Australia Tour 2018: Perth

By Brandon Chui, viola

I remember receiving the email from Tafelmusik Operations Manager Beth Anderson with the invitation to go to Australia to perform Alison McKay’s memorized program Bach and His World (aka J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation). It was a cold afternoon in January 2017, and I was hanging out in the men’s dressing room at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts, home of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra with whom I was previously a member. Having already done a Tafelmusik memorized program in the past (The Galileo Project, Japan/Korea tour 2013), I was thrilled to take on the challenge of doing another one of these projects. And in Australia? Aw hell yeah, sign me up! And here I am, a year-and-a-bit later, hanging out at the Sensory Lab cafe in Melbourne on a dreary Monday morning, two days after our concert in Perth, the first on an 6-city, 8-concert run in the land down under.

Perth ConcertHall. Photo: Brandon Chui

People who know me know that I am a big consumer of food. I have been known to drive across the city, out to Markham, during a snow storm just to get a Mango Saigo at our favourite Chinese dessert spot. And while I may not be quite as extreme as that while on tour, a lot of time is spent thinking about what will satisfy the belly. It was about a year ago that I spent three weeks playing out in Kuala Lumpur, and you can ask my wife — I’ve been talking about Malaysian food non-stop for the last month. I miss everything about it — the smells, tastes, flavours, spices, the sense of family that goes into a simple looking Nasi Lemak. I can’t tell you how happy and excited I was to see the number of hits after Googling, “Malaysian restaurant Perth” (try the same for Toronto … not many, though special mention to One2Snacks for making a mean Hokkien Mee!), with the highly rated Insan’s Cafe being a 4-minute walk from our hotel! I’m embarrassed to report that your Tafelmusik viola section, Patrick G. Jordan and myself, ate at Insan’s Cafe three times in 36 hours. I mean, hey, why not? Amazing food, relatively cheap, close by — no need to even think about it! The memories it brought back were amazing, minus the heat, humidity and depending on where you choose to get your Nasi Campur in KL, the scooter exhaust!

And while food is the tour side-show, music is the real reason we’re here. The music of Bach is a source of spiritual uplift and the embodiment of why we do what we do, and to play this program featuring exclusively the music of this music god with my friends and colleagues of Tafelmusik leaves me in awe. As I sit there listening to Elisa, Chris, Christina, and Olivier play the second movement to Bach’s Trio Sonata BWV1039, I always think that I’m the luckiest person alive.

(L-R) Christopher Verrette (violin), Christina Mahler (violincello), Elisa Citterio (violin), and Olivier Fortin (harpsichord). Photo: Brandon Chui

What you and our audiences the world over hear are the fruits of hundreds of hard individual and collective work. From the individual memory work we all have to put in,  to the “play dates” where any number of players will get together (before a rehearsal or concert of a completely unrelated program at home) to run through music — these are all seeds that give way to the beautiful harvest of Bach and His World. And just to take you behind the curtain a little bit more, the parts that the violinists of Tafelmusik play in this program are always fluid, meaning each player often plays different parts with each run. For example, because Chris Verrette was not on the East Coast Canadian Tour in November 2017, parts were re-distributed among the other violinists to make up for his absence. Tricia Ahern broke her arm before the March 2018 run in Toronto, and now Genevieve Gillardeau is not able to join us in Australia, so people have to learn different parts to fill in. Add to that the different stages and their geographical layouts (which call for adjustments to where people walk and stand), acoustics (how do we balance, articulate, and pull our sounds differently?) and ever-evolving musical concepts, what you get is a product in constant change, ever growing and changing with each performance.

And just like my food – I LIKE THAT.


The orchestra has now performed in Perth and Melbourne. For the full Australia tour schedule, visit tafelmusik.org/Tours

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My Journey with Bach

By John Abberger, oboe

I have always been fascinated with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. With music loving parents, I probably heard his music as a small child. I remember the moment when I became absolutely captivated by one of his compositions as a youth. How does he do it? How does his music reach so deep inside us, and how does it have such an uncanny ability to express so profoundly what it is to be human? Performing Bach’s music has been a touchstone of my career as a musician. It’s almost as if I set out on a journey (without realizing it as such) to try to understand Bach’s music deeply, and to communicate this understanding to an audience by performing these compositions to the best of my ability.

Over the course of my forty-year career I have learned that the more you give of yourself to Bach’s music the more it gives back. My love and fascination for Bach’s music led me, in my early days as a professional, to the period instrument movement and the study of historical performance practice. This was a revelation for me. Performing Bach’s music on an oboe that at least resembles one he would have recognized, and understanding in some small way the performance practices and modes of expression that were part of his musical language has vastly increased my appreciation for the expert craft with which his compositions are created.

Musicians of Toronto Bach Festival

Bach wrote a quite a lot of music, and his music is performed the world over by many fine music organizations. But an organization devoted to the performance of music by many composers from many centuries cannot perform more than a small number of his compositions with any regularity. A Bach Festival, on the other hand, exists to focus the attention of its audience only on Bach’s music. The Toronto Bach Festival takes as its mission the goal of increasing and deepening our collective understanding of Bach’s art. This includes:

  • performing all of his music, to broaden our experience of his art.
  • performing music by his predecessors to provide some understanding of the traditions within which he worked.
  • performing music by composers whose works were profoundly influenced by his music.

With each iteration of the festival I want to enrich our audience’s experience of Bach’s music. I want to show you the incredible delights of his keyboard music, in many ways Bach’s most personal music. I want to celebrate with you the joys of the instrumental music, both chamber and orchestral. And I want you to experience the wonders of his choral works, much of which you have never heard before.

As I have matured as a musician the depth of my appreciation for Bach’s music has grown considerably. I have come to understand in great detail how Bach uses the harmonic language of his time with such expressiveness. I have learned how he used the musical structures of his time so effectively. I have learned how he set the texts of his vocal works with such amazing clarity. But when all is said and done, I feel I am no closer to explaining how he does it, how he speaks to the innermost core of our being with such devastating insight. This, to me, is the essence of Art: to use the materials at hand to create something that adds up to far, far more than the sum of its parts.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing The Circle of Creation with a portrait of Bach on a screen.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing “J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation.” Photo by Glenn Davidson

What was that performance that captivated me as a youth? A performance at a Bach festival in the area where I grew up, the Bach Festival of Winter Park, one of the oldest Bach festivals in North America. (In the Orlando area, Winter Park is the equivalent of North York in Toronto.)

One could say (with only a bit of hyperbole) that my experience at this performance set me on my path as a musician. I continued to study music and the oboe in high school, at university in Louisiana, and in graduate school at the Juilliard School in New York. It was only after I left school that I discovered the period oboe, and I immediately realized that the period instrument field is a direct avenue to performing lots of Bach. Immersing myself in the study of historical performance has also provided me with crucial insights into a foundational understanding of the best way to perform his music.

I feel fortunate to have ended up in Canada and Toronto where music is held in such high regard. Perhaps there will be a youth sitting in the audience at one of our concerts who will be captivated by this remarkable music as I was that day many years ago.


John Abberger is principal oboe for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and Artistic Director of Toronto Bach Festival. Hear John perform in the third annual Toronto Bach Festival from May 11–13, 2018. For tickets and concert information, visit torontobachfestival.org.