With the first event of the 2019 PRISMA Festival just a week away, organizers are hoping to reach more attendees than ever with a wide array of concerts and musical experiences.
A summer pop-up orchestra has played annually in Powell River since 2004, and since 2013 under the PRISMA banner, but every year seems to attract new patrons from the community who are only just discovering the festival for the very first time. For some it has been out-of-town guests who encouraged their first trip to the symphony while others have bought their tickets to a performance at the Evergreen Theatre after testing the waters at the free and more informal PRISMA on the Beach celebration in a prior year.
“I’m still amazed at the potential of Powell River, this ideal place where nature and culture meet each other right there at the ocean,” says artistic director Arthur Arnold. “And when I look at the returning students, and the returning audience and increasing attendance, something must be going right.”
PRISMA may not boast the participant scale of International Choral Kathaumixw or the adrenaline rush of Powell River Logger Sports, but it does offer the sort of orchestral spectacle and esteemed artistry that one would typically have to travel widely to enjoy.
“Especially for a community of this size to have something like this going on surprises people every time they come,” says longtime guest artist Paul Beauchesne. “So many people are engaged and interested in what the students are doing and what their experiences are like while they’re here in Powell River.”
Beauchesne is no stranger to the local music scene. After spending his final two years of high school at Max Cameron Secondary School, he embarked on a career as a professional tubist that has taken him everywhere from KwaZulu-Natal to Victoria. As one of PRISMA’s longest-serving instructors, he has seen the festival grow exponentially in recent years.
“The level seems to get better and better,” he says. “It’s such fun to get together with these great musicians from all around the world and make music.”
Aside from symphony performances, PRISMA also offers the chance to hear both students and professionals in a chamber music setting, in which the instrumentation is one to a part as opposed to entire sections playing in unison.
This year, organizers have retooled PRISMA’s daily recitals into something more chamber-centric. Now known as Limelight Concerts, these short performances will give audiences a glimpse into the minds and music rooms of the festival’s visiting artists. Students and instructors will form small ensembles on an ad hoc basis and perform the things that excite them the most, with a different lineup for each of the 19 spots available.
“It’s going to be like an x-ray of the festival,” says Arnold.
One of these ensembles will feature the PRISMA bassists, led by Mark Morton of the Lubbock Symphony. In recent years, it has become a tradition for the section to visit patrons in the lobby for a Beatles sing-along before each of the weekend orchestral concerts. This year, they will add an official gig to their calendar, alongside other recitals by Beauchesne, pianist Edwin Kim, as well as brass, wind and string quintets.
According to Arnold, one of the greatest thrills of music happens when those in the audience and those on stage begin to feed off of each other’s energy. As the number of PRISMA attendees increases, so does the festival’s ability to facilitate this kind of magic.
“What we do is only possible because Powell River wants it, because people come from afar to be part of it, and because there are government agencies and sponsors and donors who believe in it,” says Arnold. “And it all takes place in a good-sounding theatre, which not every small town has available. We are very lucky.”
The PRISMA Festival runs from June 17 to 29 with seven evening performances, one matinée, 20 masterclasses, 19 Limelight Concerts and a host of affordable opportunities to experience live music in Powell River.
For a full schedule and ticket information, go to prismafestival.com.