My Trip To Casse-Tête!

Thompson River
Thompson River

Woody Allen said that 80% of success in life is just showing up. I put that theorem to the test two weeks ago, setting off on an epic, six-day, 2000-kilometre Voyage of Discovery up into the interior of BC and back again as part of the Canadian Music Centre’s BC Engagement Project.

The mission of our Engagement Project is simple – to make the CMC more active and more visible in more parts of BC than ever before.

One goal of the project is to partner with a leading BC winery to launch a new, Canadian music festival in the Okanagan next Spring. To get there I drove the spectacular Coquihalla Highway through the Cascade Mountains. Named for the Coquihalla River whose route it traces for more than 60 miles, the highway crests at the Coquihalla Pass, 1200 metres above sea level.

At Merritt, Highway 97 heads east, crossing the forested uplands of the Thompson Plateau, cresting at Pennask Summit more than 1700 metres above sea level, the second-highest pass of any highway in BC, then descends into the Okanagan Highlands, crossing the lake into Kelowna on the William R. Bennett Bridge.

Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, BC
Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, BC

While there I met with a number of wineries, including Summerhill Pyramid Winery, perched above the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake just south of Kelowna. One of the only organic, certified biodynamic wineries in the Okanagan, Summerhill draws on nearly a dozen different proprietary vineyards to produce gorgeous, champagne-method sparkling wines as well as both red and white non-sparkling wines that continually win international competitions. Their Cipes Brut has won more awards than any other wine in Canada, including a Double Gold Prize at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition, and their 2012 ‘OM’ Organic Meritage won Gold Medal at the 2015 InterVin International Wine Awards.

Founded by owners Stephen and Wendy Cipes in partnership with Winemaker/Viticulturist Eric von Krosigk, Summerhill is also home to our nation’s only exhibit of First Contact between indigenous peoples and early European settlers — featuring Mallam House, a 19th century log house, and Makwala Kekuli, a replica of the sacred earth house used as a winter home by local First Nations  for centuries before.

Mallem House
Mallam House

The CEO of Summerhill — Ezra Cipes, son of Stephen and Wendy — is also a published songwriter and performer, and almost as passionate about music as he is about their wines and the living soil they care for so ardently.

When I met the winery founder, his father, Stephen Cipes, he asked me if I knew why we clinked glasses when we toasted with wine. He told me the reason we do that is because the only sense not engaged when we drink wine is the sense of hearing. He told me that’s the reason bringing Canadian music to Canadian wine country is so important. I’m hoping to be back in Kelowna next May to launch that new music festival and will keep you posted on our plans as they proceed.

PHOTO 11
Okanagan Lake

The next morning, as we were leaving Kelowna, we were greeted by a large imposing sign posted at the foot of Highway 97: “HIGH MOUNTAIN ROADWAY / EXPECT SUDDEN WEATHER CHANGES.”

It seemed laughable when the weather outside was 16 degrees. But as we climbed to 1700 metres, the temperature started plummeting rapidly, from 16 degrees to 3 below 0 in less than an hour, engulfing us in a fierce snowstorm. At the end of June! Thankfully we made it over the peak of the pass before the road started freezing and the snow gradually turned back into rain as we descended the mountains into Merritt.

Horstings Farm
Horstings Farm

Nature continued reminding us of her awesome power along the way, big weather a dramatic backdrop to the Big Country we drove through. At Merritt we turned north again, only to run into a dramatic storm replete with violent lightning, thunder and a torrential downpour that reduced visibility to a few feet, creating pools of water on the freeway that kept grabbing the car’s tires as we drove through the storm. But we kept on, grabbing lunch to go from Horstings Farm just north of Cache Creek.

Prince George Sunset
Prince George Sunset

At the end of a 700 kilometre drive we reached our destination, Prince George, Capital of the North, where the great Nechako and Fraser rivers meet. Founded by Simon Fraser in the homeland of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, whose name means ‘people of the confluence of the two rivers’, Prince George was established in 1807 as a small fur trading post called Fort George.

Combined Nechako & Fraser Rivers
Combined Nechako & Fraser Rivers

I made that trek to attend the Casse-Tête Festival, an experimental music festival founded four years ago by Jeremy Stewart, General Manager of the Prince George Symphony Orchestra. I was there to present the festival with CMC BC’s first-ever Certificate of Excellence for their extraordinary contribution to Canadian music.

CMC BC Director presents Casse-Tête Festival Founder Jeremy Stewart with CMC Certificate of Excellence
CMC BC Director presents Casse-Tête Festival Founder Jeremy Stewart with CMC Certificate of Excellence (Photo: Micah Green)

This year the festival included a highly-moving programme called ‘DEJA-VOUS’ by Victoria Soprano Cathy Fern-Lewis and cellist Marina Hasselberg, including ‘Messages by Hand’: Five Postcards by Victoria CMC composer Christopher Reiche. Christopher is also heading up the CMC’s new Victoria Creative Hub, located in the Victoria Conservatory of Music library, another recent achievement of our BC Engagement Project.

Composer Rodney Sharman, Cellist Ramina Hasselberg and Soprano Cathy Fern-Lewis
Composer Rodney Sharman, Cellist Marina Hasselberg and Soprano Cathy Fern-Lewis

DEJA-VOUS also included CMC composer Rudolf Komorous’ Cold Mountain Songs’, and Vancouver-based CMC composer Mark Hand’s ‘Canto’. And Rodney Sharman led a performance of Martin Bartlett’s ‘Five Directions’, both of whom are also CMC composers.

One more rounded out the bill — Francois Houle deconstructed improvisation itself in a tour de force that explored every ability of human, clarinet and electronics, viscerally physical in its overwhelming impact on the audience.

Great room for improvisation!
Great room for improvisation!

On Sunday, I found myself improvising, (as did my husband, Tom, who took most of the photographs illustrating this article). Making music for the first time since I stopped playing violin at the age of 22 was all the more intimidating as I found myself in the company of such an extraordinary group of musicians — Cathy Fern Lewis, Rodney Sharman, and Prince George Symphony Music Director José Delgado-Guevara. But make music we did, thanks to Cathy’s inspiration and I found it profoundly moving that this journey, which for me was an exploration of my home province, led also to a rediscovery of the joy of making music itself.

Congratulations and thanks to founder Jeremy Stewart, and to the amazing artists and musicians he assembled to produce such an excellent happening, and such an epic journey of discovery!

Thompson River
Thompson River