Festival 500, a biennial international choral festival held in St. John’s, is currently celebrating its ninth festival. This year, it opened on July 3 at the Arts and Culture Centre and will close on July 10 with its grand finale at Mile One Centre. The festival was developed in 1997 as part of the Cabot celebrations, and has since become a renowned, world-class choral festival that draws both tourists and attention to Newfoundland and Labrador.
The festival is non-competitive in nature and aims to enable cross-cultural sharing. It invites participants from all over the world to the province to experience its culture and to showcase theirs. This year, there are groups from Angola, Gambia, South Africa, Ireland, and from all across Canada and the United States participating in the festival.
“We’re loving festival 500,” said Nadine Hébert, director of Les Jeunes Chanteurs d’Acadie—a choir from Greater Moncton, New Brunswick. “it’s just so well organized and there are great presenters and choirs.”
While taking in the view from Signal Hill, the children from the choir switched seamlessly between French and English while chatting excitedly. Many of them were travelling for the very first time, and they had a very positive impression of Newfoundland.
“It’s a wonderful experience for the kids and for myself, to listen to such high caliber choirs and musicians. It’s a great sharing experience amongst the conductors because they’re so open and willing to share their music with us. It’s a great opportunity to discover their music,” said Hébert.
Another French speaking group in the festival comes from a little further away— Belgium. Witloof Bay, a featured guest group in the festival, is a Belgian a capella group featuring five singers and one beat boxer.
Witloof Bay’s concert on Sunday night at the Arts and Culture Centre marked their first official concert in North America. Their set included French songs, jazz standards, well known pop songs, and a lot of humour.
One audience member was overheard saying that the show was “sensational,” and the group received two standing ovations.
Witloof Bay will be performing in the grand finale which takes place on Wednesday along with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, the Festival 500 Adult and Youth choirs, and David Pomeroy— a renowned operatic singer hailing from Newfoundland.
Festival 500 brings positive attention to Newfoundland while also internationalizing it. There is plenty to see and do during the festival for participants and attendees alike, and makes for a great cultural experience.