Staying relevant in Edinburgh, Scotland

At Tafelmusik, we not only strive for excellence onstage but also off. Managing Director, William Norris, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing and Sales, Rejean Tremblay, and Bobblehead Bach had the opportunity to attend the 2016 AMA conference (Arts Marketing Association) in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Our Tafelmusik delegates, along with over 650 arts, culture and heritage professionals (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, National Dance Company Wales), were delighted to be part of a series of presentations and discussions focusing on how arts organizations can stay relevant to their audiences in 2016.

Tafelmusik is committed to maintaining a deep and meaningful connection with our amazing audiences. In our quest to stay relevant locally and internationally, we are in constant discussion about how to reach new audiences in order to keep with the rapidly changing times. In this process of “staying relevant”, we are, of course, also committed to offering the unique and compelling experience that has always been at the core of what we do.

As we process all that we learned from the conference, we wanted to share a few photos of the great sights our delegates got to see during their stay in Edinburgh!

 

Farewell to Aisslinn

by Cristina Zacharias

Aisslinn-Nosky-2011-by-Sian-Richards-Photography-WEBWith sadness (for us) and optimism (for her), I’m writing to say farewell to Aisslinn Nosky, who resigned from Tafelmusik at the end of this season. When Aisslinn joined Tafelmusik in 2005, our audience at home and abroad responded enthusiastically to her exciting and dramatic playing — I recall mob scenes in Seoul and Culiacán, Mexico! Her virtuosic musicality has raised the bar for the last ten years on our stage, and we will miss her immensely. Aisslinn’s dedication to all aspects of our performing life will be irreplaceable — who else will go on tour with a shark costume in their suitcase, for example, or organize our annual musicians’
intermission reception at the Sing-Along Messiah?

Many of you know that Aisslinn was appointed concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston in 2011, and that we have been sharing her with them ever since. Aisslinn’s tremendous talent as a violinist and leader has caught the musical world’s attention, and she is increasingly in demand as a guest soloist and director. Sadly for us, this means that she has decided that she can no longer commit to Tafelmusik’s busy full-time schedule. Before any panic or riots break out, let me assure you that Aisslinn will still be based here in Toronto, which means that she will be seen on the Tafelmusik stage as often as possible. Additionally, you can see her perform with her other local groups, the Eybler Quartet and I Furiosi. Here are some words from Aisslinn:

“Tafelmusik will always be a part of my musical heart. Serving for ten years in the core of this unique group is one of the things I am most proud of in my career. My membership in the group has formed who I am as an artist and as a person. I could never completely say goodbye to people who mean so much to me and I now happily take on a different role in the larger Tafelmusik family.”

Like the Hotel California, we are allowing Aisslinn to check out, but not to leave. I estimate that Aisslinn has played over 1,000 concerts with Tafelmusik over the last ten years — and can tell you that when you play that many concerts with someone, you know them in a way that is a lot like family — intimate, complex, and impossible to fully describe in words. We will miss her, but know that our musical paths will continue to cross for many years to come.

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Aisslinn Nosky performing with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Tales of Two Cities (Photo credit: Bruce Zinger)

Q and A with Luminato Festival CEO Anthony Sargent

Luminato Festival CEO Anthony Sargent took time out of his busy schedule to do a Q and A by email with Tafelmusik Managing Director William Norris.

Anthony Sargent credit Mark Savage Image
Luminato Festival CEO Anthony Sargent, CBE (Photo credit: Mark Savage)

William Norris: What are three things about Toronto that make you want to live here?

Anthony Sargent: Though in some ways it’s a quintessentially modern urban environment, I love the endless green of Toronto – with over 1,500 parks in all conceivable shapes and sizes. I also love living in a city boasting such a teemingly plural cultural mix – a happily shared, friendly home to so many different people from so many different backgrounds. I’m also dazzled by Toronto’s range of arts and cultural activities and organizations – I could very easily be out 3 times every night of the year!

WN: Name one thing Toronto can learn from Britain.

AS: You can’t be a born Brit and not value British pragmatism just a little bit! I’ve been intrigued how much some things agitate my new friends and neighbours – things which don’t get as far as raising my blood pressure even by 1%!

WN: Name one thing Britain can learn from Toronto.

AS: Everything in life, everything, becomes easier and more pleasant, even the most irritating and frustrating things, if handled with patience and courtesy, kindness and charm!

WN: Luminato is a world-renowned event. How do you intend to take it to the next level?

AS: The core will remain (as at our birth in 2007) bringing the world’s most exciting artists to Toronto, commissioning and presenting new work (the essential lifeblood of the arts), offering a platform to the most exciting Canadian artists, and as far as possible seeking to do the things other people are not doing, so coming to Luminato is always an adventure. I think our Hearn residency alone ticks that last box! Beyond that I want Luminato and the work it does to win more international recognition for Toronto and Canada; I want Luminato to contribute in the most active city-building ways to our home city, and I want June to be a month in the calendars of everyone curious about where the arts are going next when they focus on what we are doing in and for the city of Toronto.

WN: What concepts are you bringing to Luminato from Sage Gateshead?

AS: As a leader I’m obsessed with the importance of reacting to all the inevitable things in life that don’t go as planned as precious learning opportunities, not as a hook to which to attach blame or reproach. Every day of my 15 years in Gateshead I lived by that creed, and I am determined to develop that culture wherever I work, here and in the future.

WN: Sage Gateshead is a music venue and education centre. What challenges have you faced now working with an unfinished/abandoned venue space that will stage a variety of art practices?

AS: Artistic Director Jörn Weisbrodt has defined his artistic credo as ‘adventurous arts and ideas in adventurous places,’ remembering that where people have a creative or cultural experience can be as important as the experience itself. I’m enormously excited (as the festival is just opening) to see how it feels to experience Bach, Beethoven and 15thC Scottish history in the funky majesty of a colossal, ruined and abandoned 1950s industrial cathedral, expecting it to feel fresh in a very special way. Some things are harder in the Hearn, a few are impossible, but much is incredibly exciting – even if not without risk!

WN: We’re excited to return to Luminato this year. How do you see groups like Tafelmusik in your plans for Luminato in the upcoming years?

AS: Our new Artistic Director has only been here for 3 days so a detailed answer is a bit premature, but I am very keen that we combine two things in Luminato – being a showcase and a platform for the most exciting creative talents in Toronto and throughout Canada (in proportions appropriate to a global arts festival), while always encouraging those creative talents to see Luminato as a unique partner and an opportunity to do something new, different, startling. Simply recycling their normal programming within Luminato would make no sense for any of us.

WN: The festival starts with Unsound Toronto. Its mix of dance, trance, electronic, metal, and ambient music could be seen as far removed from the music of Tafelmusik. What would you say to an Unsound attender to persuade them to try the Tafelmusik concert (and indeed, vice versa)?  

AS: Meals that begin with highly spiced starters and sturdy main courses are often most perfectly complemented by a glacially pure, seraphically simple sorbet. We’re living in an exciting age now when many people are much more catholic and inclusive in their interests, in all the arts, and in previous jobs some of the biggest programming mistakes I have made have been to underestimate people’s curiosity and to assume they only like one thing. However much you enjoy sea trout, imagine eating nothing else for the rest of your days! Every now and then you’ll be dying for a Boeuf en Croûte or a Scotch Egg!

WN: People are more used to seeing Tafelmusik in more conventional venues like Koerner Hall and Trinity St Paul’s. What can they expect from the surroundings of the Hearn, and what else will there be for them to do and see on the day?

AS: Of course the wonderful Tafelmusik programme on Sunday 19th sits between #2 and #3 of the 3 magnificent James Plays (9 hours of a searingly dramatic 21stC view of 15th Scottish History from the National Theatre of Scotland), so people could enjoy those as a contrasting frame for Bach! Also there is the Trove exhibition (a portrait of Toronto in 50 objects), the AGO’s amazing concrete + living bees sculpture by Pierre Huyghe outside in the adjacent wilderness, a range of installations by other Toronto artists and arts groups – and a German Biergarten with wonderful view of downtown Toronto.

WN: Where do you see Luminato in the next 10 years?

AS: The completion of our first decade has seen Luminato come of age, and our 10th birthday Hearn residency affirms our intention each year to do things, or inhabit spaces, that are as startling as they are exciting. After our next ten teenage years I want Luminato to have become a more essential and unmissable calendar highlight for everyone living in our city, while arts lovers around the world connect Toronto immediately and instinctively with a teemingly exciting arts festival, as they already do our longer established cousins in Edinburgh, Sydney and Hong Kong, and the international film world does of the wonderful 40-year-old TIFF.

Tickets are only $25 for our relaxed and laid-back performance at the Hearn Generating Station June 19th at 7:20pm – click here for tickets.

The Hearn is turned on – Luminato Festival launches

We didn’t know what to expect.

Well, I suppose we had some idea. Managing Director William Norris and some intrepid musicians had visited the Hearn Generating Station during colder times, to see if performing there would be a possibility. But words are different than experiences, and so we had to see it for ourselves at the Luminato Opening party.

As a co-worker and I walked east, we reached Cherry Street and went south. This is an area I think few people visit, and it was exciting to see a different view of the city from the old port lands. After a few wrong turns and meeting some of the local wildlife, we made it to Unwin Ave. Looming ahead of us, like something out of Lord of the Rings, was an illuminated tower, marking the Hearn.

At the entrance, we were told ‘Don’t Look Back’, as if to give us confidence that yes, we were in the right spot, and yes, we would enjoy what was inside. And we weren’t disappointed.

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Whatever you say, large mural!
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Local wildlife – a bunny!

From the mood lighting to the various art installations (how about a huge disco ball? Why not?), we were sucked into another world. A world that Tafelmusik will be entering June 19, performing on the music stage in the heart of this cavernous treasure. It is so incredible to think that our special and supremely talented orchestra will be presenting such beautiful baroque music in this industrialized, once-abandoned setting. This type of event is what is making Toronto such an exciting place to be.

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Tafel Takeover – Orchestra performance June 19, and members of the Choir perform June 22 in Song of Extinction.

You’ll have to see it (and hear it) to believe it.

Tim Crouch
Marketing Manager

Tickets for Tafelmusik at Luminato June 19 at 7:20pm are just $25 and are available here.

Get to know tenor Asitha Tennekoon

We recently sent questions by email to first-time Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI) participant and Sri Lankan-born (and Toronto-based) tenor Asitha Tennekoon. He’s currently busy with Tapestry Opera’s production of Rocking Horse Winner, so we’re happy he was able to find some time before TBSI started next week!

Tennekoon
Tenor Asitha Tennekoon

1. What are you most excited about for TBSI?

I’m really looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues at the program. Preparing and performing chamber pieces, where each person gets a chance to bring something unique and exciting every single time is extremely fulfilling.

I’m also looking forward to the Bach Bash. I mean, let’s be real, it’s Bach, there aren’t a lot of other things that can get me more excited musically.

2. How’s your experience been singing with the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir this year?

It’s always refreshing to be a part of a group of singers who are efficient, focused, and to state the obvious – really good at what they do! I believe very strongly that working in an ensemble gives you a gamut of skills you may never learn in a practice room on your own. So to be able to develop those skills with a group that’s as good as they are has been a great experience for me.

3. Do you perform elsewhere in Toronto?

In the past two years, since moving to Canada, I’ve been fortunate enough to perform as a soloist and ensemble singer all over Toronto, the GTA, Ottawa, Montreal and London ON. I’ve performed as a soloist with Tapestry Opera, Stratford Summer Music Festival, The Indian River Festival, MY Opera, The Theatre of Early Music, London Pro Musica, and Village Voices. Hopefully the future will be as kind to me as these past two years.

4. What’s your favourite thing to do in this city?

I was raised in the tropics, so I try to take advantage of the sun whenever it’s out! I like spending time by the Harbourfront, and the Distillery District, and regularly seek out green spaces. (So good luck spotting me in the winter!)

One of the best things about Toronto is the food! You can find any type of food from any culture, and it’s almost always authentic and not ‘mellowed’ down. So I like experiencing different culinary backgrounds as well.

5. Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?

Ideally on a beach somewhere, sipping an endless flow of gin. (Can this happen tomorrow, please?)

Realistically, I think I’d like to focus on developing my singing, and myself as person. That way, wherever life/the career takes me, will be somewhere I’m happy, doing what I want to do, with plenty of opportunities to sing. (Pronounced: Germany)

6. What’s your favourite ‘non-classical’ music to listen to?

It ranges from Classic Rock to Jazz to Top 40….but give me some Regina Spektor any day and I’ll be happy.

7. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

Trying to get people to pay me for reading books all day, or for trying out different coffee spots around the city. If that’s actually an option let me know, asap!

Seriously though, I’d probably be teaching literature, or history. Doing something in the capacity of an educator.

Join us for our FREE concerts in June, part of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Festival.  Click here.

Tafelmusik goes industrial at Luminato

It started off like a scene from some sort of spy movie.

A freezing February day.  A vast derelict and abandoned industrial hulk of a building. Inside a small security hut on the outskirts of the complex, an unlikely combination of characters huddled around a small heater, it struggling to keep the cold at bay.

Within a few minutes a car arrives and sweeps into the vast concrete wasteland that surrounds the old power plant, perhaps setting the scene for an exchange of secret documents, or the passing on of the results of some espionage operation.

Actually, no. The people stepping out of the car include Jorn Weisbrodt, Artistic Director of the Luminato Festival, plus members of his team. Huddled in the security office are myself, Tafelmusik violist Stefano Marcocchi  and his wife, plus two of the team from Music in the Barns.

We were all here at the invitation of the Luminato Festival to look around the Hearn Generating Station. This vast building, which hasn’t produced power since 1983, sits in the Portland’s area of Toronto, and its vast smoke stack (today being inspected by some base jumpers – rather them than me), remains one of the city’s tallest structures.

It’s fair to say that we were all rather excited to enter the building and didn’t really know what to expect. We had been warned of one thing however – that it could be up to 10 degrees colder than outside. And how right that warning was. My phone soon conked out – it was news to me that extreme cold can deplete your battery.

Once inside the scale of the building takes your breath away. The easy comparison is to London’s Tate Modern, but in reality the Hearn is not only several times the size, but it’s also in a raw and semi-abandoned state, unlike the clean lines of the Tate. Entering the building is like walking onto the set of some dystopian movie set in a bleak future – indeed, Robocop was partly filmed here.

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The cathedral-like interior of the Hearn

We were led on our tour by Jorn, who bounded around with boyish enthusiasm – his passion for the building and its potential as a cultural venue evident.  The huge space was, he told us, to be segmented into several areas, including a music stage, theatre, restaurant, and bar. When we reached the point where the music stage will be, we paused while Stefano broke out his viola. I’m sure playing it in the significantly below zero temperature was not easy, but he still (of course) made a beautiful sound and it gave us a chance to test the acoustics of the space. Obviously, not Koerner Hall-like acoustic perfection, but still, workable.

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Violist Stefano Marcocchi in decidedly non-tropical temperatures testing the acoustics of the Hearn

The rest of the tour took us into the old control room and several other intriguing spaces – and Jorn’s enthusiasm was easily passed onto us as we imagined how Tafelmusik would look and sound playing in this amazing space – a sort-of cathedral of the industrial age.

Fast-forward to June and we’re now just weeks away from our June 19 performance at the Hearn (plus you can also hear members of our Choir perform with Music in the Barns on June 22).

We’ll be playing a very informal and relaxed 45 minute ‘sampler’ concert, with the music introduced from the stage – plus you’ll be able to bring your drinks in with you. Tickets are just $25, and we hope it’ll be a chance for people to enjoy and discover what we do for the first time as well as being an opportunity for our fans to come and hear us in a very very different setting than usual. See you there!

William Norris
Managing Director

You can buy tickets for Tafelmusik at the Hearn on June 19 here

An act of healing – Tafelmusik’s Tales of Two Cities, with narrator Alon Nashman

Guest Blog Post – Ieva Lucs

To connect the inconceivable struggle and heartbreak of the Syrian refugee crisis with something as mundane as a cup of coffee may seem like an impossible task. Tafelmusik, Canada’s award-winning baroque orchestra, however, find themselves drawing that bizarre parallel in their new show opening in Toronto on Thursday.

Tales of Two Cities: the Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, written by Alison Mackay (House of Dreams, The Galileo Project), tells the parallel stories of two seemingly disparate cities. In the 18th century, Leipzig (in Germany) and Damascus (in what is now Syria) both sat at the intersections of bustling trade routes. In her creation, Mackay shows how the coffee houses in these cities acted as incubators for the growth of music and storytelling traditions.

The timing of this show is undeniably relevant, as thousands of Syrians flee their homes and Germany opens its borders to them. As part of her research Mackay traveled to Leipzig, in lieu of taking the impossible journey to Damascus, and met with Syrian refugees who had recently settled in the city.

The show that emerged is a multi-disciplinary performance incorporating two live orchestras (Tafelmusik’s own baroque orchestra, as well as Trio Arabica), a singer and a narrator. Our narrator, or “tour guide” as he calls himself, is the multi-talented actor Alon Nashman (Hirsch, Kafka and Son).

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Actor Alon Nashman

“To me, this whole project is part of a healing that Toronto can lead the way in,” said Nashman, on the phone from Kingston where the show is having its world premiere. “Many Canadians are opening their hearts and homes to Syrians, but on an emotional level we don’t really know what to do or how to feel this loss. This piece really allows the audience to make that connection without hitting them with a cudgel of those ideas. It’s subtle.”

Playing with Tafelmusik’s baroque orchestra is the Trio Arabica, which is made up of percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand, singer Maryem Tollar, who also plays the zither, and Demetri Petsalakis on a stringed instrument called an oud. The trio evokes the coffee houses of Damascus by playing classical Arabic music with influences from Syria, Iraq and Turkey. When the storyline takes the audience to Germany it will include musical compositions from such classical greats as Telemann, Händel and Bach, all of who worked as musicians in coffee houses in Leipzig.

During rehearsals Nashman watched the two orchestras work together and, he said, they are “loving encountering each other.”

“They are finding ways in which their instruments complement each other as the musical baton is passed back and forth. That’s important cultural work. We can read about what’s going on but to really feel it and to immerse ourselves in it is another matter, and that’s what this piece provides.”

According to Nashman, having a live orchestra as an acting partner isn’t the challenge a person might suppose. Instead, the orchestra does a lot of his “internal emotional preparation” for him.

“The music takes me right there and suddenly I’m practically bawling. I’m going to have to reign it in in order to utter the words because the music is so moving.”

Being that close to the orchestra allows the actor to become a voyeur and peer into the inner workings of the orchestral machine.

“I have the best seat in the house,” said Nashman. “Because I’m in that proximity to the players I hear the breath behind each transition and I see the little looks and indications with the body that allow this entity, which is made up of 20 or so people, to move like one.”

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Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House.  Photo by Bruce Zinger

Nashman plays many characters in the piece, including a “know-it-all” narrator, Don Quixote, composer Georg Phillip Telemann and various travelers whose diary entries make for expressive and educational monologues. Stage director Marshall Pynkoski, co-founder of Opera Atelier and former dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, encouraged Nashman to go with his inclination “to enter the psyche and body of these beings.”

“He (Pynkoski) is an extremely physical, ballet trained opera director who is into the significant gesture. He’s helping me clarify each of these characters,” said Nashman. “I try to live the life of Telemann or the knight errant, Don Quixote, ever so briefly. I’m probably more active and more embodied than other narrators they’ve had because I just can’t help myself.”

Nashman promises that, during performances, traditional concert behaviour will be subverted. He insists that the experience of this show is about engaging the audience on another level.

“The way that Alison (Mackay) conceives of the text is almost like another way of expressing or expanding the music. Because I’m responsible for creating a large experience for the audience sometimes I’m stomping on applause. There could be some beautiful music playing but I’m just going to come right in. We’re demanding not a polite response but a visceral response.”

So why should Torontonians care about a show to do with strangers in far away lands? Nashman explains why he believes this city will truly understand the piece.

“I feel like this kind of cross referencing, cross pollinating, is one of the most exciting things about living in Toronto.”

Tales of Two Cities: the Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House is at Koerner Hall in Toronto from Thursday May 19th to Sunday May 22nd.