Concerts at The Barn
by Brian Finley, Co-Founder, Artistic & Managing Director
1. Westben’s summer series of Concerts at The Barn was partially modelled after “Concerts in the Barn”, a summer-long classical music festival on Washington’s state’s Olympic Peninsula. Founded by Alan Iglitzin of the Philadelphia String Quartet, the Olympic Music Festival’s “Concerts in the Barn” are still going strong in the old dairy barn two hours west of Seattle even now, after 34 years.
2. Donna and I performed arts songs and chamber music there for five years in the early 1990’s, and it was there that we first got inspired by the infectious joy of music-making in a beautifully natural, pretension-free setting together with wonderful colleagues and a friendly, eager audience.
3. Settling back in Canada, we recognized the same possibilities at the Westben farm just outside of Campbellford. We first considered renovating the 150-year old West barn into a performance venue, as Alan had done in Washington, but it actually turned out to be cheaper (and healthier) to build a brand new facility in the meadow.
4. The designs by Didier Schvarts of Lakefield, as well as the special tools he created specifically for the job, were all unique. To maximize sight lines, two “barns” were superimposed perpendicularly one on the top of the other. Angles and materials were carefully considered for their acoustic and aesthetic value. The massive timbers were erected in the same direction in which they grew.
5. Concerts at The Barn had its first-ever performance on Canada Day, 2000 (alas, Alan couldn’t come!). Since then, the Westben Barn has been the site for more than 800 concerts and events.
6. Key to the Barn experience is its wonderful capacity to welcome in the surrounding countryside – this is no black box theatre! The setting has always been a vital part of the experience.
7. The birds like Mozart best! During performances of the Austrian master’s music, they chirp the most energetically. Even the gods get in on the action! Who can forget the thunderous rainstorm that rumbled menacingly through the Queen of the Night’s aria during the UBC Opera Ensemble’s performance of The Magic Flute in 2004? And who didn’t spontaneously cheer when a loud thunder clap (followed by a complete loss of power) arrived smack in time on the final downbeat of Handel’s Water Music?
8. There was also the time when our dog, Rose wandered across the stage right in line (and in the appropriately deflated attitude) with 100 downtrodden Israelites in SAMSON, one of the 5 world premiere musicals we have presented at The Barn.
9. And the time that the bat flew through the rafters during the UBC production of Die Fledermaus, another of the dozen operas the UBC Ensemble brought to The Barn over the years.
10. The performances continue, rain or shine, cold or hot. Our coldest outing may have been the dress rehearsal for the Westben Festival Chorus’s winter production of Elijah’s Angel. Try playing the piano in minus nine degrees! The hottest performance (temperature wise, of course!) was probably the recital of Mark DuBois and myself in 2005 where the temperature reached 45 degrees. Try playing the piano in 45 degrees!! (In fact, just try playing the piano…). Thanks to the Trillium Foundation and Westben Members for the new ceiling fan.
11. Mark will be back again this summer as part of several special guests at our 20th Anniversary Celebration on June 2nd. Mark performed on the very first concert, and over the years has performed the title roles in SAMSON and Phantom of the Opera, as well as G&S and several other concerts both at The Barn and elsewhere.
12. The diversity of guest artists has included the very best in classical, jazz, music theatre, fiddle, folk and fun. Classical soloists have ranged from superstar singers Adrianne Pieckzonka, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Gerald Finley to pianists Angela Hewitt, André Laplante and Janina Fialkowska. This year, it is violinist James Ehnes. Orchestras have included Tafelmusik, the Peterborough Symphony, and this year, the Manitoba Chamber Ensemble. We have also presented two fully-staged world premiere operas, John Burge’s & Eugene Benson’s the Auction and my own The Pencil Salesman.
13. Jazz greats have included Oliver Jones, Peter Appleyard, Rob McConnell, Michael Kaeshammer and this season, Matt Dusk, Brian Barlow and Barbra Lica.
14. Actors Tom McCamus and Chick Reid have been to The Barn, as has music theatre’s Michael Burgess. Fiddlers have included Luke Mercier, Leahy Next Gen, Coig, MAZ, and this coming summer, the Fitzgerald family.
15. Folk artists have included Sarah Harmer, Ashley Condon and this summer, Rose Cousins and John McDermott with Dala.
16. We’ve also had fun at the hands of the Arrogant Worms, Mary Lou Fallis, Linda Kash, Colin Mochrie and Deb McGrath. This year, it’s Brent Butt.
17. The Westben Festival Chorus has performed at The Barn ever single year since it opened. This illustrious group has performed 10 completely staged productions ranging from The Sound of Music to Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. It has also performed classical gems from Bach’s Magnificat to Beethoven’s 9th. All this in addition to its popular collection of narrated Christmas concerts presented at The Barn every year since 2002.
18. Still, I find it impossible to contain my excitement about what’s to come! The 20th Anniversary Season brings a whole new array of wonderful guest artists to Concerts at The Barn, including an amazingly inspirational gathering of genre-stretching artists from all over the world in our second annual Performer-Composer Residency.
19. And I love it when guest artists like Gabrielle Prata show up enthusiastically for rehearsal and happily exclaim “Hello, Barn!” or when the young members of the Cookie Choir first walk out on stage…
20. That first summer in 2000, I remember standing at the top of the hill looking down over The Barn and its young grounds, and dreaming with my friend Doug Keene about the time when the grass would be green and the trees would be tall enough to stand under. We thought we’d be old. Ha!! Now with Concerts at The Barn as the flagship of Westben’s year-round activities as the Westben Centre of Connection and Creativity through Music, it is safe to say we’re only just beginning!!