Get to Know Alison Mackay, double bassist


Alison Mackay has played violone and double bass with Tafelmusik since 1979, and is active in the creation of multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural programming for the orchestra including Tales of Two Cities, The Galileo Project and Visions & Voyages: Canada 1663-1763, making its world premiere February 22, 2017.

What was your first music gig?

When I was in high school I played the second and third movements of the Bach D-Minor Harpsichord Concerto (on piano) with the community orchestra conducted by my teacher, Clifford Poole. (Leslie Kinton played the fi rst movement.)

What is an example of something that has inspired you?

I had a lightning-bolt moment attending a midnight tour of the Great Mosque of Cordóba in Spain. We were 20 visitors in the huge, darkened, dramatically-lit building, which now is part mosque, part Catholic cathedral. We walked from place to place guided by a narrator speaking through earphones in Spanish, English, French, or Japanese … The fascinating narration was accompanied on the soundtrack with beautifully performed music, perfectly chosen for each epoch being discussed. There we were, a group of 20 people from around the world with diff erent languages and backgrounds, being educated and transported by a beautiful cultural experience that was completely scholarly but also completely accessible.

What are the last three recordings you’ve listened to?

When I’m planning for a special project I get obsessed with the music and how it will overlap with the narration and images. I’ve been listening to the chaconne, earthquake music, and passepieds from the opera Sémélé over and over — I’m afraid that by now David [husband David Fallis] knows the music as well as I do.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

Close to home I love to work in the garden. We have a small garden at the front of the house and a small one in the back. At some point we decided to leave the front to me and the back to David. I love colourful hybrid plants and he favours native species. This way we don’t need to negotiate! On the other hand we can agree on the beauty of the High Park Sakuras — 2,000 flowering cherry trees donated by the government of Japan to thank Toronto for its harbouring of Japanese-Canadian refugees after World War II. There is a “bud and blossom watch” website that tells you when the trees will be in their glory and we like to make a pilgrimage to see them every spring.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

I love the Persian cooking and the beautiful atmosphere at Pomegranate Restaurant on College Street. There are so many different flavours in each dish, and the walls are decorated with colourful ceramic tiles and textiles. We have celebrated many special occasions there with family and friends.

Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?

When the weather gets really cold I love to go to the greenhouse at Allan Gardens to soak up the warmth, humidity, and scented, lush greenery and blossoms. It is wonderful for a visit at any time — open every day of the year from 10–5, and it’s free!

You have a night off — what do you do?

We have a group of eight friends who have had dinner together once a month for over 30 years. Finding the evenings for those get-togethers is a challenge since David and I are so rarely free on the same night. Luckily our friends are patient and flexible!

What is your great ambition?

To have my bicycle lock last as long as I ride my bike. I am still using the lock from
my locker at Jarvis Collegiate, and if I ever have to memorize a new combination I will be lost.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?

I see myself living close enough to Bloor and Spadina to be able to waddle to the
library, the grocery store, the Hot Docs cinema, and of course Trinity-St. Paul’s for everything that happens there, including Tafelmusik concerts! I look forward to sitting with all the people I have come to know and love in the audience, listening together to all the people I have come to know and love on stage.


Lightning Round

Apple or PC?  Apple all the way.

Starbucks or Tim Hortons?   Tim Hortons! I think Tim Hortons has transformed the social fabric of communities in Canada.

Cat or dog?  Cat

City or country life? Ten months in the city, two months in the country.

Hockey or baseball?  Hockey

Batman or Superman?  Superman

TTC or “anything else that gets me to my destination”?  Bicycle!

Favourite season?  Autumn

Favourite instrument?  The cello

Old or new?  Old

Tidy or cluttered desk?  Clutter! Even the floor around my music stand at Tafelmusik rehearsals is always covered in stuff.

See Alison perform in her brand-new multimedia program Visions & Visions, featuring narrator Ryan Cunningham from Native Earth Performing Arts, and choreographer and dancer, Brian Solomon, at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre from February 22-26, 2017. Tickets are available here.


Behind the Musik: Visions & Voyages

Here are the official program notes for Visions & Voyages

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

By Alison Mackay

Visions and Voyages is Tafelmusik’s contribution to the national activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 1867. In order to feature some of the most beautiful music in our core repertoire, we have chosen to explore the century between 1663, when Quebec was established by Louis XIV as a royal province of France, and 1763, when North America came under the control of the British crown.

A new & accurate map of the islands of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, St. John and Anticosta; together with the neighbouring countries of Nova Scotia, Canada, &c. Emanuel Bowen [London, W. Innys, 1752]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.
A new & accurate map of the islands of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, St. John and Anticosta; together with the neighbouring countries of Nova Scotia, Canada, &c. Emanuel Bowen [London, W. Innys, 1752]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.
This century saw the flowering of secular music by Purcell, Handel, Lully, Marais, and Rameau, much of it written for monarchs who gained prosperity and prestige from their Canadian colonies. Instrumental works by these composers provide the musical portion of Visions and Voyages.

Diaries, letters, archival records, ships’ manifests, account books, and religious mission reports called “Relations” provide rich details about life in Canada at this time, and much of the material for the spoken narration of the concert is taken from them. These sources often reveal a dark picture of European attitudes to the first inhabitants of Canada, and set the stage for the crushing of Native cultures and the establishment of residential schools which came with Confederation and the establishment of the Indian Act.

visions-program-notes-ruffo-croppedSeeking an expression of life in Canada before European contact, we have turned to the beautiful writing of the poet and scholar Armand Garnet Ruffo (photo, left), a band member of the Fox Lake Chapleau Cree First Nation and a citizen of the Ojibwe nation. Prof. Ruffo teaches at Queen’s University, where he is Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous literature, and we are deeply grateful for his permission to use an excerpt from his poem Old Story.

To represent the exhilarating artistic currents in the Native communities of Canada, we have engaged two of its most exciting young artists, narrator Ryan Cunningham (Artistic Director of Native Earth Theatre Company), and dancer and choreographer Brian Solomon, the creator of two new works set to the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau.

After a portrait of the centuries-old communities living in the territory before European contact, the first half of the concert is devoted to life in New France and to music by French composers. These particular works have never been performed by Tafelmusik before, and include excerpts from the opera Sémélé, by Marin Marais, viola da gamba virtuoso and director of the Paris Opera from 1705 until 1709. Like Handel’s oratorio of the same name, the opera is based on the story of Jupiter and Semele from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the most colourful movements is a musical depiction of an earthquake, used in our performance to accompany a seventeenth-century account of the great Charlevoix earthquake of 1663, which had its epicentre in Trois-Rivières and was felt in much of eastern North America.

visions-program-notes-posen-croppedThe stunning images which are projected during the musical earthquake are the work of the Canadian landscape and architectural photographer, Simeon Posen (photo, left), whose photographs are held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery in Ottawa, and Gallery Arcturus in Toronto. Preferring the subtlety of black and white, Mr. Posen works with large- and mid-size negative formats, hand-developing the film materials and printing on silver fibre-based papers. We are immensely grateful for his generous sharing of works from his Water portfolio.

The dramatic Charlevoix earthquake was followed a month later by a seismic event in the governance of Canada. Louis XIV dissolved the “Company of New France,” an association of 100 investors who had been granted a monopoly over the fur trade and settlement of the colony in 1627, and declared Quebec to be a royal province under the direct authority of the crown. The architect of the new province was the powerful finance minister of France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who organized every aspect of French official life to magnify the glory of the young king.

Hoping to increase the French population of the new province in order to foster stability and create a Canadian market for goods manufactured in France, Colbert embarked in 1663 on a ten-year program of recruitment of young women for emigration to Quebec. They became known as “the daughters of the king” (les Filles du Roi), and many Québecois can trace their lineage to these 800 foremothers (as can Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna!).

Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. Georges-Louis Le Rouge [Paris, 1755]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.
Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. Georges-Louis Le Rouge [Paris, 1755]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.
In order to foster and exert control over culture, scholarship, and manufacturing, Colbert established the Academy of Sciences, the Paris Observatory, the Gobelins Tapestry works, a Royal Factory for the manufacture of glass and mirrors, and a Royal Academy of Music which soon came under the direction of the Italian-born dancer and composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully.

The theatre of the Palais-Royal, home of the Paris Opera at this time, received a major renovation in 1674, and the work chosen for the grand opening of the new hall was Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Alceste, composed in honour of a recent military victory of Louis XIV. Dancing was extremely important in French opera at this time, leaving us with a treasure trove of instrumental music from each of Lully’s theatrical works, including the overture and the dance movements which appear throughout the work.

Dance theorists from Lully’s time divided dances for music theatre into two categories. One type of dance used codified steps and geometric patterns combined in various ways to create new choreographies for the standard minuets, gavottes, and sarabandes which provided moments of music reflection or energetic activity in the unfolding drama of the opera.

Another type of dance was called “expressive” or “imitative,” using newly created movements to imitate the motions of a hammering blacksmith or a rowing boatman. It is known that on several occasions Lully took these special dances away from the more conventional choreographers he normally used. For the chaconne depicting the planting of a palm tree in the middle of the stage in his opera Cadmus & Hermione, for instance, he himself created the steps and figures for the solo dancer and eight men from the corps de ballet. The dance commentator Abbé Dubos, who was intimately acquainted with Lully’s practice, reports that some dances were like “choruses without words,” i.e. dances without formal steps, using movement and gestures to portray strong emotions such as grief. He particularly cites the funeral procession from Alceste, which is performed in our concert to accompany the description of the funeral procession of the famous Huron-Wendat leader and orator Kondiaronck, who died in 1701 during the largest diplomatic gathering in the history of early Canada, the Great Peace of Montreal. At the close of the peace conference, for which a special theatre was built, 1,300 native delegates representing 40 First Nations joined in ceremonial dances and songs with the French delegates. A bonfire was lit and a great ceremonial feast was shared by all.

A contemporary account of the event also describes the performance of a Te Deum, the ancient church hymn which was given elaborate musical settings by many baroque composers and was often performed during special celebrations. Jean-Baptiste Lully, for instance, composed a Te Deum to celebrate the recovery from surgery of Louis XIV (though the composer tragically died from gangrene after stabbing his foot while conducting the work). The Te Deum in D Major composed by Lully’s contemporary, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, is thought to have been composed in celebration of the French victory over William of Orange at the Battle of Steinkirk in 1692. The lively instrumental prelude, which ends the first half of the concert, has become famous today as theme music for programs on broadcasts of the European Broadcast Union.

Across the channel, England had staked its own claim for large portions of Canadian territory in 1670, when Charles II granted rights over fur trading and mining to his cousin Prince Rupert and “The Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay.” Seeking both the North-West Passage and the higher grades of fur which came from animals living in colder climates, the new company established trading posts at the mouths of the six major rivers flowing into Hudson’s Bay. British ships picked up bales of beaver pelts once a year for the making of felt hats, which had been fashionable since the sixteenth century and were now a necessity for the well-dressed businessmen, soldiers, and aristocrats of Europe.

Three-cornered beaver hat, pictured in Philippe Mercier, Sir Edward Hales, 1744, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Three-cornered beaver hat, pictured in Philippe Mercier, Sir Edward Hales, 1744, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Louis XIV had established a particular fashion for a beaver hat with the brim folded back on three sides and the three-cornered hat was soon being worn across the channel in England. There it was known as the “cocked beaver,” celebrated in music with the popular fiddle tune “Johnny cock thy beaver.” The second half of the concert features a set of variations for violin and continuo on this tune, published in 1685 in John Playford’s collection The Division Violin.

Playford and his son Henry, who ran a music shop located in the Inner Temple area of London and frequented by Samuel Pepys, were the most important music publishers in Restoration England. They enjoyed a close relationship with Henry Purcell, and published many of the works composed for the Stuart monarchs who presided over the English colonization of Canada at this time. The second half of the concert begins with the overture (called a “Symphony”) to Come ye sons of art, the ode which William of Orange, now William III of England, commissioned from Purcell to celebrate the birthday of his wife Queen Mary in 1694. The short symphony is composed in three parts; a stately opening followed by a lively canzona, and a final adagio full of striking dissonances and soulful chord progressions which provide a fitting prelude to the recitation of names of Indigenous communities around Hudson’s Bay, soon to be dominated by English colonists.

The founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company complicated the balance of power among the various constituencies in Canada, and as the decades passed, the British crown looked for ways to cement alliances against the French. In February of 1710, four influential representatives of the Iroquois confederacy (one of them the grandfather of Joseph Brant, founder of the city of Brantford) were invited to visit London at the expense of Queen Anne, who had ascended the British throne after the death of William of Orange. The visit of the ambassadors caused
a sensation in London, and the political and cultural activities of their visit were recorded in newspaper accounts and in a 53-page book published in 1710 called The Four Kings of Canada. After their four-week crossing of the Atlantic they were lodged at an inn called the Two Crowns and Cushions, owned by the upholsterer Thomas Arne. (His son would become the composer Thomas Arne, and his daughter Susannah would become one of Handel’s favourite singers, Mrs. Cibber, for whom he composed the contralto arias in Messiah.)

On April 19, the four visitors were brought from their lodgings by coach to the Palace of St. James for an audience with Queen Anne. They addressed the Queen at length through an interpreter about various political issues, and presented her with a wampum belt. She commanded that the guests be shown the city, and they were taken by barge to Greenwich, where they inspected the astronomical instruments at the Royal Observatory. They dined with the Archbishop of Canterbury, visited the Tower of London, and were taken to St. Paul’s Cathedral to inspect the dome, which was under construction at the time.

They were also invited to various cultural events, including a performance of Macbeth at which the audience refused to let the play begin until the Canadian kings were seated on the stage for all to see. The newspaper announced a special performance in their honour of William Congreve’s The Old Bachelor, a play for which Henry Purcell had composed an overture and nine movements of instrumental music in 1693. After Purcell’s untimely death at the age of 35 in 1695, several important posthumous editions of his works appeared, including a large anthology of orchestral music published by his widow Frances in 1697. This was the first printed collection devoted exclusively to incidental music for the English stage. Titled A Collection of Ayres composed for the Theatre, it contained suites of overtures, song tunes, and dance movements, including the movements on our program from The Old Bachelor and King Arthur, music that could have been performed in concert versions for the Four Kings of Canada in 1710.

1710 was also the year of the first visit to London of George Frideric Handel, who throughout his life was a great admirer of Purcell’s music. Handel’s first opera for the London stage, Rinaldo, was an immediate success, and he soon entered the employ of Queen Anne and settled in England for the rest of his life. He went on to serve the first two Hanoverian kings: George I, for whom Water Music was written, and George II, for whose coronation Handel composed Zadok the Priest, which has since been used in every English coronation. In 1719 Handel was appointed “Master of the Orchestra” of the Royal Academy of Music, London’s first opera company, and in the following years he composed 31 operas with Italian texts. Scipione, composed in 1726, contains the march now famous as the regimental march of the Grenadier Guards.

The London public began to cool towards Italian opera in the 1740s and Handel began to favour English-language oratorios: works which were less expensive to produce since they didn’t use sets or costumes, but nevertheless provided a stage for Handel’s brilliant dramatic flair. Israel in Egypt (1739) opens with a solemn “symphony” expressing grief over the death of the patriarch Joseph. The music, which is adapted from the 1737 funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, illustrates Handel’s custom of reworking old material for a new context, and we have used it to express a lamentation over the language used by Nicholas Flood Davin in his recommendation of “aggressive civilization,” which laid the groundwork for the establishment of residential schools in Canada.

The Grande Entrée from Alceste (1750) represents yet another type of Handel’s theatrical activity, for it is one of 20 pieces of incidental music composed for a lost play by the Scottish author Tobias Smollett. The rising rockets of sound in the oboes and violins are an unusual effect in the regal processional music which we use to bring King George III on to the scene in our concert, bringing our century of music and Canadian history to a close. Although he came to the throne a year after the composer’s death, the king loved Handel’s music, finding great solace in later life when recovering from bouts of his terrible illness, porphyria, in playing Handel’s music on the harpsichord.

One of George III’s first duties at the beginning of his reign was to oversee Britain’s claim to North America after the end of the Seven Years War. His Royal Proclamation of 1763 set out guidelines for the settlement of Aboriginal lands, explicitly recognizing Aboriginal rights and land titles, and stating that all territory would be considered Aboriginal until ceded by treaty. Though the proclamation has been contravened many times, it is enshrined in Section 25 of the Canadian Constitution, and is still used in treaty negotiation and litigation today.

The final section of the concert is devoted to a weaving together of Armand Garnet Ruffo’s poetry, Brian Solomon’s choreography, and one of the most exquisite pieces of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, the Entrée of Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred poetry and dance, from the opera Les Boréades. This work was in rehearsal in April of 1763, the final year of our century, when the Palais-Royal theatre burned down. The music, not known to have been performed in Rameau’s lifetime, seems to express perfectly the longing for the vision referred to in the title of our concert — the dream for a better path on which to move forward together as we embark on Canada’s next 150 years.

© A. Mackay 2017

We are grateful to the National Film Board of Canada for permission to use excerpts from Bernard Gosselin’s 1971 film César’s Bark Canoe.

The Tafelmusik Canadian Fiddle Tunes Project

On Sunday, February 26th, between 5:30 and 6:00, immediately after our final performance of Visions and Voyages, the orchestra will be joined onstage by 25 young violinists from Etobicoke School for the Arts and The Suzuki Program at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. For several months the students have been working on eight old fiddle tunes: five from the historical fiddling traditions of French, Scottish, and Aboriginal communities in Canada, and three from sources in Tafelmusik’s repertoire. Canadian fiddle expert Anne Lederman and Tafelmusik’s own Christopher Verrette have joined teachers Gretchen Paxson-Abberger, Rebecca Sancton-Ashworth, and Pamela Bettger in working with the students. Please join us for this short performance demonstrating their hard work in contributing to the activities of Canada 150.


Conceived, programmed, and scripted by Alison Mackay
Ryan Cunningham, narrator
Brian Solomon, dancer & choreographer
Glenn Davidson, lighting designer
Raha Javanfar, Projections Designer

February 22–26, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

MARIN MARAIS 1656–1728
Air pour les Thebains et Thebaines – Air pour les Guerriers – Passepieds en musette

Chaconne in F Major for solo harpsichord

Chaconne – 3e air pour les Thebains et Thebaines – Tremblement de terre [Earthquake]

Marche des combattans  – Rondeau pour la fête marine – Loure pour les pêcheurs – Pompe funèbre

Prelude to Te Deum, H.146

Come ye Sons of Art: Symphony
King Arthur: Trumpet tune
Dido & Aeneas: Triumphing dance
The Old Bachelor: March
King Arthur: Chaconne

La Bourse: Ouverture

Johnny cock thy beaver (from The Division Violin)

Alceste: Grande Entrée
Concerto Grosso in D op. 3, no. 6: Allegro
Scipione: March
Israel in Egypt: Symphony

ROBERT DE VISÉE 1655–1732/33
Prelude in G Major, for solo lute

Les Boréades: Entrée de Polymnie
Pygmalion: Contredanse

Visions & Voyages is generously supported by The Pluralism Fund, and by a gift from an anonymous benefactor.

Production Sponsor:




Edition of Marais Sémélé: Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles

Join us for Visions and Voyages from February 22—26, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

New music for old instruments

by William Norris, Managing Director

Contemporary music and period performance may not, at first sight, be obvious bedfellows. But, it may surprise you to know, it’s an area that Tafelmusik has a track record in. In past years we have worked with composers including Mychael Danna, Emily Doolittle, Christos Hatzis, Ruth Watson Henderson, Grégoire Jeay, Marjan Mozetich, Michael Oesterle, Imant Raminsh, James Rolfe, Jeffrey Ryan, and Linda Catlin Smith to create new works for both choir and orchestra. For a period band that’s not such a bad list!

Of course there is little point in us commissioning new music that could be played by anyone — if that were the case then it would make more sense for composers to work with a modern orchestra. Rather, we prefer to work with composers who are intrigued by the possibilities that period instruments bring. Composers who want to make the most of the different timbres and textures possible with our instruments.

On Wednesday we embarked on a new contemporary music adventure, as we start a new project in association with Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre. We’re going to be part of an ongoing project called Opus:Testing which gives emerging composers the chance to explore new territory in their writing — in this case that new territory is period instruments. Over the course of two workshops, Opus:Testing provides an open and safe space for artists to explore, collaborate, and create.

Walking through period performance with the composers. Canadian Music Centre
Walking through period performance with the composers. Canadian Music Centre

Four musicians from Tafelmusik will be participating, working with eight composers who have each prepared some musical sketches to work on during tomorrow’s first workshop. Following the workshop, composers can revisit and fine-tune (pardon the pun) their work drawing upon the learnings of the session, before musicians and composers regroup for a second and final workshop.

We’ll be bringing you further blogs charting the progress of the project and are also pleased to be able to tell you that the second workshop (at the Canadian Music Centre, Sunday March 26th at 7:30pm) is open to the public, so do come along to hear what emerges from this new initiative.

Get to Know Cory Knight, tenor


Tenor Cory Knight first joined the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir in the fall of 2010, shortly after participating in the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. In 2012 he moved to Switzerland to pursue a Master’s degree in Historical Performance Practice at the prestigious Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. He rejoined the Choir upon returning to Toronto, and balances his career in Canada with engagements in Europe. He was recently featured as the Sailor in Opera Atelier’s production of Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas.

How did you come to decide to sing?
I’ve always been interested in music and fortunately I have parents who are very supportive of that. They signed me up for piano and voice lessons and drove me to all kinds of rehearsals when I was a child. My plan was to be a high school music teacher, but after I finished my teaching degree I thought I’d give this singing thing a try. So I auditioned at the Glenn Gould School and was accepted into the vocal program that year. I met some important professional contacts and mentors through that experience and haven’t looked back since.

What was your first music gig?
I played a sailor at my Kindergarten graduation. It was a big deal. But my first professional gig was with Opera Atelier. I was cast as Telemaco in Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Probably my grandfather, who taught me that no job is as difficult as picking tomatoes. [Cory comes from Leamington, the Tomato Capital of Canada.]

What is your ‘guilty pleasure’ music to listen to?
My grandmother recently gave me her old LPs and I’m currently making my way through them. There’s a Patsy Cline album in there that I just can’t get enough of.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
I love walking around the city and discovering little places that I’ve never seen before.

What is your favourite restaurant in Toronto?
Smoke’s Poutinerie.

Where is your own personal oasis in Toronto?
I really enjoy my apartment in the Village. The neighbourhood is so vibrant, and I love the mix of people and general energy. But when I’m not at home, I love Kensington Market, Toronto Island, and wandering the paths in Don Valley.

Are you involved with any clubs/charities in your off-time?
I volunteer as a Youth Mentor through Catholic Children’s Aid Society. Basically I get to hang out with a really cool kid who keeps me up to date on the latest Nerf toys and video games. I’ve also spent most of the past 20 summers working at camp.

You have a night off—what do you do?
I get cozy on my couch with some yummy snacks and watch movies.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
In my 40s.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?
Practise, practise, practise. Find joy in everything you do. Follow your instincts. Be patient. And when things get tough just remember that you could be picking tomatoes.

Lightning Roundlightning-bolt

Apple or PC? PC
Starbucks or Tim Hortons? I’m faithful to my small town roots on this one: Timmies.
Cat or dog? Dog
City or country life? A healthy amount of both.
Hockey or baseball? Hockey
Batman or Superman? Depends on which nephew I’m hanging out with.
TTC or “anything else that gets me to my destination”? TTC
Favourite season? Summer
Favourite instrument? I played trombone in high school and university. So, trombone. But I’ve always loved the viola.
Old or new? Old
Tidy or cluttered desk? Tidy

Join us for A Bach Tapestry at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: A Bach Tapestry

Here are the official program notes for A Bach Tapestry

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

By Ivars Taurins

When art galleries present comprehensive exhibitions focusing on a particular artist, we are given the rare and wonderful opportunity to explore and experience that artist through the variety of their techniques, and the development of their expression. Recent exhibitions at the AGO of Lawren Harris, Emily Carr, Turner, Michelangelo, or Monet have allowed us a vastly different perspective on these artists and their work than could be gained by viewing just one or two iconic works.

If we consider the mind-staggering output by Johann Sebastian Bach of over 200 cantatas in a 40-year period, we quickly realize that we are familiar with only a handful of them. This is in no part due to their quality — on the contrary, the variety of compositional styles, techniques, invention, and effects is a veritable compendium of everything that can be done within that form. But we creatures of habit tend to gravitate again and again to the most familiar, the most “popular” and iconic works of any composer. On the other hand, we can only have the opportunity to experience these works as a whole if we partake in the kind of pilgrimage that John Eliot Gardiner undertook in 2000, performing all of Bach’s cantatas on a year-long tour that took his musicians throughout Europe, Britain, and even further afield to New York.

With all of this in mind, I have attempted in curating this Bach Tapestry to present Bach’s mastery and genius as a composer by creating an aural gallery of choral movements from his cantatas — many of them rarely heard in concert — and to complement these choruses by interweaving secular instrumental works. We also explore how Bach reused and refashioned his compositions to create new, equally vibrant works, represented in our Bach “gallery” by selections from his Lutheran Mass in G Major, comprised of his reworkings of earlier cantata movements. In this spirit, we have also taken the liberty to refashion Bach’s famous Italian Concerto, originally written for solo harpsichord, to create a “new” concerto for strings.

I hope that our Bach Tapestry will inspire you to further explore for yourselves the remarkable riches to be found in Bach’s oeuvre.

As a young man Bach had transcribed many of Vivaldi’s string concertos for solo keyboard. Many years later he published an “Italian Concerto” for solo harpsichord, very much in the style of those early transcriptions. We complete the circle by reimagining the work as concerto for strings, in the style of Vivaldi, and the spirit of Bach.
As a young man Bach had transcribed many of Vivaldi’s string concertos for solo keyboard. Many years later he published an “Italian Concerto” for solo harpsichord, very much in the style of those early transcriptions. We complete the circle by reimagining the work as concerto for strings, in the style of Vivaldi, and the spirit of Bach.


The aim and fundamental reason of all music is none other than to be to the glory of God and the recreation of the spirit.
Johann Sebastian Bach

I need Bach at the beginning of the day almost more than I need food and water.
Pablo Casals

The true spirit of the art is what led him to the great and sublime as the highest object of the art. We owe it to this spirit that Bach’s works do not merely please and delight, like what is merely agreeable in art, but irresistibly carry us away with them; that they do not merely surprise us for a moment, but produce effects that become stronger the more often we hear the works, and the better we become acquainted with them; that the boundless treasure of ideas heaped up in them, even when we have a thousand times considered them, still leaves us something new, which excites our admiration, and often our astonishment; lastly, that even he who is no connoisseur, who knows no more than the musical alphabet, can hardly refrain from admiration when they are well played to him and when he opens his ear and heart to them without prejudice.
Johann Nikolaus Forkel, first biographer of J.S. Bach, from the chapter in the biography, dated 1802, entitled “The Spirit of Bach”

The great J. Seb. Bach used to say: “it must be possible to do anything.” And he would never stand to hear of anything not being feasible. This has always inspired me, with my slight abilities, to accomplish many otherwise difficult things in music, with effort and patience.
Johann Philipp Kirnberger (student of Bach)

Not Brook but Ocean should be his name.
Ludwig van Beethoven [“Bach” in German means “brook”]

In response to hearing Mendelssohn perform Bach:
Again I thought how we are never at an end with Bach, how he seems to grow more profound the oftener he is heard. […] While we listen, it would seem again as if we could only distantly approach him through the understanding of words. The music itself still serves as the best means to bring his works before our senses and to explain them.

Robert Schumann

[Bach is] one of God’s phenomena, clear, but unfathomable.
Carl Friedrich Zelter (teacher of Mendelssohn)

Study Bach: there you will find everything.
Johannes Brahms

I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that—its humanity.
Glenn Gould

 Bach was a top harmonist geezer, which is why the jazz cats love him.
Nigel Kennedy, violinst

 Compared with him, we all remain children.
variously attributed to Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

 Bach is not about beauty, it’s about honesty.
Anner Bylsma, cellist


Directed by Ivars Taurins


Chorus “Sei Lob und Ehr” from Cantata 117
Chorus “Aller augen warten” from Cantata 23

Adagio e dolce, for 2 violins & continuo, after BWV 527/2
Geneviève Gilardeau & Christopher Verrette, violins
Allen Whear & Charlotte Nediger, continuo
Chorus “Christum wir wollen loben” from Cantata 121
Chorus “Ihr werdet weinen” from Cantata 103

Sarabande for solo harpsichord, BWV 816
Charlotte Nediger, harpsichord
Kyrie & Gloria, from Mass in G Major, BWV 236
Chorale “Jesu, bleibet meine Freude” from Cantata 147


Chorus “Ach, Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” from Cantata 3

Italian Concerto, after BWV 971
Allegro – Andante – Presto
Julia Wedman & Patricia Ahern, violin soloists

Chorale “Christe, du Lamm Gottes” from Cantata 23
Chorale “Verleih uns Frieden” from Cantata 42
Chorale “Wer hofft” from Cantata 109

Sinfonia to Cantata 196
Chorus “Und wenn die Welt” from Cantata 80
Cum sancto spiritu, from Mass in G Major, BWV 236

Join us for A Bach Tapestry at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Welcoming Elisa Citterio to the Tafel family

Elisa Citterio, Music Director Designate. Photography: Monica Cordiviola
Elisa Citterio, Music Director Designate. Photography: Monica Cordiviola

By Julia Wedman, violin

Julia Wedman, violin. Photography: Sian Richards
Julia Wedman, violin. Photography: Sian Richards

One cloudy October morning in 2012, the orchestra met for our monthly meeting to catch up on any news from our staff, review marketing and finance reports, offer advice on new projects in the works, etc. The meeting was business as usual until Jeanne Lamon, our long-time Music Director, requested the orchestra’s presence a little longer. Without much ado, she announced big news – she was retiring from her position as Music Director of Tafelmusik. For the first time ever in an orchestra meeting, the room was completely silent. I saw tears running down one of the other orchestra members’ faces, and felt them hot on my own cheeks. Finally someone, I think it was John Abberger, articulated “This news has left us speechless.” We knew in the backs of our minds that this day was coming, but on that October day, we felt the news was shocking and sudden. We weren’t ready. I think Jeanne was a little surprised by our reaction, but luckily she knew us well enough that she had brought prosecco to the meeting! We did our best to enthusiastically toast her leadership and new life, even though it was only 11:00 in the morning.

Over the next little while, we began the search for a new Music Director. The organization gathered together to choose an eleven-member “search committee” to oversee the whole process, which included musicians, staff, board members, and trusted advisors. Based on input from the whole organization, the search committee put together a job listing which encompassed Tafelmusik’s core values, “deal-breakers,” and hopes for the future. The orchestra mobilized and pored over recordings, YouTube videos, and websites of hundreds of baroque musicians to choose a small number of the most beloved to recommend that the search committee invite to perform with us as potential candidates for the MD position. The search committee painstakingly read and listened to many applications from talented musicians living all over the world.

Over the next two years, I had the opportunity, as one of the musicians on the search committee, to have a first-hand view of the search process. I saw how the orchestra grew and changed as we worked with each wonderful guest director. I saw how our feelings of despair over the news of Jeanne’s retirement changed to acceptance and support for her new lifestyle and our new relationship with her. For us it was wonderful to have such a long process. We needed it. We became more flexible as a group, we became more open to new ideas, we became less reliant on Jeanne and more self-sufficient as a group. And as time passed, as a member of the search committee, I became less mystified by the orchestra’s evaluations and audience comments after our weeks with guest directors, and more able to see what were the needs of this unique group of musicians and its dedicated staff members, board members, volunteers, and audience members.

Elisa Citterio, Music Director Designate. Photography: Monica Cordiviola
Elisa Citterio, Music Director Designate. Photography: Monica Cordiviola

One of the last guest musicians to be invited to be part of the search for a new Music Director came about due to a hole in our schedule. We had a concert in November 2015 with no director. We also happened to have just hired a new violist from Italy, Stefano Marcocchi. I remember talking to him one day backstage before a performance at Koerner Hall, describing all of the things I thought Tafelmusik was looking for in a new Music Director. The name that came first and foremost to his mind was a name we hadn’t heard before – Elisa Citterio. He sent us an incredibly beautiful live recording of Elisa directing Corelli concerti grossi, and we were excited to discover an amazing new violinist!

Elisa came from Milan that November to play with us, and I was immediately struck by her incredible violin playing, her warm and vibrant personality, her confidence, her super-efficient rehearsal style, and her high level of attention to detail. Her style is a little different than ours – she uses a very sharp articulation (great for the new acoustics in Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity St. Paul’s), and she loves the extreme dynamics typical of both historical and contemporary Italian musicians playing baroque music. That first week, it took the orchestra a few days to gel with her musically, but by the end of the week, everyone was having a wonderful time playing together. We loved her positive energy, her flawless technique, her creative ideas, and the way the music grew and changed every day, coming to life in different ways in each concert. The moment I will never forget that week was about three minutes into the first concert. The orchestra was feeling stressed (first-concert jitters) and I looked up at Elisa – she had a big beautiful smile on her face that said to me, “This is exactly the place I am supposed to be right now. I love this!” It was inspiring.

The second time we met Elisa (September 2016) was a much different experience, especially for Elisa! This time she and her partner Mirko brought their two-month-old daughter Olivia. Elisa was playing the very first concerts after her first child was born! We were stunned that in the face of utter exhaustion, Elisa still brought the same boundless energy and joy for the music with her. The rehearsals were organized and efficient, her ideas and cues were clear, creative, and easy to follow, and I don’t think I heard one out-of-tune note from her during the entire rehearsal period and concerts! No matter how tired she seemed offstage, the minute she stepped in front of the orchestra, she had all of the energy in the world for us. We had a lot of fun playing those concerts with her, and many of us remarked how fresh Handel’s Water Music (a piece we have played many times) felt under her direction. For an orchestra that plays as many concerts as we do (we have performed The Galileo Project over 70 times), the ability to keep music fresh and alive is essential.

At the beginning of the process, violinist Tom Georgi said to the orchestra at one of our many meetings, “We are going to see lots of people, and in the end, we are all going to agree.” To my complete surprise, he was right. We saw a lot of people, and in the end were in complete agreement that Elisa was the person with whom we saw ourselves building a wonderful musical life. We were thrilled when we found out that the rest of the search committee agreed with us. They too saw the special qualities, both personal and musical, that make Elisa an ideal person for this position. We were even more thrilled when Elisa accepted our offer to become the new music director of Tafelmusik!!!

This process has been long but fruitful. We have had the luxury of time to find new ways of doing things, and forge new friendships with some of the baroque world’s brightest stars. We all love Jeanne Lamon, and she continues to be such a valued part of this organization. We needed time to get used to her having a different role in Tafelmusik, and time to open our minds to change. Finally I feel like now we are ready to begin a new era, which will be different in countless ways, but similar in the ways that we hold so dear ­­– Tafelmusik will continue to make great music together to the highest level with boundless energy and joy. I feel so lucky to be part of a group like this and I look forward to all of us developing a close new relationship with our wonderful new Music Director, Elisa Citterio.

Get to know Elisa – Read her biography, discography and more at

Behind the Musik: Intimate German Baroque

Here are the official program notes for Intimate German Baroque

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

Peter Harvey, baritone; Jeanne Lamon & Julia Wedman, violin; Thomas Georgi & Patrick Jordan, viola; Christina Mahler, cello; Alison Mackay, violone & double bass; John Abberger, oboe; Dominic Teresi, dulcian; Lucas Harris, lute; Charlotte Nediger, organ.

By Charlotte Nediger

In programming our seasons, we often find ourselves turning to more intimate repertoire for our January concerts, an instinctive desire, perhaps, to warm up cold January evenings and Sunday afternoons with a cozy gathering of musicians and listeners. This season is no exception, as we invite British baritone Peter Harvey to join us in an exploration of rarely heard works written in the seventeenth century in German-speaking lands: both the Protestant north, and the Catholic south. As the concert includes works by two of J.S. Bach’s principal mentors, Buxtehude and Johann Christoph Bach, we could not resist looking forward, so end the program with J.S. Bach’s beautiful Cantata 82.

Biber Sonatas

Engraving of Biber by Paulus Seel, from the 1681 publication of Biber's Violin Sonatas.
Engraving of Biber by Paulus Seel, from the
1681 publication of Biber’s Violin Sonatas.

In a concert that combines the secular and sacred, it is appropriate that we open with a sonata for strings from Biber’s collection Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum, meaning “Sacred and profane fiddle music.” Two violins are in dialogue with two violas and continuo in a sonata that melds elements of the Italianate church sonata with courtly dance music. Heinrich Biber held positions at the archiepiscopal courts of Olmütz and Kremsier before assuming the post of Kapellmeister and eventually Lord High Steward to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. His accomplishments were acknowledged by Leopold I with his ennoblement in 1690.

Biber is credited with advancing the art of playing and composing for the violin to a height previously unknown north of Italy. The eighteenth-century music historian Charles Burney wrote “of all the violin players of the last century Biber seems to have been the best, and his solos are the most difficult and most fanciful of any music I have seen of the same period.” His violin sonatas are marked by virtuoso passagework, both in unmeasured passages and over ostinato basses, and by extensive use of double-stops (playing on two strings at once) and chords. The Third Sonata from his 1681 collection is typical. The opening prelude alternates free passages over long held notes in the bass with quick, almost bell-like, passages of double-stops. This is followed by a simple aria with two variations. A long unmeasured passage of remarkable virtuosity leads to a chaconne built over just four repeating bass notes, the last variations of which inspire an arresting ending.

Buxtehude Cantata
Born in Denmark, Dietrich Buxtehude spent most of his working life in Lübeck as
organist and Kapellmeister of the Marienkirche in Lübeck. He was also appointed
Werkmeister, a post encompassing the duties of secretary, treasurer, and business
manager of the church, and directed an annual series of concerts at the church called “Abendmusik.” His extant music includes a large quantity of keyboard music, chamber sonatas, and some 125 cantatas. The cantata “Mein Herz ist bereit” is a setting of Psalm 57 for solo bass voice, accompanied by three violins, violone, and continuo. At the midpoint there is a particularly delightful imitation of the psaltery and harp called upon to awake the soul. Buxtehude’s influence on North German composers was widespread: famously, the 20-year-old J.S. Bach took a month’s leave from his job as organist in Arnstadt and walked 400 kilometres to Lübeck to meet the Danish master.

Böddecker Sonata
The bassoonist, organist, and composer Philipp Friedrich Böddecker was born in Alsace to a family of musicians. He held posts in various cities in Germany and France, eventually settling in Stuttgart as organist at the collegiate church and teacher at the college. A handful of sacred works survive, as well as two virtuoso sonatas, one for violin and one for dulcian (the precursor of the bassoon). The latter is a stunning set of variations on a tune popular throughout Europe from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The title is drawn from the text associated with the tune in Italy: “Madre non me far monaca” (Mother, don’t make me become a nun). In Germany the tune came to be used as a chorale, and as such is the basis of a famous organ chorale by J.S. Bach, “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen,” BWV 658. In the Böddecker variations you will hear a violinist play the tune, first on its own, and then above increasingly florid variations played on the dulcian.

J. Ch. Bach Lamento
A first cousin and close friend of Johann Sebastian Bach’s father, Johann Christoph Bach is thought to have had a great influence on the young Johann Sebastian, probably taking on much of his musical instruction upon the death of Sebastian’s father when Sebastian was just ten years old. Some years later Sebastian assembled the Altbachisches Archiv, a collection of works by his ancestors, and included several works by his mentor. Sebastian described him as a “profound composer […] as good at inventing beautiful thoughts as he was at expressing words.” Among the works in the Archiv are two remarkable laments, one for solo alto and the other for solo bass, both accompanied by solo violin and a consort of violas and continuo. They are passionate settings of potent texts, demanding much artistry of the singer and of the solo violinist, and leave a deep impression on performers and listeners alike.

J. S. Bach Cantata 82
The Cantata “Ich habe genug” was written by J.S. Bach for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the last of the feasts of the Christmas season, also known as Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and in the Catholic Church as the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. It is celebrated on or around the 2nd of February; “Ich habe genug” was first performed on that date in 1727. The author of the text is not known, but it is based on the Gospel story of Simeon at the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (St. Luke, chapter 2): “And it was revealed unto him [Simeon] by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.’ ” The story inspired Bach to set the middle movement as a lullaby, and his wife Anna Magdalena included this movement in the notebook she prepared for her own use, and for use with her children. The cantata is one of the most famous of Bach’s cantatas for solo voice, and one that was performed several times during Bach’s tenure at Leipzig. Originally written as we are performing it this week, for solo bass voice with obbligato oboe, Bach also left versions for soprano and flute, and for alto and oboe.


Peter Harvey, baritone
Jeanne Lamon & Julia Wedman, violin
Thomas Georgi, violin & viola
Patrick G. Jordan, viola
Christina Mahler, cello
Alison Mackay, violone & double bass
John Abberger, oboe
Dominic Teresi, dulcian
Lucas Harris, lute
Charlotte Nediger, organ

Jan 19-22, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

H.I.F. VON BIBER 1644–1704
Sonata no. 1 from Fidicinium sacro-profanum (Nuremberg, c.1683)

Cantata “Mein Herz ist bereit” (Lübeck, c.1680)

Sonata sopra La Monica, from Sacra Partitura (Straßburg, 1651)

Lamento “Wie bist du denn, O Gott?” (Eisenach, late 17th century)


Sonata no. 3 for violin & continuo (Nuremberg, 1681)

J.S. BACH 1685–1750
Cantata 82 “Ich habe genug” (Leipzig, 1727)

Join us for Intimate German Baroque, January 19-22 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.