Indian River Festival touts a busy schedule of nearly 25 concerts from June to September each year (except, of course, this past one). But it wasn’t always that way—after all, the Festival started as a mere rag-tag team of music lovers trying to keep their beloved St. Mary’s alive. Like many grassroots organizations, IRF started small—only a few shows spread throughout the summer. However, there was one flagstone event that allowed us to gain momentum and grow into the full-fledged series IRF is today: Midsummer Magic, a concert weekend celebrating Canadian music. If you’ve been to a Midsummer Magic performance, then this will be a walk down memory lane for you. If not, let IRF Artistic Director Robert Kortgaard explain how one of our summer’s most anticipated musical events came to be.
Tell us a bit about your history with Indian River Festival.
I first came to IRF in 1998 to do a concert with my dear friend, New Brunswick soprano Wendy Nielsen. The Halifax CBC Radio Music producer, Adrian Hoffman, had arranged for us to do the concert, then stay on for a few days to record a CD. He knew of the spectacular acoustics and beauty of Historic St Mary’s, and really wanted to record the CD there. (Evidently, the CD “Forgotten Melodies, Forgotten Loves” was nominated for multiple ECMA and Juno awards). This was the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship with Adrian and the CBC, and the concept of Midsummer Magic grew out of this partnership.
The following year, our dear Mary Crane, who was instrumental in getting music events happening at Historic St Mary’s by founding IRF in 1996, asked Adrian if he could recommend someone to work with her and others in the area to develop the festival. So, Mary and I were encouraged by Adrian to meet in Halifax, which I will always remember fondly as the beginning of a wonderful journey that continues today.
How did Midsummer Magic first begin?
As the relationship with CBC Radio Music developed, Adrian challenged me to create programmes of interesting music, using top Canadian musicians, that he could pitch to the national network as important classical music content from Atlantic Canada. It seemed expedient to gather a group of musicians together for a number of days to do what was initially four consecutive nights of concerts which utilized multiple instruments and vocalists, performing repertoire that they excelled at, but also pushing them beyond their comfort zone into different types of music.
A typical Midsummer Magic concert would be created around a quartet of string players, a couple of pianists, a couple vocalists, perhaps some woodwind players—all instruments were put to work over the years. Repertoire would range from core classical chamber music one night, to opera hits, to cabaret and musical theatre, even to jazz and blues. I believe that the Indian River Festival Chorus began to develop in those early days of Midsummer Magic, and I know they were used to great effect. They are still going strong as a very important part of the IRF community.
After several years we went from four to three nights of MSM. Then, as the festival grew to the size that it has been the last several years, stretched over several months, we kind of lost the thread in terms of the concept of MSM and have been doing just Friday and Sunday concerts throughout the summers.
Why the name “Midsummer Magic”?
I have no recollection of how we came up with the title, Midsummer Magic. I believe we just felt that since this four-night “weekend” (Thursday through Sunday) was starting to take on a life of its own, and be a real draw for audiences to come to immerse themselves in the glory of live music in our spectacular venue, we had better give it a name! It certainly did take place in mid-summer each year (late July/early August)… and it did produce some magic results… so I suppose that’s how the name came about.
Any plans for the future of Midsummer Magic?
There is certainly some nostalgia arising around the old MSM format, and we are exploring the idea of a resurrection for 2021. Of course, we have no way of knowing what will be allowed to do, and how we will shape a proud season of great live music at IRF in 2021 given the global pandemic. However, it is one of the many things we are keeping in mind to make sure we are doing the most we can to provide opportunities for the hard-hit music community to hit the stage vigorously again, and provide the much needed nourishment of the live concert experience for our beloved IRF audiences.
Written by: Dani MacDonald