US Tour 2017: San Juan and Winter Park

By Julia Wedman, violin

One of the things I love the most about touring (and maybe life in general) is that unexpected things happen — both unexpectedly wonderful and unexpectedly challenging. This blog is dedicated to the highlights and challenges of touring.

Sitting next to me on the airplane the other day, our wonderful narrator, Blair Williams, inspired me by quoting Australian actor Zoe Caldwell, “Without a challenge a skin begins to grow around the soul.”

Julia Wedman, violin, and Dominic Teresi, bassoon, in San Juan. Photo: James Johnstone

Saturday, March 4, 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 8pm Concert at the Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals, Centre de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferre

Today’s Up

Concerts are often the best part of touring, especially when we are playing one of our memorized programs. This concert was a true highlight. The hall in San Juan is incredibly beautiful — the perfect size and acoustic for a group like ours! Named after the famous Catalan cellist Pablo Casals (1876–1973), it seemed particularly fitting that we would play the music of his favourite composer. Casals said, “For the past 80 years I have started each day in the same manner … I go to the piano, and I play preludes and fugues of Bach … It is a sort of benediction on the house.”

Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals. Photo courtesy of Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré

I love the magic that performing in a great hall inspires in Tafelmusik. It is like an upward spiral — when we hear something beautiful, we are moved to respond with something equally striking, and suddenly the music takes on new shapes that we had never heard before. Adding to the momentum of the upward spiral is a completely engaged audience, like the one we had in San Juan. Just after intermission, I always go up into the balcony and play part of the Allemande from Bach’s D-Minor Partita. Even though it is exciting to be so close to the audience, it can be nerve-wracking to play so far away from the rest of the orchestra. In this concert, it was heart-warming to be part of the crowd. I got to see first-hand how the audience was responding to every sound and image — laughing, whispering to friends, and soaking up everything coming to them from the stage. There was a vibrancy in the response that gave me a true sense of community —everyone was seeing and hearing this concert with the same kind of excitement and love that I have for it! I think people coming to classical music concerts often think that they have to be quiet all the time. Yes, we do need still moments, but I love a boisterous audience and prefer genuinely spontaneous silences that come when the audience and performers are so tuned in that we all need a stillness. In a solo earlier in the program, I have a silence, and one of the tests of me, the hall, and the audience is how long I can draw out that silence. Tonight’s was one of the longest!

Today’s Down

Some days our tech team faces big challenges on tour. We travel with our own computer, projector, and large-scale screen, and our technical team (Raha Javanfar, Glenn Davidson, and Glen Charles Landry) arrives several hours before the orchestra in every venue to set up the screen and the projector, focus the lights, and tape the floor medallion to the stage so that Blair and the orchestra know where to stand. One of the biggest challenges at the Sala Pablo Casals was finding a place for the projector so that the image had a clear path to the screen over people’s heads. In order to make that work in San Juan, Raha spent 90 minutes scrounging around backstage “MacGyvering” a stand for the projector in the lighting booth. The resultant pyramid consisted of the projector on top of its own case, on top of scrap pieces of wood, on a table, on the conductor’s podium, on top of a skid. It worked perfectly!

Sunday March 5, 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Free Day

Today’s Up

It was my first true day off (no practising!) since the beginning of January. Rhett Lee Garcia, one of the wonderful organizers of our San Juan concert, set up a last-minute tour of the rainforest in gorgeous Yunque National Park. Hector, our knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, picked us up at 10am, and after a scenic drive past incredible coastal views, we stopped at his friend’s grocery where we picked up delicious fresh pineapple, mangoes, and coconut candy. As we drove up into the mountains, he described the medicinal qualities of the trees. “For every disease there is a cure within 20 feet in the rain forest,” he declared. He dropped us off at the top of a narrow stone trail, from where we followed a small stream of water which gained volume as we walked down amongst the lush vegetation, leading to stunning waterfalls. About ten minutes into the walk, I felt my lungs expanding and a deep breath entered my body. It was as if I hadn’t been breathing for months! When we got to the falls, we dipped our feet in the cold water, and the two Glenns bravely dived straight in! Today was an exquisite reminder of nature’s power to heal body and soul.

Photo: James Johnstone

Today’s Down

This was such a wonderful day that even the challenges were fun! We had planned a big dinner for the whole orchestra at a beautiful restaurant in the old city, and a few of us went in early to walk around. After a day of perfect weather, the sun gods decided we had had too much, and a torrential rain storm rudely interrupted our visit to the sixteenth-century citadel, Castillo de San Felipe. We arrived at the restaurant soaking wet, freezing, and starving. Unfortunately the restaurant, located in a charming former convent, was not having its best night. Soon after we arrived, a scuffle (fistfight!) ensued between two members of staff, and our server, who was new, was visibly rattled. The restaurant was understaffed so the food took a long time to arrive — two and half hours! In true Puerto Rican style, they kindly gave us free appetizers, but the food wasn’t quite up to the high standards of many of the officianados in our group. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the ambience and the company, and I took advantage of the tiny hand dryer in the bathroom to dry out my socks while we waited for dinner!

Storm clouds brewing. Photo: Julia Johnstone
Food time after the rain. Photo: Dominic Teresi

Monday, March 7, 2017

Winter Park, Florida, 7:30pm. Concert at the Tiedtke Concert Hall, Keene Music Building, Rollins College

Today’s up

After an early wake-up and a long day of travel we arrived in sunny Winter Park, Florida, to play for The Bach Festival Society concert series, which was founded in 1935 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth. One of the things we all love about touring is having a chance to visit our musician’s family members around the world. Many of us get the most nervous and also play the best when family members are in the audience (both in Toronto and on tour). Tiedtke Concert Hall in Winter Park is not far from oboist John Abberger’s family home. Not only did we have the honour of playing on such a prestigious and long-running concert series, filled with an audience of smiling Bach-lovers, we were treated to a lovely reception organized by John and his brothers! We were treated to Lester Abberger’s delicious homemade smoked salmon, got to cuddle with Will Abberger’s beautiful golden Labrador, and were treated to a viewing of family treasures, which included the sweetest portraits of John and his brothers as children. It is always fantastic to meet family and find out more about our beloved colleagues’ early years. We also had the pleasure of seeing Tricia Ahern’s mother and Chris Verrette’s brother. We will definitely have to come back to Winter Park soon!

Today’s down

One of the other challenges of touring with a baroque orchestra is that we don’t travel on airplanes with our own harpsichord, so we need to find harpsichords in the places we perform. Today’s harpsichord presented a problem when guest harpsichordist James Johnstone arrived before the orchestra to practise and tune. Many harpsichords have a transposing mechanism that enables them to play at A=440 (modern pitch) or A=415 (baroque pitch). When James arrived, the Dowd harpsichord was at A=440, and the mechanism to switch it over was stuck. After 20 minutes of struggling, Glenn Davidson (from the tech team) came over to help. They were pressed for time because we had arrived almost an hour late to the hotel (delayed flight, faulty GPS on the bus getting to the venue). It caused a little stress — a harpsichord tuned at the wrong pitch would not do! The orchestra would be arriving soon and everything needed to be in place for the dress rehearsal. The stage was a different shape than usual (wide and narrow), so the screen had to be placed beside us rather than behind us. We needed every bit of rehearsal time for re-organizing choreography and getting used to the new space. James had almost fixed the problem when Glenn Davidson arrived to complete the last puzzle piece. Crawling under the harpsichord, Glenn discovered an extra screw that needed to be taken out for the transposition to fall into place! James quickly began tuning as the orchestra arrived, and rehearsal only started about five minutes late. That was great for me because I was late too. I have a lot of food allergies and hadn’t been able to eat anything at the airports that day. My food supply was low, and I had to find a little grocery store after getting to the hotel. In a rush, I dropped my rice cooker, and I thought it broke. But I was able to fix that too!

The orchestra is in California with performances scheduled in Santa Barbara, Long Beach and La Jolla. Then the tours ends in Seattle, Washington.

A special homage to the amazing women of Tafelmusik

This International Women’s Day, we would like to take a moment to celebrate all the amazing and intelligent women who have appeared both onstage and off over the years here at Tafelmusik. Their contribution has been an essential part in making Tafelmusik what it is today and we are proud to consider them family members.

We could literally spend hours honouring all the strong and vibrant women who have graced the stage and hallways of our office but here are a few that have influenced the course of Tafel history for the better.

Tricia Baldwin was the Managing Director of Tafelmusik from 2000 to 2014. During her tenure, Tafelmusik enjoyed a prolific and prestigious period on the world stage, including 57 provincial, national and international tours. Her tenure has also seen the development of audiences and artists through the renovation of Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and the expansion of programming into Koerner Hall and the George Weston Recital Hall. Her relentless efforts permitted Tafelmusik to successfully launch its very own Tafelmusik Media label in 2012.

Ottie Lockey was Tafelmusik’s Managing Director for close to 20 years, from 1981 to 2000. During her tenure, she helped Tafelmusik establish itself as one of the country’s most highly regarded musical organizations and greatest cultural exports. Her devotion to Tafelmusik permitted our Orchestra and Chamber Choir to secure a wide and loyal audience, an extensive catalogue of recordings, and an international touring network.

 Alison Mackay, violone and double bass

Alison joined Tafelmusik in 1979 and is the creative brain behind our now world-famous multimedia presentations. Some audience favourites include The Galileo Project, House of Dreams, Bach: The Circle of Creation, and Tales of Two Cities, to name but a few. Much of Tafelmusik’s international appeal in recent years has been made possible by Alison’s inexhaustible creativity. Her contribution to orchestral life in Canada has been honoured with the Betty Webster Award in 2013.

Charlotte Nediger, Harpsichord, Organ

Charlotte joined the orchestra in 1980 at age 21 has called Tafelmusik home ever since. Besides sharing her musical skills onstage, Charlotte is very active behind the scenes occupying the role of Assistant to the Music Director, Librarian, and Programme Editor. She also oversees Tafelmusik’s successful Summer and Winter institute. Her devotion on stage and off not only inspires, but also helps build tomorrow’s generation of period performers.

Christina Mahler (cello), Cristina Zacharias (violin), Geneviève Gilardeau (violin), Julia Wedman (violin), Patricia Ahern (violin), and Aisslin Nosky (former Tafelmusik violin)

Needless to say that the contribution of these talented women has truly been part of Tafelmusik’s local and international prestige. Exquisite music lives at the heart of Tafelmusik and and in the hearts of these gifted women.

Soprano: Michele DeBoer, Brenda Enns, Emma Hannan, Francine Labelle, Carrie Loring, Meghan Moore, Susan Suchard | Alto: Kate Helsen and Valeria Kondrashov.

Today we also celebrate the brilliant women of our choir. Through the gift of their combined voices, the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir has gathered worldwide praise and accolades. It is no surprise that Tafelmusik programs involving our Chamber Choir attract audiences in great numbers. We owe this success in part to these accomplished women.

Carol Campbell, Front of House, Volunteer & Events Manager

If you have come to one of our concerts, you have surely seen Carol, who has been with Tafelmusik for over 30 years. She has been responsible for running our front-of-house during concerts, as well as managing our army of happy volunteers. The care and attention Carol puts into making concerts run as smoothly as possible is an essential ingredient in keeping our audience happy and coming back year after year.

Beth Anderson, Director of Artistic Administration & Operations

Beth has been with Tafelmusik since 2003. Her role is essential in putting together and running a season of programming. On tour, she is indispensable: getting from A to B may sound simple, but not when travelling with an orchestra! She brilliantly ensures that every detail is in place. As one of our more senior staff members, she has become a reference for historical notes and also contributes to maintaining a reassuring environment for newer employees to thrive in.

Jeanne Lamon, Music Director Emerita

We of course could not complete our homage to the women of Tafelmusik without mentioning Jeanne Lamon, who was Music Director of Tafelmusik from 1981 to 2014. Jeanne Lamon has been praised by critics in Europe and North America for her strong musical leadership and has won numerous awards. In 2000, Jeanne was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2014, a Member of the Order of Ontario. Her remarkable legacy to Tafelmusik and Toronto is undeniable.

In February 2017, Tafelmusik officially appointed Elisa Citterio as its new Music Director. Elisa was the unanimous choice of both the orchestra and search committee. We are thrilled to be welcoming yet another inspiring and talented woman to our family.


Cheers to all women in our Tafelmusik family, onstage and off, in our audience both locally and internationally. Today, our music honours you.

By Réjean Tremblay, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing and Sales

Get to Know The Bernardinis, Father/Daughter duo

For our upcoming concert in April, Bach: Keeping it in the Family, we invited the father/daughter duo Alfredo and Cecilia Bernardini to co-guest direct this (almost) all-Bach program. Both have performed with Tafelmusik in the past but it’s been a while since our last catch-up.

How did you come to decide to be a musician?

Cecilia Bernardini: As I little girl I fell in love with the violin; the longer I played it the more I became sure I wanted to become a violinist. The musicians’ life of my father and his friends seemed attractive and exciting!

Alfredo Bernardini: I sang in a choir and played the recorder as a child. When I heard my first Bach cantata aged 14 I decided I wanted to become an oboist and play that wonderful music.

What was your first music gig?

CB: It was a Schubert sonatina and a Mozart sonata (I think…) in a beautiful Orangerie somewhere in the Dutch countryside, when I was about twelve.

AB: Playing Handel’s opera Ariodante with Tafelmusik  at the Scala in Milan in April 1982, with Jeanne Lamon leading, Alan Curtis conducting and my teacher Bruce Haynes playing principal oboe!

What is your ‘guilty pleasure’ music to listen to?

CB: Stéphane Grappelli, Jacques Brel, Björk.. Although I don’t feel particularly guilty  about that!

AB: Rossini ouvertures and Latin American rhythmic music.

What are the last three songs/pieces you’ve listened to (on your iPod or phonograph)?

CB: “Royal Consort” of William Lawes by Ensemble Phantasm, Bach violin unaccompanied sonatas by Lucy van Dael and “The Willow song” from Othello (anonymous)

AB: Schumann symphonies, Les voix bulgares, Gesualdo’s madrigals.

What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?

CB: Going for a bike ride in the countryside, visiting my relatives in Amsterdam, or simply enjoying a good book and a glass of wine.

AB: Go to the peak of a mountain and find silence

You often perform together. What is the experience like, to work together as father and daughter?

CB: It’s wonderful; because we know each other so well there is a deep and natural musical understanding between us. The fact that we play two different instruments means that we can look at the same piece from slightly different angles.

AB: It’s an incredible pleasure and fulfillment to combine my two favourite things together: family and music.

In these concerts you are co-directing. How does that work?

CB: I usually leave it to my father to give the big outline and try to help where possible. Obviously I take the lead when it’s strings only. It does help to discuss things in advance so that we don’t end up contradicting each other by accident!

AB: I suppose we try not to interfere with one another too much. For that, it’s important to establish in advance how to share the pieces and the tasks.

Join us for Bach: Keeping it in the Family at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre from April 5–9, 2017. Tickets are available here.

US Tour 2017: Oberlin and Penn State

By Christopher Verrette, violin

Tafelmusik is touring the US from February 28 to March 11, 2017, presenting Alison Mackay’s multimedia program J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation. This concert combines text, music, stunning projected video and images to explore the world of the artisans—paper makers, violin carvers, string spinners, and performers—who helped J.S. Bach realize his musical genius. Tour dates and other info at

Less than 24 hours after playing our final Visions & Voyages concert at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Tafelmusik set off by bus to the US for a two-week long tour. We experienced no difficulty with visas for musicians at the border, which was a relief, but the paperwork for our stage gear was missing a stamp from our last journey, so we had to double back to the Canadian side to attend to that. Our first stop was Oberlin, Ohio, home to Oberlin College and one of the finest conservatories of music in North America. The school was founded in 1833 by a couple of ministers as one of the first coeducational institutions of learning, and was open to African-Americans as well. Oberlin is otherwise a quiet town with its Ben Franklin Five and Dime store and Apollo Art Decoy movie theatre (which showed its first “talkie” back in 1928) still in use. The campus itself is lovely, and it was welcoming to see the maple trees on the central green being tapped for syrup.

Bobblehead Bach on stage in Finney Chapel, Oberlin, OH. Photo: Pat Jordan
Bobblehead Bach on stage in Finney Chapel, Oberlin, OH. Photo: Pat Jordan

Oberlin has one the oldest and best programs for historical performance, including a summer institute that is in its 46th year. A group of us were able to visit with one of its architects, Catharina Meints, and get a tour of the collection of violas da gamba and other instruments that she and her late husband, James Caldwell amassed over the years. They began collecting in the late 1960’s (she explained that their courtship consisted mostly of playing viol duets!) and the process was not merely one of accumulation of instruments but also of their restoration and of learning a great deal about different national styles of design and construction, and their relation to other arts. One detail she pointed out that has really stuck with me is the head of a 1740ish French instrument, which is a representation of a “noble savage”, a beautiful embodiment of that view of the North American peoples, especially as we come from last week’s Sesquicentennial project.

Bobblehead Bach with the Nittany Lion, Penn States official mascot. Photo: Pat Jordan
Bobblehead Bach with Penn State’s mascot, the Nittany Lion. Photo: Pat Jordan

Our next stop was Penn State University, our third recent visit there. Larger than Oberlin, it is still very much a college town, in fact, the name of the town is “State College”. The university has a deep history dating back to the 1850s, commemorated by many informative signs on the campus, and visible in many old, large trees. The Old Main is a beautiful stone building next to our performance venue. In addition to our performances of J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation, Tafelmusik players made contact with students in both places though performance master classes and visits to classes in other disciplines, as well as a visit to a high school. Given the academic nature of our audiences in both places, the section of the program concerning dress codes in Leipzig brought on much laughter, as university professors are referred to as “second class citizens” and students with master’s degrees as fourth class. Lawyers fall in between as third class…

Photo: Christopher Verrette
The Old Main, PennState University. Photo: Christopher Verrette

Tonight, the orchestra performs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Corporación del Centro de Bellas Artes, followed by a stop in Winter Park, Florida. Watch for more photos and updates!

We went to the movies! Or, What would Beethoven do?

Tafelmusik staff went to check out a new film at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema, titled “What would Beethoven do?”, part of the Music on Film series put on by The Royal Conservatory.

To find out a bit more about the film, check out the trailer:


What Would Beethoven Do? | New Documentary Teaser from What Would Beethoven Do on Vimeo.

We had a fiery and lengthy discussion after the film, about the state of classical music in general – here’s what some of our thoughts were!

First from Managing Director Will Norris:

“So many thoughts and talking points after watching ‘What would Beethoven do’. First, a reaffirmation of the power of music and the joy and happiness it brings – in the film most ably exemplified by Bobby McFerrin and the boundless enthusiasm of conductor Benjamin Zander. A lively debate ensued afterwards in the pub. Top of my mind after the concert was the issue of performance venues. Conventional performance spaces offer acoustic perfection but often accentuate that ‘fourth wall’, that divide between audience and Orchestra. Current-day concert presentation often does little to break that wall, with little to no interaction between performer and audience. Some of my most profound musical experiences have been in acoustically sub-par spaces but where I have been able to feel connected to and close to the performers, and I discovered chamber music by hearing it played in a pub. Conventional concert halls will always have a place, but should we be valuing other parts of the concert-going as much as we value acoustics? Should we be pressing for flexible performance spaces which allow for varied audience configurations? And lastly, a thought that we can never become complacent. It is so easy working for an orchestra just to follow the trodden path – but last night’s film was a reminder that we need to be constantly evangelical for our artform, and, as part of that evangelism, constantly questioning what we do, how we do it and searching out and grasping new opportunities for our music to be heard.”

Associate Director of Philanthropy Phil Stephens decided to look into some statistics:

There no lack of confusing statistics out there, but here are a couple of interesting ones:

“1808: A Beethoven grand public concert drew only from aristocracy and middle class, equaling no more than 2.5% of Viennese residents. LINK

2002: Classical Music Consumer Study said 16% of adults in the U.S. attended a classical music concert in the 12 months prior to the survey. LINK

Classical audiences seem to be getting younger and more diverse these days. If you‘re an orchestra going back to the same trough repeatedly with diminishing results, try diversification! Do not expect an audience to come to you.

Classical performers and administrators could benefit from a regular dose of modern music (yes, even pop), and perhaps should view music as wonderful entertainment more often. Help foster a culture of exploration and sharing, instead of pushing conformity and academics.”

From Tim Crouch, Senior Manager of Marketing & Audience Engagement:

“Having many friends who are composers, I find one of the most interesting topics from the film was the discussion over the definition of classical music. Depending on who you talk to, classical can mean so many different things. To those in the know, it’s a genre from a specific time-period. To newcomers, classical can be an overarching term for almost anything that’s not ‘pop’, sometimes associated with relaxing studying lists (though I’d argue classical music is anything but relaxing). 

In the end, it brings up the interesting exercise of a review of terminology. This may seem like semantics, but I think it’s important, as artists and arts administrators, to own what we do, with a strong focus of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. This may require us to reject static definitions of our genre, and all the connotations associated with those definitions. Traditions are important, but when they get in the way of music-making and connections with the audience, the art becomes a museum piece.

One thing I know is definite – what we consider to be western classical music/music of the European tradition is one of the most dynamic, ever-changing art forms, and acts like an incredible sponge, soaking in influences from around the world. If we can make even minuscule strides to convey this to classical naysayers, and reject decades of over-formalized connotations, I think we’ll have come a long way. For me, it starts with what we call ourselves.

PS For an interesting link on this subject, go here.” 

And finally from Peter Harte, Marketing Manager:

“I did thoroughly enjoy this film. I appreciate any piece of art that provokes discussion, educates, and prompts me to seek out others opinions to help justify my own. The big question asked is what are orchestras doing to engage new and younger audiences for a long period of time rather than just offering a one time “unique date experience”? I am not a musician myself, but through this film I could easily see the passion these musicians have, and the true love they have for their craft. But it made me wonder, why is it often difficult to see this while attending a concert? How do we break down this 4th wall from the stage and allow audiences to really see the spirit and intensity coming from these musicians? Yes, all important questions we ask ourselves time and time again.

A comment during the post-film Q&A that stood out to me was from a gentleman who was trying to compose a question about whether having DJ Scratch Bastid collaborate with a string quartet at the RCM was a one-time gimmick or indeed an innovative approach to liven up otherwise predictable repertoire. If the question had been presented more clearly it may have started a dialogue between us all about what exactly are orchestras committing to when these electronic DJs are placed on stage. I’ve seen or heard numerous orchestras incorporating electronic music or live DJs into their season programming, and generally you can see that it does brings a new audience and energy to the concert experience. However, these events may only occur once a year, and more often than not the orchestra and DJ are disconnected in their performance. It’s almost there, but not quite. Have any orchestras made a true leap of collaborating with multidisciplinary artists? Or are they simply throwing in unrelated disciplines of art to make the experience seem “cool”?

I can’t help but ask myself, why do we assume young people enjoy electronic music? And why do so many orchestras use this as the gateway to get new folks into their doors and excite them about orchestral music? Maybe the concert hall and the formal attire of our musicians needs to change to help break the high class reputation classical music has. Maybe we need more movies like Fantasia to help a new generation visualize and relate to what they are hearing. Or maybe an easy to digest explanation is needed as to why a piece of music is being performed, by this specific organization, right now, to help us understand its relevance.

I love that this film made me ask myself these questions and has sparked discussions between myself and my colleagues, and hopefully between you too. It’s definitely worth seeing.”

Over to you – what do you think? What would Beethoven do, were he alive today?