Five years ago, Vancouver musician Colin MacDonald was researching the Dutch saxophone player Raaf Hekkema when he made a discovery.
"He had other projects on the go and I saw mention of their group Calefax," MacDonald says.
Formed in 1985, that group was credited with pioneering a new instrumental ensemble: the reed quintet.
"I looked them up to see what they were about and I saw they were offering their arrangements on their website. I thought, 'I need to try playing some of their stuff.' As a classical saxophone player, I don't get to play with classical wind players. It was another chance to explore some chamber music," he adds.
So MacDonald, an alto sax player, set out to find the right group of reed players to join him, including oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and bass clarinet.
"It worked from the start," he says. "It was a good sound and a good blend of instruments ... It's nice to do it in a chamber music setting where it's so concentrated. Also, it's picking the right people. Playing in that focused environment, the personalities have to mesh."
The personalities that make up Cascadia Reed Quintet include Marea Chernoff on oboe and English horn, Christopher Lee on clarinet, Olivia Martin on bassoon, and A.K. Coope on bass clarinet.
"We started off mostly doing school shows around Vancouver. UBC, Kwantlen, Douglas College, Capilano, we have to rotate through those every few years so we don't do the same thing over and over again," MacDonald says, with a laugh. "We've been spreading out and researching different chamber music programs within driving distance."
To that end, many Vancouver chamber musicians were happy to have a new place to perform when the Whistler Chamber Music Society formed back in October 2016, he says.
MacDonald performed as part of its series last year with another group, Saxophilia Saxophone Quintet, and other members of the Cascadia Reed Quintet have also played in Whistler with their other projects.
"There are so few places to play here, when something new comes up, people jump on it," he says. "And it's so close [to Vancouver]."
Small towns around the province have also proven to have some of the most enthusiastic audiences, he adds.
"We've played chamber music series in Kamloops and on Galiano Island. The smaller communities are great because they don't see these small chamber groups come up, so they're appreciative," he says.
While individual members have played in the resort, the Cascadia Reed Quintet is making its Whistler debut on Sunday, Oct. 6—kicking off the Whistler Chamber Music Society's third season.
"With the reed quintet people may not see those instruments up close often, but they're all standard instruments for an orchestra," MacDonald says. "They'll know how that sounds, but [they'll see] what that looks like up close ... With this series it's great because you really interact and there's a question-and-answer period to answer their burning questions."
The group will play one arrangement from Calefax, but the rest will be original compositions and arrangements. "We've got a real mix of historical periods as well as style of compositions—things that show off individual instruments, but [also] how chamber music really works in a small setting," MacDonald says. "We like chatting, introducing each piece with the audience, setting it up, [explaining] little things to listen for in the music."
Catch The Cascadia Reed Quintet at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults (35 and over) and $15 for youth.
Get them at whistlerchambermusic.ca, at the Whistler Museum, or at the door.