Tens of thousands squeeze in around Inner Harbour for Symphony Splash

Maestro Christian Kluxen, conductor of the Victoria Symphony, kicked off Sunday’s Symphony Spash with a little Leonard Bernstein and noting there was mutual affection in the air.

“It’s obvious that you love your symphony and we love you,” Kluxen told the crowd after the concert opener, Bernstein’s Candide Overture, honouring 100 years since the composer and conductor was born.

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Symphony Splash, the annual free, open-air concert by the Victoria Symphony, featuring 56 musicians performing on a barge in the Inner Harbour, is in its 29th year.

Typically attracting crowds in the tens of thousands, it is one of the largest outdoor classical music events in North America. People stood shoulder to shoulder on the streets surrounding the harbour for a concert that was dominated by movie music, including pieces from Gone with the Wind, E.T., Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and Star Wars.

The music was the star, but food was a major supporting player, with big crowds swarming the food booths, some of them attracting lineups nearly a block long.

Seventeen-year-old Danielle Tsao, playing the viola, was the featured solist. She performed Vaughan Williams' Suite for Viola and Orchestra, Prelude & Gallop, to roars of approval. Even the quiet parts could be clearly heard by an attentive crowd that only occasionally resorted to "outdoor voices."

As with every Symphony Splash, the evening ended with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with cannon, carillon and fireworks, and Amazing Grace, which featured bagpipers.

The promise of the show drew enough early-bird attendees that by 11 a.m. the Inner Harbour walkway was filled with two rows of lawn chairs, the maximum allowed.

Despite some mixed signals — with some people grumbling they were told no one would be allowed to set up before 8 a.m. but arrived to find others already in place who reported setting up at 4 a.m. — Splash lovers were in good spirits.

“It’s a great crowd,” said Symphony Splash spokeswoman Jill Smillie. “A lot of the people have been coming for years and by now they know the drill.”

Victorian Faith Dunbar, in her 70s, was happy to arrive at 7:30 a.m. to help set up seats for eight members of her family. As she has mobility issues, she was content to be left alone to guard her family’s little temporary encampment. After all, Dunbar had a sun umbrella, a nice view of the Inner Harbour and a great opportunity to sit and enjoy the day, relaxing and people watching.

This year’s Splash promised to be extra special for her. It was the first time Dunbar’s two granddaughters, aged nine and 12, made it over with their parents from Vancouver to spend the day.

“I would always tell them ‘You should wait until you are old enough so you don’t get bored,’ ” Dunbar said. “Now they are here.”

As a person who attended some of the earliest Splash events, she said one of her most special memories was a year when kayaks filled the water around the orchestra’s barge and then the Coho ferry slipped into dock.

“All the kayaks came in so silently and it was just so beautiful,” said Dunbar. “When the Coho arrived I said to my husband ‘Can you imagine what it must be like for those people on board if they have never been to Victoria and they come in and hear the music.’ ”

Sisters Jo Quinlan of Langford, Judith Quinlan of Victoria and Margaret Davis of Lake Cowichan were also early arrivals, setting up at 8 a.m., and were happy to get a space for their lawn chairs on the Inner Harbour walkway.

“Last year we were up on the lawn of the legislature building with a blanket and a picnic,” said Jo. “But it’s nice to be able to see it.”

The three explained that the event is a family tradition dating back decades to when they all lived in the Lake Cowichan area and would drive into Victoria.

There have been some years when some have moved away and couldn’t make it. And most years the men in the family stay home and drink beer on the holiday weekend.

“But there is always at least a core group of us here,” said Judith.

Sheree Zielke and David Thiel, two jewelry artisans now living in James Bay, were on scene for their first Splash, having arrived in Victoria two years ago from Edmonton.

Zielke said they were on Vancouver Island for a holiday when Thiel had a health emergency and had to stay and recuperate for one month. They decided to make their home here.

“There is absolutely nothing we don’t love about living here,” said Zielke, sitting in a lawn chair in the shade of a conifer tree in a corner of the legislature grounds.


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