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Gala performance marks 20 years

The final encore of the Coast Recital Society's gala event Jan. 30 with bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu and pianist Malcolm Martineau could not have sustained a sweeter note for artistic director Allan Crane.

The final encore of the Coast Recital Society's gala event Jan. 30 with bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu and pianist Malcolm Martineau could not have sustained a sweeter note for artistic director Allan Crane. Three days later, he was still exulting about the performance's high quality. The 27-year-old Samoan, Lemalu, whom Crane calls "astonishing," ripped through selections of lieder from Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann in German, changed the pace with some witty vernacular songs from the French composer Francis Poulenc and closed with a lively round of English songs including A Shropshire Lad from George Butterworth and lyrics by Shakespeare to the music of Roger Quilter. The performers excelled as a combination. But the pianist, Martineau, one of the greatest in the world, held the audience in thrall. "When you're that good, the singers are all wanting you," remarks Crane. "Lemalu is lucky to have him." After 20 years of bringing concerts and performances to the Sunshine Coast, Crane will hang up his tuxedo this April when he hands the reins over to new artistic director and current CRS president Frances Heinsheimer Wainwright.Crane is worn out, he says, and would like to spend more time writing and attending to his 10,000 album record collection. The society is on firm footing, says treasurer Ross Brougham, with support from its series subscribers and many local sponsors. "We're all music lovers," Brougham says. "This is the third gala and each one exceeds the previous one." Curiously, the first concert series got its start because of the demise of ferry service.In 1984, a music-loving Crane lived on the Sunshine Coast at a time when the ferries cut back their evening service; he was introduced to the 9 p.m. curfew which meant no more visits to the Vancouver Opera without staying overnight. It was about that same time he met an 18-year-old Ofra Harnoy in Toronto. The young cellist was poised for success but had not yet become well known. Her father, then her agent, agreed that Harnoy could perform on the Coast during her scheduled visit to the Vancouver Symphony as long as she could rehearse by playing the same concerto. Crane agreed to organize the concert and booked the Twilight Theatre (now Gibsons Cinema). Harnoy drew a full house and the Countryside Concerts were born. Crane's memories of that first 1984/85 season are undimmed. Crane left for Japan during the 1989/90 series because he was singing with the Vancouver Bach Choir, and they were given an opportunity to be part of a mega production of Aida that would give six performances on tour in Tokyo. Crane fell in love with Japan immediately, spent three years there, and returned with his new wife, Hiroko. The late Louise Baril had taken over the concert series in his absence and it had prospered. At that point, Vancouver concert management agent George Zukerman made an offer. He had down time in the 1994 schedule of the Shostakovich String Quartet. Could they be accommodated on the Coast for a week to give concerts at a nominal price? Crane jumped at the chance, and in co-operation with other arts groups, the Coast Recital Society was founded. Not everything went smoothly. Over the years, a flurry of controversy surrounded the acquisition of a concert piano, an expensive but necessary instrument to the series' existence. "If you want an eminent pianist, you must have a major piano," says Crane, who is adamant that the purchase of the Steinway D Concert Grand (now living at the Raven's Cry Theatre) was the single biggest factor in their success. Even those who have clashed with him on the subject of pianos acknowledge that 20 years after the first Harnoy concert, Crane has been the mainstay of the series. His successor, Wainwright, holds the same artistic values. Things will evolve, she promises, but the standards and level of quality will not change. Wainwright was born in New York City but married a Canadian and spent many years as the senior music producer for CBC Radio in Montreal, responsible for the CBC McGill Concert Series, among other programming innovations. After early retirement in 1997, she and her husband moved the Coast. She was excited to find a Coast Recital Society brochure at Talewind Books. "One of the directors told me there was a meeting the next day. I went and within 20 minutes I was on the board," she said.Wainwright praises Crane's vision, tenacity and inspiration. He never compromises quality, she says. She plans to do the same.