Music by the Sea, the annual summer festival that creates a busy seaside "music village" in tiny, scenic Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, will launch its seventh season on Saturday.
Christopher Donison, the festival's founder, CEO and executive artistic director, says last year was the festival's most successful to date - "especially in terms of artistic achievement, growth in organizational strength, and growing community support."
This year, there is conspicuous evidence of still further growth.
The festival's core is a slate of 10 evening and matinÃ©e concerts given over nine days in the Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, a conference, teaching and laboratory facility opened in 2005 at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. The concerts take place in a glass-walled reception area whose scallop-shell-shaped roof, excellent acoustics and spectacular view of Barkley Sound make it perhaps the most idyllic performance space on the Island.
Given the remote location, this is a destination event, though MBTS has worked to make access as convenient and affordable as possible, and while tickets are necessarily expensive, prices have not risen for years. This year, indeed, sales of festival passes are up, and new deals have boosted sales for weekday concerts. (MBTS is, incidentally, a non-profit operation.)
This year, as usual, MBTS has attracted classical and jazz performers of national and international stature, some making return visits. The dozen classical performers include one local, Mary Rannie, the Victoria Symphony's principal bassist; pianist Marc Ryser, from Boston, MBTS's artistic advisor for chamber music; the Zoco Duo, a husband-and-wife guitar-oboe duo from Barcelona; the innovative young Silver Birch String Quartet, from Sudbury, Ont.; and the Zebra Trio, a string trio whose members live in Toronto, Paris, and Vienna.
(The handful of jazz performers, mostly from Vancouver, include Donison himself, a pianist, conductor and composer.)
The 10 programs have been carefully and thoughtfully organized and are impressively diverse, all divided between classical music and jazz, occasionally including other popular genres (tango, the American songbook) and crossover works. The standard classical repertoire is well represented - works for a huge range of chamber ensembles by Haydn, Mozart, Saint-SaÃ«ns, Zemlinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev, Copland - but there will also be some early music (Dowland, Bach), as well as modern music by composers both familiar (Satie, Walton, Takemitsu, PÃ¤rt) and not (Lemay, Pujol, Yadzinski, Domeniconi).
Ryser and the Zebra Trio will offer two particularly intriguing sets on July 8, one in which movements from a Mozart string trio are shuffled with movements from Webern's 12tone chamber music, and another in which selections from the original piano version of Schumann's Album for the Young are interspersed with string-trio arrangements.
July 11 has been designated a "community day," which will culminate in a jazz-oriented evening concert for the public (admission is by donation).
Concerts are the principal but not the exclusive focus of Music by the Sea, which includes open rehearsals, workshops and other public-outreach events, but also, as of this year, new creative and educational components.
For instance, MBTS recently initiated an artist-residency program whose aim is to bring musicians to Bamfield for a month in the winter, to reap the creative benefits of unstructured time and of Bamfield's isolation and inspiring beauty.
The first such artist, Toronto-based jazz pianist Chris Donnelly, was in residence in January and February, and enthusiastically endorsed the program on his blog. Donison envisions eventually sponsoring multiple simultaneous residencies, in both fall and winter.
Also this year, MBTS launched a mentoring school, allowing three accomplished young professionals to work closely and intensively on chamber music with faculty members in the week before the festival. The inaugural program, currently underway, will include a free concert this evening in which the three "fellowship artists" and their mentors - Ryser and the Zebra Trio - will perform works by Brahms, FaurÃ©, and Kaija Saariaho.
(Donison hopes to admit more young performers in the future.)
The new residency and mentoring programs are helping Donison realize his longstanding aim of having Music by the Sea develop into a year-round "community of artists," not merely a concert series - "a place where artists would want to be."
He is gradually accumulating the necessary support (financial and otherwise). It certainly helps that MBTS is not just intimately connected with its physical environment but has been warmly received by the people of Bamfield.
Their support of and direct involvement in the festival has been crucial to its success, Donison says, and has only increased with time.
Music by the Sea
When/where: July 7-15, Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries, Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (100 Pachena Rd., Bamfield).
Tickets: $55-$80; fiveconcert festival passes $215-$315; full-season passes $395-595. Call 250-728-3887.
Concert details and information on transportation and accommodation: musicbythesea.ca.
Additional information: Bamfield Chamber of Commerce, bamfieldchamber.com.