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