It is a magical blend of world class music, wonderful people and a magnificent setting.
In 1990, soprano Donna Bennett and pianist / composer Brian Finley were enjoying the early stages of international careers. Having lived and worked for several years in Europe, they returned to Donna’s hometown of Campbellford, Ontario to start a family.
Inspired by the talented and energetic community, the couple shared their love of music making by performing and hosting events at local venues. They also began teaching advanced level music students and leading the music program at St. John’s United Church in Campbellford.
It was the exciting success of Jesus Christ Superstar, a fully-staged community event, that galvanized the support for a permanent performance organization.
In 1999, The Westben Arts Festival Theatre was formed as a not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating, enriching and integrating professionals and amateurs in musical projects and educational activities. Run by a Board of Directors, Westben received its charitable status in 2000.
Brimming with enthusiasm, Donna and Brian led the young organization in building a new concert hall to reflect the co-founders’ multi-faceted artistic vision. This new facility must be acoustically suited for classical music, accessible for audiences, in both comfort and style, and harmonious with the surrounding farmland.
Didier Schvarts of Lakefield’s Sun Wood Company took on the challenge. The result is a stunning timber-frame structure. An acoustical marvel, the concert facility is beautiful in its grand simplicity. Creatively indigenous to its pastoral setting, the audience-friendly venue has come to be known affectionately as The Barn. Construction on The Barn in 2000 culminated in a spectacular gala opening on Canada Day of that same year.
Concerts at The Barn 2000 featured 70 internationally acclaimed Canadian artists in 10 concerts over 5 weekends.
The following year, the season was augmented by eight performances of Artistic Director Brian Finley’s opera-musical Samson starring Mark DuBois, Donna Bennett and a cast and crew of over 200 Philistines and Israelites.
In 2002, Westben added its Autumn Feast for the Ears, a festival in late September which celebrated the region’s beautiful autumnal colours. Finley’s musical adaptation of A Westben Christmas Carol in 2002 led the way to further winter activities at The Barn.
In 2005 Westben presented the original musical Rapunzel by Brian Finley and Ken Tizzard and in 2006 the two created The Little Match Girl Messiah and in 2010 The Selfish Giant. In 2008 Brian Finley and Michael Nitsch created The Magic Ornament and in 2012 Westben premiered John Burge and Eugene Benson’s opera The Auction.
The tradition of exceptional performances in an extraordinary setting continues at Westben in 2015 with the opening of the Clock Tower Cultural Centre in downtown Campbellford. This newly renovated historic building is the new home of the Westben year round Box Office, music library, costume storage and rehearsal rooms with an intimate performance space.
Now with an array of year round performances Westben presents 51 performances in 2015 at The Barn, The Clock Tower, The Aron Theatre and other venues in the area. The Westben Jazz Fringe Festival debuts in 2015 with performances at restaurants in Warkworth, Hastings and Campbellford and the Clock Tower Cultural Centre. The Barn will host 34 performances and over 200 guest artists from across Canada and Europe. Marie-Josee Lord, Steward Goodyear, The Good Lovelies, Jane Bunnett and others appear at The Barn in 2015. Some of Westben’s Artists from past seasons have included Gerald Finley, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Adrienne Pieczonka, Andre Laplante, Robert Silverman, Louise Lortie, Angela Hewitt, The Swingle Singers, Cadence, Oliver Jones, Peter Appleyard, Quartetto Gelato, Nethaniel Dett Chorale, Elmer Iseler Singers and many other wonderful artists.
Westben is looking forward to presenting many more performances in the future featuring everything from Bach to Broadway favourites, opera, jazz, fiddler, comedy and world music.