchestra and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. So we were told that we could take a rain check. But, then the Vail Institute disbanded and they pulled up our proposal.”
Giovando was given a budget of $34,000 to include hotel rooms, artists’ fees and air travel. That summer, Giovando and Kavafian presented their first concert at Beaver Creek. “Eight people showed up, “ Giovando says, with a laugh. “We had sixteen musicians. But we put on a great show.”
The show was “great” enough to impress Jerry Jones, the CEO of Beaver Creek, at the time, who asked if he could buy the concert series. “We really had nothing to sell, it was a non-profit” says Giovando. “So I incorporated right away on an old Smith Corona typewriter at the Poste Montane. It was 1987.”
And so, Giovando’s daydream became a reality. “We really didn’t know what to call the festival,” Giovando remembers, “but the word ‘bravo’ came to our heads. And because the ski resorts were so proprietary at the time, we couldn’t call it ‘Bravo Vail,’ and we couldn’t call it ‘Bravo Beaver Creek, we decided to call it the Bravo! Colorado Music Festival at Vail and Beaver Creek.”
Except for the July 4th concert, the festival’s first season at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, was chamber music. “After that season, we realized that we had to have a full orchestra here. The chamber music was just not working,” says Giovando. “It was cold. We’d build a bonfire up on the stage in big metal tubs and the 30 or 40 people that would come would sit right up on the stage and warm up.”
The following season featured the Colorado Springs Symphony and the National Repertory Orchestra from Keystone. Then came the Rochester Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony. These days the resident orchestras include the Dallas Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.
“Our dreams kept getting bigger and bigger,” Giovando reminisces. “At the beginning, we were sort of a like a ‘mom and pop’ organization. We had a small board. But there were just the two of us sitting in a room, literally in a hallway at the old Concert Hall Plaza.”
In October, after 25 years at the helm, John Giovando will retire as the Chief Executive Officer of The Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. James W. Palermo succeeds him and will join Artistic Director, Anne-Marie McDermott.
“My vision for Bravo!, as it moves forward for the next 25 years, is to make it better than I did,” says Giovando, reflectively. “Improve it. And not make the same mistakes that we did in the early days. It’s a juggling act. Sometimes there will be challenges.”
Giovando’s biggest challenge? “That no matter how many mistakes I made, no matter what obstacle we faced – to continue and know that in my heart and soul and in my brain, it was just about the music to be presented at the highest level,” he says.
Giovando just opened another office at 128 Grant Avenue, but it’s not # 7. Recently, when he pulled his car into the garage, he noticed that his old parking space was empty. “It’s vacant for the next dreamer,” Giovando says with a gleam in his eye.