It was mid-March, the Vancouver Island Symphony was on stage rehearsing for two sold out shows of more than 700 patrons. That was the day Dr. Bonnie Henry announced a ban on gatherings larger than 250 people in British Columbia.
“It was pretty devastating from an organizational perspective,” CEO of the Vancouver Island Symphony, Margot Holmes said.
Holmes said around six to seven weeks after shutting down, the idea for outdoor pop-up concerts was formed. Since gatherings of 50 or less are permitted in B.C., the symphony planned shows in outdoor venues with 40 tickets available.
“That way the musicians and the host families will be the other 10 people,” Holmes said.
Many of the hosts are long time supporters of the Vancouver Island Symphony. The concerts range from Saltair to Comox, and give Symphony goers an intimate experience of the symphony in their home communities. Typically, the Symphony performs at Nanaimo’s Port Theatre, the Sid Williams in Courtenay, and the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River.
Publisher of the Ladysmith Chronicle, Andrea Rosato-Taylor played host to a backyard concert at her home in Yellow Point on Friday, July 10. Rosato-Taylor said it was wonderful to have the Symphony in her backyard.
“It’s an exceptional feeling, and an exceptional experience. The musicians are some of the very best, and to have them in such a lovely setting with nature is a surreal feeling.”
Each venue will see four distinct performances from different musicians. The first performance was a trio featuring Vancouver Island Symphony’s principle flautist, Paolo Bortolussi; principle bassist, Mark Beaty; and principle violinist, and concert master Calvin Dyck.
“In terms of an audience performer relationship, these shows have been great,” Beaty said. “Strictly from a performance aspect, the shows have been challenging. Especially when the dew starts to set in.”
Changes in temperature, perception, and moisture in the air throughout performance days have posed the greatest challenges. When the idea for the pop-up concerts was initially proposed, the first thing Dyck said was “what’s the plan for rain?”
Dyck’s violin was made in 1807. The violin is held together with glue, and if the glue gets wet, the instrument will fall apart. Dyck carries a towel with him, ‘just in case’.
“This week, uncharacteristically for July, it’s been quite a wet week. It’s presented some unique challenges in the past few days,” Dyck said. “Yesterday we were huddled together under a tent as it was drizzling down.
The musicians also do not see the performance spaces before they arrive. Each setting has different acoustics, and sound dynamics for the musicians to contend with.
“Some of the acoustics have been great,” Bortolussi said. “People are close…relative to a concert hall. There’s a lot more intimacy in this setting.”
Rain or shine, the trio expressed gratitude to Holmes, the Vancouver Island Symphony, and all the concert hosts for making the concerts happen.
“Since the pandemic hit, all three of us have been doing stuff from home, on Zoom, a bit of recording, and carried on with some teaching. Our performing and making music with other people was completely cut off. Getting back to that is really the most remarkable thing,” Beaty said.
Limited tickets are still available for the three remaining backyard pop-up concert series. Visit vancouverislandsymphony.com/summer-pop-up-concerts-2020 for more information.