It is a magical blend of world class music, wonderful people and a magnificent setting.
In 1989, soprano Donna Bennett and pianist / composer Brian Finley were enjoying the early stages of international careers. Having lived and worked for several years in Europe, they returned to Donna’s hometown of Campbellford, Ontario to start a family.
Inspired by the talented and energetic community, the couple shared their love of music making by performing and hosting events at local venues. They also began teaching advanced level music students and leading the music program at St. John’s United Church in Campbellford.
It was the exciting success of Jesus Christ Superstar, a fully-staged community event, that galvanized the support for a permanent performance organization.
In 1999, The Westben Arts Festival Theatre was formed as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating, enriching and integrating professionals and amateurs in musical projects and educational activities. Run by a Board of Directors, Westben received its charitable status in 2000.
Brimming with enthusiasm, Donna and Brian led the young organization in building a new concert hall to reflect the co-founders’ multi-faceted artistic vision. This new facility must be acoustically suited for classical music, accessible for audiences, in both comfort and style, and harmonious with the surrounding farmland.
Didier Schvarts of Lakefield’s Sun Wood Company took on the challenge. The result is a stunning timber-frame structure. An acoustical marvel, the concert facility is beautiful in its grand simplicity. Creatively indigenous to its pastoral setting, the audience-friendly venue has come to be known affectionately as The Barn. Construction on The Barn in 2000 culminated in a spectacular gala opening on Canada Day of that same year.
Concerts at The Barn 2000 featured 70 internationally acclaimed Canadian artists in 10 concerts over 5 weekends.
The following year, the season was augmented by eight performances of Artistic Director Brian Finley’s opera-musical SAMSON starring Mark DuBois, Donna Bennett and a cast and crew of over 200 Philistines and Israelites.
In 2002, Westben added its Autumn Feast for the Ears, a festival in late September which celebrated the region’s beautiful autumnal colours. Finley’s musical adaptation of A Westben Christmas Carol in 2002 led the way to further winter activities at The Barn.
In 2005 Westben presented the original musical Rapunzel by Brian Finley and Ken Tizzard and in 2006 the two created The Little Match Girl Messiah and in 2010 The Selfish Giant. In 2008 Brian Finley and Michael Nitsch created The Magic Ornament and in 2012 Westben premiered John Burge and Eugene Benson's opera The Auction.
In partnership with the Trent Hills Municipality, Westben moved into the Clock Tower Cultural Centre in downtown Campbellford in 2015. This newly renovated historic building is the new home of the Westben year round Box Office, music library, costume storage and rehearsal rooms with an intimate performance space.
Now with an array of year round performances Westben presents 80 performances and events in 2019 at The Barn, The Clock Tower and other venues in the area. The Westben Jazz Fringe Festival in 2019 continues with performances at restaurants in Warkworth, Hastings and Campbellford and the Clock Tower Cultural Centre. The Barn will host 25 performances and over 200 guest artists from across Canada and Europe in 2019 with James Ehnes, Jeremy Dutcher, Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, Andy Forgie, Brent Butt, Rose Cousins, Basia Bulat, Matt Dusk, and many other wonderful artists. In June Westben celebrates 20 years of Concerts at The Barn with a special performance on June 2 (and a Preview Dress Rehearsal performance June 1). To find out more of the history and anniversary celebrations check out the Anniversary Blog.
Westben is looking forward to presenting many more performances in the future featuring everything from Bach to Broadway favourites, opera, folk, jazz, fiddling, comedy and world music. Westben’s Community Events will continue to develop year-round, including its Large Ensemble programs (e.g., the Choruses and the Wind Ensemble) as well as the growing number of life-long learning programs including the First-Friday Lunchtime Tick Talks, Community musicals and Christmas programs.In 2019 Westben introduces a new series of Sunday afternoon classical concerts at The Clock Tower called To a Tea debuting with Schubert to a Tea on Sunday, April 14. Developing innovative Residencies is a priority such as the flagship Performer-Composer Residency which welcomes 12 participants from around the world to Westben in July.
READ AT THE INVESTITURE:
“Donna Bennett and Brian Finley have created a cultural cornerstone in rural Ontario. After pursuing their individual performance careers, this musical duo established Westben, a performing arts festival in the Trent Hills region. Thanks to their shared vision and leadership, the festival has brought together both professional and amateur musicians, exposed local audiences to music of the highest calibre and achieved artistic excellence. Their work has contributed to community-building in the region, and has played an important role in supporting Canadian music and emerging artists.”
Congratulations Donna & Brian!