The Cowichan Consort Orchestra was founded in September 1991. Organized by Robert Fox, John Evans, Joy Ann Bannerman, and Ian Gregory, the first rehearsal took place on October 22,1991 at Woodmere on Maple Bay Road with John Evans as conductor. Bannerman’s initial musician list held 41 local musicians as the Cowichan Valley was ripe for the start of a community orchestra. Fox was the first Manager and laid out the debut concert for April 11th 1992 at Brentwood College featuring the Fauré Requiem sung by the Duncan Choral Society accompanied by the Orchestra with Evans conducting. The following week two daytime school concerts conducted by Bannerman were presented in School District #79.
September 1992 brought Jean-Marie Kent to the podium as Evans moved up-island. At age 23 and fresh with a Masters degree in conducting, she moved the orchestra from its beginnings to a greater depth of repertoire and concert styles. Her passion for each piece was contagious for the orchestra and the audiences. She formed the Cowichan Consort Choir in 1995 so large choral – orchestral works could be performed such as Handel’s Messiah. She began the concerto competition for young local artists which continues each year.
Notable highlights during Kent’s 9 years with the orchestra were the Opera Extravaganza with the Three Divas, Musikaleidoscope with 175 students from School District #79 on stage performing excerpts from classical masterpieces, presenting Menotti’s full opera Amahl and the Night Visitors featuring boy soprano Philippe Granger as Amahl, and Kent’s Finale Concert featuring Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony.
Duncan Frater accepted the conductor position with Kent’s departure to New York City and the orchestra was put in capable hands with his Masters in conducting background as well. Frater commenced the 10th Season with the Consort’s third bi-annual Strauss Masked Ball orchestra fundraiser at Arbutus Ridge Golf and Country Club and four more concerts in the 2001-02 season.
Highlights were the Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue Concert featuring the Consort Choir’s resident accompanist Dwight Siemens, Opera Favourites 2003 Concert featuring soloists Rachel Perkyns, Colleen Ball, Bill Kelly, and Douglas Sharp. Haydn’s Creation with Betty Allison and Ken Lavigne, and a program featuring Allison Arends soprano, offering Mozart followed by Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony.
After nine years with the Consort, Mr Frater is now in Victoria and our 20th Season’s conductor search established Robert Mari as Conductor-Music Director. With the Consort (since 2011), Mr Mari, holding a Masters of Music and Doctorate studies in Orchestral Conducting at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore USA under Frederick Prausnitz and Choral Conducting Studies at UBC under James Fankhouser and VCC under Jon Washburn, continued to delight audiences and the Consort musicians with his exciting and delightful programming. A huge highlight was Verdi’s Requiem with Benjamin Butterfield, Betty Allison, Gary Relyea, and Anne Relyea, performed twice-in Duncan and Nanaimo, with a combined choir of Cow.Consort and Malaspina members. In August 2021, Mr Mari announced his retirement from conducting. We thank him for his dedication and high energy to our Consort’s musical direction.
Erica Phare-Bergh will guest conduct Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass April 23, 2022 and Handel’s Messiah on December 3, 2022. A new Conductor for the Orchestra will hopefully be in place for January 2022 with a possible ‘orchestral only’ concert on March 5 2022. Joy Ann Bannerman will conduct in the interim.
Sue Doughty is designated as Choir Rehearsal Conductor and continues to provide excellent direction to prepare the choir, which she has been a soprano member of, since 1997. Since 1991 Joy Ann Bannerman has assisted as assistant orchestra conductor. Concerts are performed at the Christian Reformed Church or the Cowichan Community Centre Theatre with the fundraiser Strauss Ball at Arbutus Ridge. The Concerto Competition held each year results in a Vancouver Island young musician receiving a chance to perform with the orchestra. The Monday night orchestra and Wednesday evening choir rehearsals are held weekly in Sylvan United Church, Mill Bay. New musicians are welcome.
Performing a widely varied program of music mainly from the classical literature, the orchestra and choir give a fresh challenge to their members with each concert. Wind players can only join when the chairs are available, and string players at a conservatory level grade 6 or higher are all welcome. New choir members are also welcome, especially men, with our season usually running September to May. Vaccine passports and masks are mandatory now, in 2021.
Click Here for the major choral works presented each season since 1991-92’s first season by Choir and Orchestra. Orchestra only concerts, choir only concerts, and smaller choral works with orchestra are not listed. Each year the Consort presents from 3 to 5 concerts.