Classical Music: Music By the Sea is an ideal setting

What: Music by the Sea.
When/where: July 20-28, Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries (Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, Bamfield).
Tickets: Evening concerts $75-105, Sunday matinées $40-60, festival pass $618.
Concert details, tickets, travel and accommodation information: 250-728-3887; musicbythesea.ca.

The 14th season of Music by the Sea, the classical-and-jazz festival in Bamfield, does not begin until July 20, though the event is both remote and popular enough that advance planning is required to attend it, hence this early heads-up.

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Bamfield, a tiny community that bestrides a sheltered inlet on the south shore of Barkley Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, is not easy to get to — your options are boat, plane or gravel logging road — and it is not exactly rife with hotels. But the remoteness is part of the attraction, isolation and quiet being highly conducive to concentrated music-making.

MBTS’s concerts take place at the Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, in a glass-walled space with excellent acoustics, seating about 150. The space boasts a scallop-shell-shaped roof and spectacular scenic views of Bamfield Inlet, justifying the festival’s claim that it is “the most inspiring venue anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.” It is hardly surprising that the festival has flourished since it was launched in 2006, and attracts some first-rate performers.

This summer, as usual, the festival will be spread over nine days and will comprise eight evening concerts (8:30 p.m.) and two Sunday matinées (noon), with each program divided more or less evenly between chamber music and jazz.

This season’s four jazz performers includes the distinguished Canadian guitarist Oliver Gannon, who lives in Vancouver and will be making his MBTS debut. As always, the jazz repertoire is announced only at the last minute.

This year’s 13 classical artists are all from out of town, most from major Canadian cities, particularly Toronto. All are string players, except for two performers joining the company for the first time: Toronto-based pianist David Louie and mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil, from Boston.

MacNeil will perform classical repertoire ranging from Handel and Brahms to Pavel Haas and the contemporary American composer Caroline Shaw, but will also, in several concerts, perform selections from the American songbook, with Christopher Donison, MBTS’s founder, CEO and executive artistic director, on the piano.

Some other classical artists will make their MBTS debuts, though the company will also include performers who have appeared often in recent years, including violinist Aaron Schwebel and violists Keith Hamm and Steven Dann.

This year, moreover, six young professional string players (from Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Latvia) will participate in MBTS’s Fellowship Artist Mentorship Program. They will receive intensive coaching in the 10 days preceding the festival, from Dann and Vienna-based violinist Ernst Kovacic, and will participate in various concerts.

This season’s classical programming spans three centuries, including staples of the chamber-music repertoire, interesting novelties and a substantial number of modern and contemporary works.

The range of performing forces will be very diverse, and will include solo music: Louie will perform piano works by Chopin and Janácek, while Schwebel will perform Bach’s famous Chaconne in D minor for unaccompanied violin and Alan Ridout’s setting of the children’s story of Ferdinand the Bull (with Dann narrating).

There will be string duos by Boccherini and Telemann (the latter’s “burlesque suite” for two violins inspired by Gulliver’s Travels), a violin sonata by Mozart, a piano trio by Haydn, an early string trio by Beethoven and Pablo de Sarasate’s Navarra, for two violins and piano. There will be string quartets by Haydn, Mozart, Smetana and two 20th-century composers, Jerzy Fitelberg and Szymon Laks; Chausson’s piano quartet, a string quintet by Dvorák and a piano quintet by Fauré; a chamber version of Mozart’s K. 414 piano concerto; Brahms’s great G-major sextet; and an octet by George Enescu.

And there will be several works featuring an “undecet” — an ensemble of 11 players, standing on the border between chamber and chamber-orchestra music —including Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, with which Concert No. 1 will open, and pieces by Nikos Skalkottas and Jean Françaix.

Music by the Sea has a close, reciprocal relationship with Bamfield and, as usual, the festival will make time for public events for the local community, notably two on July 24: a luncheon and music circle hosted by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations (noon), and a free concert at the Rix Centre (7:30 p.m.).

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