The first festival, organized by Nicholas Goldschmidt, was held in the summer of 1958 in the Orpheum Theatre, the Georgia Auditorium, and the Hotel Vancouver Ballroom and included orchestral concerts, chamber music recitals, a major choral work (the Verdi Requiem), an opera (Don Giovanni), a drama (Lister Sinclair's The World of the Wonderful Dark, premiere), and an international film festival. Artists included the singers Pierrette Alarie, Maureen Forrester, George London, Lois Marshall, Aksel Schiøtz, Léopold Simoneau, and Joan Sutherland, the pianist Glenn Gould, the conductors André Previn and William Steinberg, the mime artist Marcel Marceau, and the Oscar Peterson Trio. Two $1,000 prizes (one for orchestral music, one for chamber music) were offered to Canadian composers by BMI Canada and CAPAC, the prize-winning works to be given their first public performances at this festival. (Only one winner was named, Paul McIntyre, for his cantata Judith, and the prize was awarded solely by CAPAC.)
The second festival (1959) was even more ambitious. The City of Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments provided financial support. A new hall (the Queen Elizabeth Theatre) facilitated a broadened concert schedule. Three works were commissioned: String Quartet No. 3 by Harry Somers, for premiere by the Hungarian String Quartet; Tryptique, an orchestral work by Pierre Mercure; and Four Songs for high voice and orchestra by Robert Turner. The festival also presented an array of attractions which included Harry Belafonte, the Cassenti Players, the Montreal Bach Choir, Anna Russell, the Takarazuka Dance Theatre, and the conductors Herbert von Karajan and Bruno Walter, who appeared as guests with the festival orchestra. In an attempt to reduce financial losses the third festival (1960) was shorter and the programs were of a more general nature. Stellar attractions were the Peking Opera, symphony concerts conducted by William Steinberg and Carlos Chávez, two performances by the New York Philharmonic (conducted by Leonard Bernstein), the Kingston Trio, Glenn Gould, and Kerstin Meyer.
The fourth season (1961) included appearances by Les Disciples de Massenet, the New York City Ballet, the Red Army Chorus, and the soprano Irmgard Seefried. There was opera again (the North American premiere of Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, with Russell Oberlin and Mary Costa) and a large increase in pop content in the programming generally. Despite this, the festival incurred a considerable deficit and also was harshly treated by the critics. In the CMJ (Autumn 1961) Kenneth Winters called it 'a week of festival in a month of mediocrity' and described the increasing pop-concert bias of the programming as 'a capitulation of patience, foresight and courage in the face of crude economics.'
It was not until early in 1962 that sufficient funds (donated by individuals, the city, and the province and raised partly through the efforts of radio station CHQM) guaranteed a fifth festival. The 1962 program featured the Comédie Francaise, the Stratford Festival production of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In addition, the Vancouver Opera presented The Magic Flute, and audiences heard concerts and recitals by the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, the Juilliard Quartet, and the duo-pianists Vronsky and Babin. This was the last season in which an international film festival was included within the festival. Because of the continuing large deficit, a suspension of the 1963 festival was considered, and a new policy was adopted. It was decided that future festivals would be constructed around themes reflecting the life of countries from which Canada had derived its cultural heritage. The provincial government offered more money (on a matching basis), and fund-raising concerts were presented in the winter of 1962-3.
The sixth festival (1963), on a British theme, presented several plays and The Best of Spring Thaw. In the winter of 1963, the festival brought the Moscow Circus to Vancouver to raise funds for the 1964 festival. Built on a French theme, the 1964 program included stars of the Paris Opera Ballet, Charles Munch (conducting the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, which for the first time was playing in the festival under its own name), Zizi Jeanmaire, and Les Ballets de Paris.
In 1965 the Vancouver International Festival changed its name to the Vancouver Festival and dropped the one-country theme. The eighth festival is remembered chiefly for the conducting of Igor Stravinsky and the performance of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. For the 1966 festival it was decided that the Vancouver Opera Association, the Playhouse Theatre Co, and the Vancouver SO each would prepare at least one production. The opera presented Hansel and Gretel, the festival Oliver, and the Playhouse Theatre Big Soft Nellie and The Threepenny Opera. The orchestra under Meredith Davies performed twice, once to mark the centenary of Busoni's birth. The Bolshoi Ballet and an NFB presentation were included on the program. The 1967 festival opened with a concert conducted by Sir Arthur Bliss. Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West was produced by the Vancouver Opera Association, and Van Cliburn and George Malcolm gave recitals. The 1968 festival suffered severe losses despite the artistic success of the Robert Joffrey City Centre Ballet and some other events. As a result, the 11th season was the last.
Festival presidents included W.C. Mainwaring 1958-9, General Sir Ouvry Roberts 1960-1, T.N. Beaupre 1962-3, David S. Catton in 1964, Martin A. Linsley in 1965, and R.A.C. Douglas 1966-8. Artistic directors included Nicholas Goldschmidt 1955-62, Dino Yannopoulos 1962-4, and Gordon Hilker followed by William Crawford in 1964. For three years, 1965-7, in the absence of an artistic director, the festival was supervised by Hugh Pickett, Dora McQuade, and Julia Switzer. Hilker assumed the directorship again for the final year, 1968. Reports on the Festival can be found in the autumn issues of the CMJ (vols 3-6, 1958-61).
Author Bryan N.S. Gooch