Live concerts are at a lull, for the time being, but pianist Christopher Donison hasn’t abandoned hope. He’s soldiering on and doing what he can to put money into the pockets of his fellow musicians and technicians. When concerts eventually return, he is hoping the experience will have him suitably prepared for the transition.
“It takes a lot of flexibility,” Donison said of his switch to livestreamed concerts in recent months. “You never really know for certain what’s around the corner.”
Donison livestreamed nine concerts on Facebook through June and July, from the window of his apartment in the Janion building on Pandora Avenue, near the Johnson Street bridge. All told, the concerts drew more than 30,000 viewers on Facebook. The success of the series was a complete surprise to Donison, who does not have a Facebook account and is not on social media, and whose sole motivation for the concerts was simply to keep his playing sharp during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The events were modestly staged at first, with just Donison at the piano, before expanding by the series’ end to include other musicians and a more advanced video streaming set-up. The conductor and composer is at the point now where he feels comfortable producing something under the official banner of Music By the Sea, the annual Bamfield festival he founded in 2006. He will do so in Victoria for the first time this weekend, with another similar event set for Aug. 30.
He is mining the framework of the popular jazz and classical music festival, which would have celebrated its 15th season in Bamfield this summer, for a one-off livestreamed concert at the Victoria International Marina on Sunday. Ten performers from Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, including big names such as Brad Turner and Neil Swainson, have signed on. Some of the participants were scheduled to appear in Bamfield at Music by the Sea.
Tickets aren’t being sold, and no patrons will be in the audience. But “the standard is still high,” Donison said. “But there won’t be as many involved as we would have had in Bamfield because there’s no budget.”
Two quintets — one jazz, the other classical — will perform at 7:30 p.m. from inside the Victoria International Marina. Four cameras will broadcast three sets from each line-up, to fans watching it unfold at home on Facebook and through musicbythesea.ca. Donison is planning to make the Victoria instalment of Music By the Sea an ongoing event, when live concerts eventually return. What that will look like in the future remains to be seen, but Donison expects his productions will have more bells and whistles than what he is putting on stage this weekend, which is in accordance with the provincial healthy authority mandate.
“What we do in Bamfield, we have stage managers with helpers,” he said. “They would help change the setups while I would be on the microphone, but we can’t do those changeovers and setups. So we are going to go back and forth between the two, who will be set up in the room at the same time.”
A donation button will be active during the concert as Donison hopes viewers will contribute. The money will be split evenly between the performers, Donison said.
“If I can get these events to pay for themselves — to raise enough money to pay the people each time — it’s a matter of being open, willing and able. I could see us maybe doing one a month, all year long. Because there’s nothing else happening.”