Denisa Kraus
The Navigator


Image courtesy of Nanaimo Conservatory of Music

Nanaimo Conservatory of Music is holding the third annual Vancouver Island Chamber Music Festival in two downtown churches on November 1 and 2.  Featuring international stars as well as established local talents, the festival will encompass a wide range of classical music ranging from Renaissance compositions to contemporary pieces.

Alexis Harrison, marketing and communications representative at the Nanaimo Conservatory of Music, says that aside from the opportunity to see contemporary stars of classical music in an intimate setting, the festival offers a unique social and cultural experience. She suggests that classical music has a lot in common with “classy” parties and events.

“It’s really fun when university students throw formal parties,” she says. “Going to one of these shows would be a perfect excuse to get your friends together, dress up, have a “classy as F” potluck, and then go to a classical music concert. It’s all about having fun, but once you’re there, you might find that it is actually a really special experience to hear this beautiful music.”

As an example of the festival’s repertoire, Harrison names Philip Glass a “serious” composer who has also written music for Hollywood, such as scoring the Truman Show and Secret Window.” She says classical music has the power to take the listener to another world or another time, which is partially what makes film so moving.

“When you dress up to go sit in an old church and listen to a cellist, opera singer, or a French horn player,” Harrison says, “you sort of feel like your life has a soundtrack.”

The festival will open with ¡Sacabuche!, an award winning ensemble, who will play on Friday night in St. William’s United Church on Fitzwilliam St. Saturday’s concert in St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Chapel St. will feature acclaimed mezzosopranist Kristin Hoff, The Twin Shores Trombone Quartet, Sonora String Quartet, and The Victoria Baroque Players with Andrew Clark.

The program encompasses a wide range of composers, from contemporary composers like Malcolm Forsyth, Ian MacDougall, and Phillip Glass, to the classic masters such as Bach and Beethoven.

The organizers expect a good turnout among Nanaimo senior citizens.

“They love to get out and do cultural things,” Harrison says. “But we’d like to see everybody. Chamber music has a lot to offer younger audiences as well.”

The Conservatory is trying to make the prices affordable while still paying their performers a fair industry wage. The pass for all three concerts costs $40, which would not be available in bigger cities.

Harrison says it is challenging to reach younger audiences, mainly because of the town’s stretched layout and lack of substantial downtown area. A greater emphasis on classic music in VIU’s music program could be helpful, but most of the program focuses on jazz studies. She notes, however, that many international students are avid classical musicians and come to play the piano in the music building at night, as it’s usually their only access to the instrument.

“If you want to hear some really good pianists, you just have to walk around those classrooms in the evening,” she says.

Harrison says despite having a group of committed musicians and audience in Nanaimo,  the festival still seeks more community support. “I think we’re lucky to have the Vancouver Island Symphony Orchestra, the Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra, and this organization. It’s funny how many amazing musicians come from Nanaimo.  But they don’t really stay here,  because I think there needs to be a stronger foundation for them. I don’t know if that would mean more support from the city or from the general public, but that’s something  people are grappling with all over the world. Even in major European cities, people are wondering how to bring audience to classical music. So it’s not unique to Nanaimo. But I think we could do more to make it high-profile and maybe make it a Nanaimo tradition.”

Harrison says the organizers would like to involve the city and local businesses in the future to help promote the festival beyond the classical music fans and reach the people who would normally never go to such an event.

“It’s not a high-profile event yet, but we’d like it to be the thing that draws people downtown, even from outside Nanaimo.”

Harrison says she’d like to see the festival grow into a big city event.

“There is so much more to this event than just listening to music. You can’t compare a chamber concert to listening to a CD at home. It’s the experience of dressing up, going out, and sitting in these beautiful churches. As a ritual, the musicians are dressed formally. There’s a reason why this gorgeous music is still around for hundreds of years. People will never get sick of this music.”