There are not adequate words in the English language to describe what the Music By The Sea (MBTS) concert series does to – and for – me and my husband each and every summer.
Staged every July in the remote Vancouver Island west coast settlement of Bamfield, the nine-day music festival gathers musicians and patrons from all over the world in a magical setting far from big city lights and the usual accoutrements that go along with world-class performances. Spectacular sunsets, captivating music, glasses of wine on the outdoor deck of the performance venue and the intimate feel of a community event banish everyday cares. Music By The Sea transports musicians and concert-goers to an ‘other world’ state where nothing seems more important than whether the summertime fog will hold off long enough to reveal the sun setting below the gentle curves of the islands and mountains nestled just beyond Bamfield inlet.
It is difficult to assess precisely what combination of factors makes this concert series so entrancing, but MBTS founder and executive artistic director Christopher Donison certainly recognized that Bamfield, population 200, was the place to make a long-held dream a reality. Since his first visit in 2005 to the very isolated community (accessible only by logging road, private boat or the MV Frances Barkley out of Port Alberni. Donison has slowly seen his vision for a world-class music festival come to life.
I have to confess that I have loved Bamfield ever since my first trip there more than 40 years ago so perhaps that contributes, at least in part, to my enchantment with Music By The Sea. The laid-back atmosphere and the pristine peace and wildness of its far-flung location are a huge draw and are, according to Donison, major factors in the success of the concert series.
There are other components too, not least among them the stunningly beautiful Rix Centre for Ocean Discoveries where the concerts are held. The building features a scallop-shell shaped roof flaring out to the Pacific Ocean, a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass that affords magnificent views of water, mountains and sky as a backdrop to the music, and wonderful acoustics. Wine and other beverages are available prior to the performances and during the breaks, affording patrons the opportunity to relax on the outdoor wrap-around deck at the Rix and take in the loveliness of their surroundings on a fine summer evening. Can there be a more perfect setting for beautiful music?
The music of course, is superb, as it must be in order to attract the many concert-goers who go to considerable trouble to get to Bamfield, and to stay there. Each year every performance is different but includes an eclectic mix of jazz, popular and classical pieces performed by talented young musicians from around the world. We have heard Beatles songs on classical guitar and Gershwin on the piano. Some of the most fun we have had at the concerts is watching as the classical musicians perform in concert with their jazz counterparts. We have been entranced by everything from an English horn to a trio of pianists (including Donison) jamming together – two on the concert Steinway, one on the spoons.
Regardless of the musical genre we never fail to be swept up by the combined beauties surrounding us – we are transported for a few evenings to a unique bit of west coast heaven that draws us back, year after year. The challenges in getting to Bamfield and finding accommodation there seem only a minor issue once Christopher Donison has introduced the first musician of the evening, the sun begins to dip in the sky and the magic of Music By The Sea takes hold.
For a snapshot of the Music By The Sea experience, watch this video: