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Landmark Victoria organ in the spotlight at this year’s Pacific Baroque Festival

Annual event kicks off Feb. 15 at Christ Church Cathedral
Mark McDonald, the soloist organist of The Grand Tour at the Pacific Baroque Festival. (Courtesy Christ Church Cathedral)

The Pacific Baroque Festival returns with a grand opening involving a musical tour through Europe starring the Christ Church Cathedral organ, a landmark of Western Canada.

“The organ in the cathedral is actually quite special. It’s not only the largest organ on Vancouver Island, with just over 4,000 pipes but its also quite new in terms of what organs would be in terms of when it was built,” said Mark McDonald, the soloist organist of the opening night. McDonald is also the assistant director of music at Christ Cathedral and curated the music for the opening show.

The organ was built in 2005 with incredible precision and craftsmanship, emulating building practices from hundreds of years ago. Costing more than $1.5 million, this masterpiece incorporates thousands of various parts – made from mahogany, ox-bone, padouk wood, ebony, white oak, rosewood, and more – all put together to create an unforgettable, resonant sound.

The concert on Feb. 15 is titled the Grand Tour, and takes the audience on a journey of music from the English, French, German, and Italian schools, including works by Handel, Muffat and Vivaldi. It’s meant to musically mimic the historical ‘grand tour’ tradition where upper-class Europeans travelled through Europe to visit the major cultural centres of Paris and Rome.

McDonald will play on two organs: the grand organ, that stands at 40 feet tall behind the audience who will watch the projection on a screen, and on a smaller one with the ensemble on stage.

The opening performance fits the theme of this year’s festival – music for distracted times.

“In thinking about our emergence from ‘distracted times’ back to our favourite concert halls, I was reflecting on previous eras of change and disruption and how music-making was affected,” said festival artistic director Marc Destrube in a press release.

Destrube chose music composed during the period of “chaos and repression” in England that followed the execution of Charles I in 1649 and “the time of artistic freedom and prosperity that followed the restoration of the monarchy with the reign of the arts-loving Charles II.” In a way, the shows are a homage to hope and prosperity following chaos, as 18th century London became a cosmopolitan centre of cultural activity after that time.

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McDonald will perform at the two shows at the Christ Church Cathedral (Feb. 15 and 19). The week’s ensemble will also have two violins, two viols, lute, harpsichord, organ and the soprano voice of Arwen Myers.

Other shows of the Pacific Baroque Festival include The King’s Fiddler (Feb. 16, Alix Goolden Performance Hall), A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times (Feb. 17, Alix Goolden Performance Hall), Foreign Inspiration - Visitors From Across the Channel (Feb. 18, Alix Goolden Performance Hall), Choral Evensong - Music Divine (Feb. 19, Christ Church Cathedral) and more.

Single tickets are $30 and festival passes $100. For more information, go to

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Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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