The symphony show on the legislature lawn brings out tens of thousands

The Inner Harbor was packed with people on Sunday night enjoying the music of La Nef, the Steven Page Trio and the Victoria Symphony and the spectacle of a fireworks show. If there were concerns about low turnout, they quickly evaporated.

Tens of thousands braved the hot late July Sunday for the final day of Splash Around Town, the Victoria Symphony’s reinterpreted version of Symphony Splash, performed on land rather than on a barge floating in Victoria Harbour.

Attendees set up umbrellas, flocked to shady spots, or simply sat under the heat of the sun on the lawns of BC’s Parliament House to hear powerful folk songs performed by La Nef, a Montreal-based sea shanty ensemble whose traditional folk performances include both the Loneliness as well as loneliness evoke joie de vivre at sea centuries ago.

The Sea Shanties were followed at 7.30pm by the Steven Page Trio and the Victoria Symphony. And in the tradition of the Symphony Splash, the evening ended with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (this time shortened to the booming parts), fireworks and bagpipes.

After a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, a stage insurance issue meant a shift from sea to land for the event’s return, and some mourned the format of past festivals, which have seen huge crowds gather around the Inner Harbor and in various flotation devices on the Water to see the show, performed on an industrial barge-turned-floating stage.

“It’s a different perspective, but quite impressive,” said Matthew White, CEO of Victoria Symphony. “By the end of the night people will be able to look up [legislature] building and this big stage. I think they will really like it.”

Sara Plumpton set up a canopy tent for her family on the Legislative House lawn on Sunday. In 30 years of in-person Symphony Splash events, she had only missed three or four.

“I love the live music, I love that they make standards that everyone recognizes. I love that they end with the 1812 Overture while also firing off fireworks,” she said.

“I love a live experience. I’m so thankful they’re getting back up and doing it. But I want it on the barge,” she said, laughing.

Plumpton’s mum Susan, who was under the tent in the middle of a Scrabble game, enjoyed watching the upbeat music being brought to the children at the event.

“It’s really nice to see how the kids react to the music,” she said. “The children react so naturally and the fluid movements of a child to the music – and their interpretation – it’s just wonderful. You sit in your chair and think I wish I could still do that!”

Aside from the new venue, the festival expanded from one day to five and included a series of free performances at the Cameron Bandshell in Beacon Hill Park, where music lovers enjoyed a diverse ensemble of musicians from outside the symphony world, including Oji-Cree indie-pop rock artist Aysanabee, Afro-Cuban pianist Pablo Cardenas, Balinese ensemble Gamelan Bike Bike and Romanian folk group Steluţa.

White said it’s rare for a performance to draw fewer than 300 or 400 people. Around 900 people turned out for the Celtic Kitchen Party with La Nef members at Cameron Bandshell on Saturday night.

“We’ve put a really diverse offering on the table this year and it’s been really exciting to see how many people have turned up,” White said. “That’s actually what the whole festival was about. It tried to remind people of the joy and community that comes when people come together to hear great music.”

The Legislative performances were a capstone of the revamped festival and the new stage location did not deter Penny and Chris Philpotts, who live in James Bay and attended Symphony Splash before COVID-19. They said this year, for the first time, they managed to put their chairs in a good spot for the show.

“That seems to be working well,” said Penny. “We were amazed when we came here. We didn’t think there would be anyone here, but it just fills up like it used to.”

White said the Victoria Symphony is undecided on where next year’s event will be held.

“If we feel like it was a great success, maybe we’ll do it again. If you look at the grass here, you can see how much space there is, and it’s an opportunity for a really big crowd to get involved,” he said. “I think one big thing about a great festival is that it should feel inclusive and accessible.”

ngrossman@timescolonist.com

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