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Vancouver Island Symphony starting 25th anniversary season

Black tie gala dinner and fundraiser to be held at Coast Bastion Hotel
Vancouver Island Symphony director Pierre Simard said reaching 25 years is a significant accomplishment for an arts organization. (Photo courtesy Dirk Heydemann)

The Vancouver Island Symphony is turning 25 this year and the celebration is lasting all season long with concerts highlighting that milestone featuring local talent.

Symphony conductor and artistic director Pierre Simard said for a performing arts organization to reach the quarter-century mark is an achievement at a time when so much entertainment is available on screen and on demand. He added that many groups are non-profits and it takes extra effort to compete with services like Spotify and YouTube.

“I could tell you stories of so many symphony orchestras and opera houses, opera companies that folded, that just stopped operating because it’s a fragile environment,” he said.

On Oct. 5 the symphony is kicking off its 2019-20 season with a 25th anniversary black tie gala dinner and fundraiser featuring music from the mother-son duo of Joëlle Rabu and Nico Rhodes.

Some of this season’s concerts are directly tied to the anniversary, Simard said. In February the symphony presents Celebrating 25, a concert that follows a numerological theme, featuring Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, op. 25 and Haydn’s Symphony No. 25 in C major. Similarly, this coming March the ensemble is presenting a program called Happy Birthday to Us, part of the Symphony SoundBites Series. The musicians will perform a piece called Happy Birthday Variations.

“It’s a set of variations on the style of so many different composers but using the Happy Birthday song,” Simard explained. “So it’s quite fun. It’s just like a little wink and it’s fun to play, it’s fun to listen to.”

Simard said the 25th anniversary is also a celebration of the musicians. He said orchestras typically look outward and try to bring in prestigious “hotshot” soloists from Toronto or Montreal or New York City, but what makes the VIS different is they look inward.

“If you look at the chosen soloists, pretty much throughout the whole season they are our own people and this is something I really was adamant that we do: Feature our own musicians in a solo capacity,” he said.

For example, November’s show, Rejuvenate, features principal harpist Lani Krantz; the Mistletoe and Magic Christmas show includes the VIS Children’s Choir as well as Nanaimo’s A Capella Plus and Qualicum’s Village Voices; oboist Geronimo Mendoza is guest soloist for February’s Celebrating 25; and concertmaster and violinist Calvin Dyck is among the soloists for March’s Iconic Beethoven concert.

“So you see how this is all working within our own community of musicians that we’ve built over the years,” Simard said.

He said the symphony is proud and excited to be celebrating 25 years and that the future looks promising.

“We’re still seeing growth,” Simard said. “We feel our symphony here is growing. We are operating in a city that’s growing – we’re in a very bustling town – so I guess that really is at the core, that we feel there’s a positive aspect that this is vibrant and alive.”

WHAT’S ON … Vancouver Island Symphony 25th Anniversary Black Tie Gala Dinner and Auction Fundraiser takes place at the Coast Bastion Hotel on Oct. 5 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets $150 including a partial tax receipt, available at the Port Theatre.

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