Stage Doors and a final stop in Kingston

The instruments sent to Edmonton by ground transportation were supposed to arrive Thursday, in advance of the orchestra, but there was a snafu. I happened to be in the hotel lobby Friday morning as Tour Manager Beth Anderson, cellist Christina Mahler, and lutenist Lucas Harris were anxiously awaiting their arrival, just then, a day late. There had been no concert the night before, so no disaster on that front, but it is always an uncomfortable feeling to be separated from one’s precious instrument, and one’s pulse rate surges until it is confirmed that it has arrived intact. All are fine, though, and even better in tune than one would expect after such a journey. The setup of the set and projector was also delayed by this, but as usual, our crack tech crew had everything under control by showtime anyway.

The afternoon and evening off in Edmonton is welcome, as we have performed every day so far. People are enjoying the warm weather and the laundry machines, although a play date is still held at the hotel that afternoon. I, however, choose to take a few hours off from the violin, my personal electronic devices, and even my “buddy” – meaning my little Leipzig and Damascus memorization book – and take a good, long walk. When I return to each of them, I discover that the world has not ended, so I stand by my decision.

A notice that the hotel fire alarms will be tested is a strong incentive not to be there at that particular time. Since the Winspear Centre, home of the Edmonton Symphony, is not far away, I decide to photograph its stage door for Will’s collection, even though we are not playing there this time. Our venue will be a church, which may not have a stage entrance as such.

edmonton stage door
The ongoing chronicle of Stage Doors – Winspear Centre, Edmonton

The Robertson-Wesley church turns out to have very good acoustics, much more like playing at home than most of the theatres on this trip, and it means narrator Blair Williams can deliver crystal clear text without the use of a microphone. This is preferable, being more harmonious with the music, which is strictly acoustic. There is, however, less stage space to work with than usual, so we carefully work through all of the movement in the show to avoid collisions, bumps on the head (some us need to sit directly under the screen in this venue), and to make sure people can see who they need to see at any given moment.

Saturday begins with a bus ride through the prairies to Calgary, a less dramatic backdrop than the mountains of B.C., but nonetheless compelling in its own way. We arrive at the Hotel Alma, conveniently next to the performance space on the campus of the University of Calgary. Two players are soon whisked off for educational/outreach activities: Julia Wedman for a masterclass for students at the university, and Tricia Ahern to coach an amateur group called the Blue Arch Strings.

As a Mahlerite, I am amused by the card on the coffee machine that says “Wake up with Alma” and the guest comments card that says, “Tell us how you feel about Alma.” It is tempting to fill it out in Gustav’s voice, writing something like: “To live for her, to die for her! Have a nice day :)” but I resist.

We are performing at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, which also has a beautiful acoustic, so again no mic is needed, and it is more straightforward for the motion than the last venue. We have a brief meet-and-greet with audience members after the concert, and I am very touched to meet two gentlemen attending together who announced that they were celebrating seven years cancer-free. It seems they met each other during chemotherapy, where they used to listen to Tafelmusik CDs. It is a great way to finish this Western tour.

We do have one more performance of House of Dreams in Kingston, Ontario, on Tuesday. This will be at the Isabel Bader Centre, which is run by our former Managing Director, Tricia Baldwin, and will be both another great reunion and our debut as an orchestra in that venue. A few of us went as a chamber group last spring and found it to be excellent. We will also be preparing and premiering our next multimedia project, Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, there in May. (Readers of this blog will know that memorization is already well underway for that project.) Tricia’s vision is to unite the different artistic departments of Queen’s University under this one roof, and our projects of this type seem a beautiful example of that vision, mirrored in the beautiful contemporary description of Joseph Smith’s Venetian villa from House of Dreams as “the perfect union of all the arts.”

Christopher Verrette, violin

Bach in a bed
Good night Bach!

Family Reunions for Tafelmusik

By Christopher Verrette, violin

Will noted in his first post for this tour how remarkable it was to him that he could fly 5 hours from Toronto and land in the same country. We had a similar experience at ground level travelling by bus and ferry from Victoria to Kelowna for several hours without leaving the province of B.C. In Europe, one might have passed through three countries in the same time and distance. We had good weather again for the ferry crossing Tuesday morning. A bald eagle conveniently posed for us in a tree by the docks. I find the combination of fresh air on the open deck and hot chocolate particularly satisfying.

Our lunch break was scheduled, appropriately, for Chilliwack, which is also the name of a band, as I learned last fall when we were composing an all-Canadian playlist for the benefit of Will, who had only recently joined us from England. B.C. is full of sights of natural beauty, and the otherwise mundane shopping plaza we stopped at was surrounded by mountains, and the sun was shining. When I got back on the bus I had links to Chilliwack songs waiting for me on my email, (as well as a tangential King Crimson one.) We finished up the film Roman Holiday, and Allen also showed us a brief clip of Blair Williams, our narrator for House of Dreams, playing a waiter in American Psycho (2000.) (He similarly embarrassed me years ago by showing The Witches of Eastwick, in which I appear briefly on screen.)

Hepburn movie_PA
Roman Holiday (in British Columbia)

One of the pieces we are playing is a beautiful aria from Bach’s Cantata 42 on the biblical text “Whenever two or three are gathered together…” which is an extremely timely text to reflect on, because “play date” season for the Leipzig and Damascus show has officially begun! Play dates are what we call anytime players get together to practise the music we need to know from memory, either on-book, off-book, or somewhere in between. Attendance is completely voluntary, so the particular combination of instruments can be odd at times. For example, playing only the three viola parts of a Lully piece, without either bass or treble line can be bizarre. (One guest conductor called these parts “the stuffing” of the orchestra, but I prefer another’s “cream.”) Some play dates are announced in advance, or are predictable (i.e. half an hour before showtime), but others can flare up unexpectedly, whenever two or more are gathered. They can happen onstage, backstage, in the gym at Trinity St.-Paul’s (our home venue), or in hotel conference rooms. I don’t think we have done one in an airport yet, but I could totally imagine that happening. These gatherings are an important part of the memorization process for us, and a positive indicator of the remarkable spirit of this orchestra, as well. The process is greatly assisted by the little personalized books pictured in an earlier post, to which the details of choreography will be added later. I personally have done a huge amount of memorization work on buses in B.C. over the past few years.

There has been a constant sense of family reunion surrounding this trip. Nanaimo is Aisslinn Nosky‘s hometown, so it is always special for us to play there. (Could there be something in the water there that fosters musical talent? It is also the hometown of Diana Krall and Allison Crowe.) Julie Wedman‘s dad lives in Victoria and was personally responsible for at least 30 ticket sales. Julie was also reunited in Kelowna with her Aunt Alanna, whom she hadn’t seen since she was 8, and I had the pleasure of taking their photo in the lobby after the show. Another happy reunion in Kelowna was with violinist Liz Enns, both a friend of mine and Cristina Zacharias‘ first teacher. (I have fond memories of being able to play for my first teacher in my hometown of Durham, New Hampshire with Tafelmusik back in 1999.)

Julie and Aunt Alanna
Julia Wedman and her Aunt Alanna

For the Kelowna-Edmonton leg of the journey, our production gear and large instruments were shipped by ground, but the people and smaller instruments flew. Beth Anderson was out at the airport early, going through a tense but ultimately successful negotiation to get all our instruments safely in the cabin of the plane. I had intended to finish writing this on the plane, but was distracted by the beautiful scenery. Edmonton is surprisingly warm, markedly different from the last time we were here, and there is great excitement and a bit of competition over the laundry room in our hotel.

Flying over mountains
Not a bad view!

Nanaimo Next!

With a free morning on Monday it was a chance for a lie-in, a wander about town, or, if you were me, a chance to catch up on emails and ponder software systems. At lunchtime I popped out with Chris Verette and Alison Mckay to meet with Bob Fraser from the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. As well as playing with the VSO he also chairs the OCSM, a network of Canadian Orchestral Musicians. Bob took us to a really fantastic (and tiny) Japanese restaurant, where I could counteract last night’s cocktails with some super-healthy fish. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the OCSM and also to talk about shared issues such as music director searches and the like.

After this it was time to head back onto the bus for our drive to Nanaimo. On arrival I was thrilled to see I had another great entry for my collection of glamorous backstage entrances!
Stafe Door in Nainaimo
Before the rehearsal started we had time to sort out every orchestra’s top priorities when arriving at a venue – coffee and Wifi (and tea as well, of course).
After a short warm-up rehearsal there was time for dinner in the green room and also time for a meeting with some musicians who are going to be participating in a new project we’re starting in May. This was a great chance to pin down rehearsal times and repertoire in person – so much better than a million emails flying around!
Following this there was time for a little relaxation, with Julie Wedman taking full advantage of the very cosy sofa in the Green Room!
Julie relaxing backstage
The 30 minutes before a concert are a cacophony of sound backstage with musicians warming up in any spare space they can find. I took a little video just so you could get an impression of the sound and we’ll get it posted shortly.
Out in the foyer collecting my ticket, I had a rather nice surprise, bumping into Andrew Clark, who for over 20 years was Principal Horn of my previous band, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He moved out to British Columbia several years ago so it was great to see him and have a little catch-up. Chatting backstage after the show, he reminded me of the time I had dragged the horn section to some random shopping mall to play and to drum up interest in our concert series in that town …
It was great to see yet another packed venue, especially on a Monday, which is never anyone’s favourite day of the week for a concert. Back on the tour bus afterwards my colleague Beth had laid out an assortment of refreshing beverages (i.e. beer) along with snacks. Beer on the bus is something of a regular tour treat, I understand, and a very welcome thing too.
We were entertained on the drive back to Victoria not only by the beer but also by film from Allen Whear’s extensive collection – he is something of a movie buff, and we were treated to a screening of a classic Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday.
The next day I (very sadly!) left the band in Victoria and traveled back to Toronto, via one of the shortest and scariest flights I’ve taken on an ancient and tiny plane from Victoria to Vancouver. So Chris Verette will be taking over blogging duties. However I will write one more bonus blog looking at some of the logistics and practicalities of putting together a tour like this. Thanks for reading!
William Norris, Managing Director

Duncan, Brits, and Choreography

Duncan, Brits, and Choreography

I’m running a day behind with my blogging, so while I’m writing this on the bus back from tonight’s concert in Nanaimo, I’m actually going to tell you about the previous day’s events.

Sunday saw us head to Duncan, about an hour north of Victoria, for a matinee performance. Along the way we saw some pretty spectacular scenery from the road, views over water and mountains, frustratingly only glimpsed briefly through gaps in the trees.

As we arrived into Duncan I spotted one of the town’s claims to fame – an enormous hockey stick and puck – apparently the world’s largest!

Arriving at the venue I mused on how stage doors to theatres and concert halls are, almost no matter where you are in the world, uniformly unglamorous and nondescript. I’m half tempted to start a blog which just features pictures of stage doors and nothing else.

While the first show in Vancouver had seen a full rehearsal and run-through of the entire show, since then (starting in Victoria) the band had gotten used to just having warm-up rehearsals in each venue, to get used to the different acoustic of each and to polish anything that needed to be looked at. At the start of the second half of this show, House of Dreams, we also have the Orchestra start playing from within the auditorium before walking onto stage, and as each venue is different this needs to be worked out and lit differently in each one.

We were here in Duncan at the invitation of the Cowichan Symphony Society and their Chair Ted came backstage and introduced himself. I immediately twigged a familiar sounding accent and it emerged he was from Yorkshire in the UK. Despite living here since the 1960’s he didn’t sound even a jot Canadian!

At his invitation I joined a pre-concert reception where I said a few words about the Orchestra. Afterwards I spoke to a few people there, all of whom were Brits – I know it’s British Columbia but this was ridiculous – one of them even hailed from a village about 30 mins from where I grew up!

On the coach back to Victoria after the show I chatted with Cristina Zacharias and Alison Mackay about some of the practical elements of the show. For example, I wondered how they remembered the choreography, particularly when they hadn’t performed the show for a year or more. While the original director Marshall Pynkoski from Opera Atelier did sometimes visit rehearsals to refresh the movement, the real secret was, it turned out, in the little individual scores each member of the Orchestra has. These books are prepared for everyone individually by Charlotte Nediger, so that they can learn and memorise their part. And within these the musicians write their movement cues so they know what to do when – Christina’s book is pictured below, with a plethora of notes!

Christina's music and notes

After the bus ride home we headed out for dinner.Our little group ended up at a rather healthy, but totally delicious restaurant. Any health benefits, however, might have been cancelled out by the drinks served at a rather lovely little cocktail bar I found later on…

William Norris, Managing Director

Go (further) West!

Go (further) West!

Following an all-too-short night’s sleep (I’m not usually an early riser as my colleagues will attest, but the time difference led to me waking at a horrible hour), we were off onto the next leg of the tour – to Victoria

One of the things that scares me most about touring is being late. At my previous Orchestra, if you were (especially as management) last on the bus you’d get a little (semi-jovial) jeer. Once, a colleague slept through his alarm and actually missed the bus – he never lived it down. Anyway, thankfully my early start meant I was there in time.

The trip to Victoria of course involves a ferry ride. I’ve done this once before on holiday (sorry, vacation) so knew how special it was. Luckily the weather had improved somewhat and we had the added treat of doing it with clear blue skies and bright sunshine, so the views were especially incredible. Most of the Orchestra spent the entire trip on deck taking it all in, and we had the very special treat of seeing some orca whales off in the distance.

While taking in the scenery I was able to chat to some of the Orchestra, including our harpsichordist Charlotte. Now of course when Orchestras go on tour everyone takes their instruments with them – sometimes tricky for cellos and double basses, but quite do-able with a helpful airline. However a harpsichord is a different kettle of fish entirely, so we tend to find an instrument local to each venue. This poses challenges for harpsichordists as they have to adapt to the instrument pretty quickly, and musicians have an understandably close relationship with their instrument. For example, Charlotte told me that the instrument in Vancouver had much wider keys than her regular instrument, which meant it felt really rather different under her hands. Just one more little thing about touring which wouldn’t necessarily occur to you.

After a brief stop at the venue to drop off production equipment and the set we continued to our hotel – with some curiosity it seemed. The Orchestra has stayed at this particular hotel for years but since our last trip it has been taken over by a chain, so we weren’t sure what to expect. This reminds me of another little oddity of touring – the essentialness of having all the rooms ready for check-in as soon as the orchestra arrives. You really don’t want a group of tired musicians being told to come back later because their rooms aren’t ready, and nor do you want a complicated check-in process for everyone – you want all the keys there ready for immediate hand-out. I overheard my colleague Beth calling the hotel as soon as we were off the ferry to make sure everything was in hand – and indeed it was.

We now had a few spare hours to spend in beautiful Victoria, and I mused that when I was last here I had ZERO expectation of being back so soon and even less expectation that I would be working for a Canadian Orchestra – it’s funny the turns life takes!

The evening’s performance was at the Alix Goolden Hall, a beautiful converted church with a great sound – and apparently the inspiration behind the renovation of our very own Jeanne Lamon Hall back in Toronto. It was another sold-out show and another very appreciative audience.

Back at the hotel we discovered the downside of the new ownership – the bar had closed already! The hotel bar is usually the centre of post-concert social life so this was something of a shame – the hotel redirected us to a rival hotel for drinks, which seemed like an interesting business decision…

After a quick tipple we were all VERY ready for bed and day three of the tour.

William Norris, Managing Director

Go West!

Go West!

As I am rapidly finding out, barely a day goes by without something happening at Tafelmusik, and so we find ourselves (hot on the heels of the Ontario Tour and Mozart concerts) over in Western Canada. The Orchestra travelled out on Thursday evening while I, and my essential travelling companion, Bobblehead Bach (left on my desk with a pleading note the day before), followed on Friday.

Being from a pretty minuscule island, it still boggles my brain that you can fly for five hours and STILL be in the same country, and Vancouver feels somehow so different from Toronto it almost feels like one – for one thing the air just feels so fresh and clear.

After arriving at the hotel, I immediately caught up with the Artistic Director of Vancouver Early Music, Matthew White, who filled me in on all the rather exciting plans of his organisation, who were presenting our concert that evening. Not only that, but he revealed the concert was totally sold out, which is always good to hear, especially for the first night of a tour!

We headed over to the Vancouver Playhouse together to catch the start of the rehearsal, almost walking into a film set as we did so – the Queen Elizabeth Theatre having been transformed into a Greyhound Bus Terminal for a film. There were lots of very cool vintage buses and cars around the place.

The rehearsal was smooth, with just some issues of movement and choreography to iron out, and the Orchestra also adapted to the acoustic of the venue – primarily a theatre – which was very different to our home in Toronto. Chatting to some of the Orchestra members, it was interesting to hear that the acoustic experience on stage was very different to that in the actual auditorium – so often someone from the orchestra would run out into the seating to see how it was coming across.

7.30pm saw a big crowd outside the theatre, so big in fact that we started a little late so that everyone could pick up their tickets in time! I was joined by a friend I knew from my Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment days – we previously knew each other as she’d worked at the Orchestra’s venue , the Southbank Centre. Thanks to the power of Facebook we’ve kept in touch – and it was fun to introduce her to Tafelmusik who she’d heard on recordings but never live.

After a superb performance of House of Dreams (apologies to the people behind me, I fear I was nodding in time with the music rather a lot I was enjoying it so!), the audience was immediately on its feet and being very vocal in its approval – a great start to the tour.

We celebrated in the usual orchestra way, with a few drinks. It’s reassuring that this seems to be a constant whichever Orchestra is in question!

More tomorrow when I’ll be blogging about our next date, Victoria.

William Norris, Managing Director.





Tafelmusik travels downtown

Members of Tafelmusik headed downtown to perform at the Four Seasons Centre as part of the Free Concert Series at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. With harpsichord in tow the musicians and staff braved TTC shutdowns and the snowy arrival of March to perform at a packed venue for fans of all ages.

The final bow stroke!
Final bowstroke (and a hidden Charlotte Nediger behind Stefano)

The concert was a really interesting exploration of the connections between the countries of Europe in the baroque age, most notably composition teachers and their students. And of course our musicians performed it all brilliantly with their usual joy and zest.  There was even a chance afterwards for students in the audience to come up and learn about the instruments.

Inquisitive Students
Learning about baroque instruments with Felix Deak and Julia Wedman

Major props to our intrepid five musicians: Julia Wedman and Christopher Verrette on violin, Stefano Marcocchi on viola, Felix Deak on ‘cello (a last minute sub-in, so he gets extra props), and Charlotte Nediger on harpsichord (also extra props, for letting some of the children play Mary had a Little Lamb on the keyboard).

And Thank You’s must go out to the team at the Canadian Opera Company – they’re great fun to work with!

Tim Crouch, Marketing Manager

On the Road

Of course launching a blog is easy. Keeping it up to date is the harder part, so here is a slightly belated post about our recent Ontario tour. This is something of a fixture in our February schedule now and sees us performing concerts in venues both near and far across Ontario. These are a mix of overnight trips and what we call ‘runouts’ – i.e. where we are close enough to Toronto to return the same day.

This year’s tour saw us take a special concert entitled ‘Bach and His World’ to Gravenhurst, Midland, Port Perry, and London, with two performances in each location – a daytime school concert and an evening performance as well. The school performances were particularly memorable for the audience’s enthusiastic participation singing along with new words to Bach’s Cantata 137!

One of the highlights of the annual Ontario tour is of course the excitingly wintry (you may sense a little tongue-in-cheek tone here) weather which usually accompanies it. However, for at least one member of the orchestra this really was a bonus – our violist Stefano (accompanied by his wife Isabella) got to walk on a lake for the first time!

Frozen lake_SM
Isabella Bison and Stefano Marcocchi walking on a lake for the first time

Huge thanks must go to our funders, the Ontario Arts Council and Sun Life Financial, for making the tour possible, and of course to our ever-enthusiastic musicians for being game for the many hours of sitting on the tour bus!

Of course we never stand still at Tafelmusik, so after a week at home in Toronto with an all-Mozart programme we’re just starting to prepare for our next tour – we’re off to Vancouver and Western Canada this Thursday. More on that very soon…