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Festival 500 began in 1997 as part of the Cabot 500 Celebrations, a series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of John Cabot's arrival in Bonavista, Newfoundland in the year 1497. The inaugural festival was planned to coincide with the anniversary visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who attended the gala opening concert in June 1997.
The festival invites choirs from all around the world (33 countries as of 2009), who must send audition tapes and subsequently be invited to attend. During the day, the choirs attend workshops, clinics and master-classes, as well as perform for free at random places throughout the city, including the airport, hotel lobbies and churches. Concerts in the Afternoon and The World of Music concert series are both concerts open to the public, during which up to four choirs perform individually, then combine at the end for two to three pieces led by one of the invited conductors.
The festival concludes with the Grande Finale, a massive concert held at Mile One Centre. During the concert, there are two massed-choir projects, one involving all youth choirs and the other with the adult choirs. Both are led by one of the two invited conductors and are accompanied by the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. The final act of the finale is the Guest Artist, usually one of the main local draws to the festival.
Since 1997, there have been more than 10,000 participants from 38 countries, 22 U.S. States and 11 Canadian Provinces / Territories.
In 1999, the festival introduced The Phenomenon of Singing, a week-long academic symposium as a prelude to the choral festival. The symposium was designed to address a variety of aspects of singing and the human voice including artistic, physiological, cultural, sociological, historical, pedagogical, psychological, creative/compositional.
The 2011 Symposium differs from previous years because it will overlap starting on the 10th of July rather than starting after the festival has finished.
Past guest artists
- Club for Five (2009)
- Anúna (2007)
- Rajaton (2001, 2003, 2005)
- The King's Singers (1997)
- Witloof Bay (2013)
Past invited conductors
Corner Brook-Festival 500
The City of Corner Brook on the West Coast of the Island is also the host of a biannual Festival which is on a smaller scale than the one held in St. John's. It usually consists of two concerts, one featuring individual groups, and the other featuring the two massed choirs (Children's Massed Choir & Adult Massed Choir)
For 2011 the dates of the festival are July 6 to July 13. One of the feature performers is the Finnish group Rajaton who will be performing songs by ABBA. The final gala performance will be at Mile One Centre on July 13.
Past guest artists - Corner Brook
- Linda Tillery Cultural Heritage Choir (2009)
- AC Rock (2007)
- Madrigia (2005)
- Rajaton (2003)