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Vancouver Island Symphony conductor stepping down

Pierre Simard says after 14 years with the symphony it’s time to ‘pass the baton’
Vancouver Island Symphony artistic director Pierre Simard is stepping down at the end of the 2021-22 season. (Photo courtesy Dirk Heydemann)

After 14 years at the helm, Pierre Simard is stepping down as artistic director and conductor of the Vancouver Island Symphony.

Simard issued a statement Feb. 2, saying “after careful thought and consideration, time has come to ‘pass the baton.’” He will leave the position at the end of the 2021-22 season. He said 14 years with the VIS was “a perfect amount of time.”

“Some conductors stay for 25 years, some stay for even longer, but then there’s a chance that you lose some of the freshness. It becomes more routine,” Simard said from his home in Laval, Que. “So I think this is good timing for those reasons. I’ve been there just long enough and I will have been there also not too long. It’s just a good balance.”

Simard said he decided to leave the VIS for a few reasons. He is moving back to the Montreal area to be closer to his aging parents and eldest daughter. Also his middle daughter is graduating high school and he’s currently pursuing a doctorate in composition at McGill University. He said he has no immediate plans to join another symphony.

Simard joined the VIS in 2007, taking over for founding conductor Marlin Wolfe, and finally moved to Nanaimo in 2017 after years commuting from Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal. Simard said young conductors experience a “travelling-salesman career” searching for places to ply their trade. He said joining the VIS was like finding his dream date.

“If you compare that to the romantic world, you’re going from date to date and you’re trying to find the perfect date,” he said. “But then when you’re given this position as principal conductor/artistic director, it becomes a wedding.”

Simard said Wolfe left him a strong foundation on which to build. When Simard joined the VIS it was presenting seven shows a year at the Port Theatre as well as an educational program. Now the VIS also performs at the Sid Williams and Tidemark theatres in Courtenay and Campbell River and has expanded its musical and educational offerings.

“This enlargement of the scope is really what I’m proud of,” Simard said. “Also, the artistic level of the orchestra that has improved, the musical level that allowed us to embark in some programs that you would never think would be possible with a regional orchestra such as ours.”

Simard is also proud of the “unique and special” relationships he’s had with the musicians over the last 14 years, saying “there’s a far greater sense of belonging here at VIS than I have seen anywhere else.”

“As a conductor, I am nothing. I can flail away with my hands on a podium but the musicians on stage are the ones that have the instruments in their hands and translate whatever I bring to them…” he said. “I really want to give credit to the musicians’ talent, their virtuosity, but also their open-mindedness.”

VIS president Dave Witty said it’s tough to see Simard leave and there are plans to “celebrate his gift to Nanaimo” over the next few months. Witty said Simard fostered a greater interest and enthusiasm for classical music through his enthusiastic approach. He said the VIS was “blessed” to have someone with his “dynamic presence.”

“When he steps on the stage he just captures the audience. It’s really quite magical,” Witty said. “So I look at things from the perspective of, it was a really good ride and a wonderful time to have him here and help celebrate classical music in such a wonderful way.”

Witty said next season will feature guest conductors while the VIS searches for Simard’s successor. He said the VIS hopes to announce its next artistic director in spring or early summer 2023.

RELATED: Conductor marks a decade with Vancouver Island Symphony

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