Are you planning to be a classical music tourist this summer? To pack your shades, shorts and flip-flops and hit the road in search of fresh air, sunshine and great music? CBC Music is all over this idea. To get you better acquainted with some of the classical music festivals happening in Canada this summer, we’re running SPF ’12, our summer preview of festivals. In today’s instalment, we visit Bamfield, B.C., and Music by the Sea.
Getting to Bamfield is part of the summer festival experience, because it's a long way from pretty much everywhere. Sitting on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Bamfield is about two hours down a logging road from the closest city, Port Alberni. It might sound daunting, but take your time getting to the festival and you’ll be fine. Remember to follow the powerlines. If you can’t see them, you’ve taken a wrong turn.
Two hours later you bump into the little seaside village, but as you haul your dusty, aching body from the car, you'll be glad you made the trip. Bamfield is an idyllic little town and home to a real treasure of a music festival, Music by the Sea.
This old fishing village has turned into a university hamlet of sorts. Up on a hill, overlooking the village and open ocean is the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre. It's a mini university dedicated to studying the ocean, funded by Canada’s western universities. At the heart of the campus is a concert hall, complete with its very own Steinway.
The scallop-shaped Rix Centre was built first, and the festival came soon after. Large windows face west towards the open ocean, and concerts are held as the sun begins to dip below the horizon. It’s a decidedly unsnobby audience: fishermen from the village, yachters sailing up the West Coast of Vancouver Island and hikers finishing up the West Coast Trail. If you wear rubber boots to any of the concerts, you’ll fit right in.
One of the great things about this festival is its mix of classical and jazz. The shows usually start off classical and, as the evenings mellow, flip to jazz. This year, the Zebra Trio is in residence, a fantastic string ensemble that includes Canadian violist Steven Dann. Saxophonist Mike Allen headlines the jazz lineup.
If you really don’t want the two-hour drive down a logging road, there are some other options. Take the West Coast Trail Express, hop on a Harbour Air flight from Vancouver or take the Frances Barkley mail and freight ferry from Port Alberni (definitely the most fun, but a little slow).
Music by the Sea top picks
My money’s on the first weekend. The opening concert (Saturday, July 7) includes participation from the Coast Guard rescue station. They fire up their sirens and a local resident fires off his homemade canon. It’s quirky in a good way. The music of that first evening includes Chausson, Takemitsu, Haydn and Ravel. On the second evening (Sunday, July 8), the concert is split between Webern and Mozart. Adventurous programming in an adventurous setting for sure.
Go for the music, stay for the views
Bamfield’s gorgeous, and there’s plenty to do. There’s Brady’s Beach, Pachena Bay and plenty of hiking. The village itself is divided by an inlet: the east side is where the road comes in; the west side is boat access only. A long seaside boardwalk serves as the road on this side of the inlet. If you’re staying, try to get accommodation on the west side. There’s a water taxi to take you back and forth over the inlet.
The famous West Coast Trail in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve begins or ends (whichever way you go) just outside of Bamfield. You need reservations to hike the trail completely, but anyone can do part of the trail in a day. Be forewarned, it’s almost always wet and muddy and there’s a reason it’s become infamous. But part of the joy is seeing the soggy hikers clamber up the ladders as you, free of pack, mosey on down the trail.
CBC Music's classical summer listening list
SPF '12: Summer preview of festivals
Bamfield B.C. Maps
on Jul 03, 2012