EXETER – The co-founder of the Bach Music Festival of Canada recently received the highest honour a civilian can achieve in Canada.
Gerald Fagan was named a Member of the Order of Canada in July. In a press release, the Bach Music Festival said the recognition is for Fagan’s “over half a century of music performances across Canada, and his dedication to choral art internationally.”
Fagan co-founded the Bach Music Festival of Canada, based in South Huron, in 2011, and has served as the festival’s volunteer artistic director since. He told the Times-Advocate recently that he was both very humbled and very happy to be made a Member of the Order of Canada. Fagan was quick to credit the people he has worked with over the years, explaining that you don’t receive accolades unless people help you along the way.
The Order of Canada is the latest of many honours Fagan has received during his career, including being made a recipient of the Order of Ontario in 2011 and the Citizen of the Year in London in 1994. During his career, Fagan was artistic director of Fanshawe Chorus London, the Gerald Fagan Singers and the Concert Player Orchestra. He also founded the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, twice conducting the Ontario Youth Choir and directing provincial choirs in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario, as well as conducting choirs from around the world.
He was twice awarded the Ontario Lieutenant-Governor’s Award and has toured internationally.
He said he felt “extreme elation” over his most recent honour.
“It’s beyond comprehension, really,” he told the T-A.
He said that when festival co-founder Friedhelm Hoffmann first spoke to him around 2010 about starting up the Bach Festival, people said it was impossible because nothing like it had ever been done before in the area, but that made Fagan and Hoffmann even more determined. Fagan said Exeter was seen as a good choice to base the festival out of because of its location in the middle of some of the most productive agricultural land in Canada, its proximity to the busy Lake Huron beachfront and its closeness to about 1.5 million people in London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Stratford, Goderich and Sarnia.
More importantly, Fagan said, South Huron has an incredible mix of talented people. He said when the festival’s board of directors first met, there was excitement immediately.
The festival is held every other summer in South Huron, and its fourth will be held next summer. Over the years, it has evolved as it has learned what audiences enjoy. It now incorporates classical, jazz and country music, as well as holding a major youth program.
Fagan said one of the reasons for the festival’s success is the local support, including from South Huron council and Trivitt Memorial Anglican Church, the latter which helped get the festival started with monetary support and continues to allow the festival to hold its performances at the church.
“Without Trivitt and South Huron council, we never could have started,” Fagan said, adding Mayor Maureen Cole, Deputy Mayor David Frayne and Coun. Wayne DeLuca have been great supporters.
He also credited the festival’s board of directors, local businesses and volunteers, as well as festival manager Jean Jacobe, who co-ordinates it all.
Fagan and the Bach Festival are already busily working towards the next festival, to be held in the summer of 2017, and changes are afoot — unlike past festivals, which were a week-long, next year’s will be held over two, four-day weekends on the first two weekends in July.
Fagan said the reason for switching to consecutive long weekends (Thursday to Sunday) is that the Bach Festival discovered that mid-week concerts are difficult for out-of-towners to attend because of the driving involved.
In addition, to mark Canada’s 150th birthday next summer, the Bach Festival will celebrate Canada, and all the performers will be from Canada, with most of them from Ontario. The closing gala performance will be called “Our Home and Native Land,” and the festival has commissioned six Canadian composers (including Hensall’s Jeff Smallman) to each write five minutes of music. The pieces will each be separated by a “prominent” narrator, Fagan said. The show will be scored for 200 minutes and will include a mass choir, symphony orchestra, children’s choir and four internationally known Canadian soloists.
In addition, Fagan said the festival will feature the Chor Amica and The Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra, while he hopes to see the popular Youth Arts Program expanded.