Mozart’s Piano: The Fortepiano

The piano used in our performances of Mozart’s Piano by fortepiano virtuoso Kristian Bezuidenhout was made by Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 1997 in The Plains, Virginia, outside Washington, DC. It is modelled on the work of the eighteenth-century Viennese maker Anton Walter, and has a keyboard range of just over five octaves (from FF to g”’). Knee levers are used to raise the dampers, and a hand stop operates the moderator (a piece of cloth that slides into place between the hammers and strings to produce a muted effect). Veneered in curly cherry, the case is primarily of spruce.

Walter Piano

Gabriel Anton Walter (1752–1825) was part of a cadre of piano makers, performers, and composers living in Vienna. Walter and his colleagues Stein, Hofmann, Kober, and Schantz worked closely with Haydn, Mozart, Hummel, and Beethoven. Each maker had his own designs and brought special qualities to the instruments, which the composers used to advantage. Haydn praised Walter’s pianos for their brilliance and complained about the prices he charged, but ultimately preferred the pianos of Schantz. Beethoven, while liking Walter’s instruments, also expressed concern about their economics.  Acquainted with most of the German and Austrian makers and often praising them, at the time of his death Mozart owned an early-period Walter of a slightly different design than the more usual model heard tonight.

Thomas and Barbara Wolf have made reproductions of historical keyboard instruments since 1969. Originally trained as musicians (he a bassist, she a pianist), they apprenticed in the workshops of Frank Hubbard and Eric Herz in Boston. In 1974 they moved to Washington, DC to begin a long association with the keyboard collection at the Smithsonian Institution, filling the roles of restorer, conservator, and technician. The Wolfs make a wide variety of clavichords, harpsichords, and fortepianos based on originals from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Restoration and maintenance of antique instruments is also important to the Wolfs: their work can be found in the collections of several museums.

We are delighted that the builder Barbara Wolf will join us to tune and maintain the fortepiano. If you attend a concert, please feel free to welcome her and ask her questions about the instrument. However, we ask that you leave her in peace during the intermission tuning.


Join us for Mozart’s Piano from November 9–12, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.


University of Toronto: Faculty of MusicThe fortepiano belongs to the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, and we are very grateful for the very generous loan of the instrument for this week’s concerts. Special thanks are extended to Dean Don McLean and to Piano Technician Gordon Christie for their support and assistance.

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View from the Horn Section

By Andrew Clark, horn

Andrew Clark, horn
Andrew Clark, horn

It is rare to find orchestral works from the baroque period that use four horns instead of the usual two. On those instances when it did occur, it was usually to mark a special occasion. It is therefore an honour to be part of the horn quartet in Tafelmusik’s A Joyous Welcome program.

To perform this concert on instruments similar to those used in the eighteenth century, we will be playing horns associated with the “noble sport” of hunting. This was a pursuit (pun intended) practised by the wealthy nobility. The costs were significant: not only did hunting require a stable of horses, but refreshments had to be provided for guests, the right clothes were expected, and horn players needed to be employed to signal the unfolding events to those who followed on foot. The fanfares played had specific meanings, and included: Uncoupling the Hounds, The Running, The Cherish when the Hounds are in Full Cry, Breaking Cover, The Call Back, The Death, and The Retreat from the Field. Composers who wished to ingratiate themselves to particular patrons often wrote compositions that included horns and musical quotations from the hunt as recognition of the patron’s status and ability to sponsor the event. For three centuries these fanfares have formed the basis of idiomatic music for the horn, with examples to be found in works from Bach to Mozart, and from Brahms to John Williams.

Hunting horns were known by various names: in Italian, corno da caccia; in German, Waldhorn; in French, cor de chasse; and in English, French horn. Nowadays we often use the term natural horns to distinguish them from valved horns, which were a nineteenth-century innovation.

Earliest example of an instrument called a French horn, made in London, England in 1699, with an ivory mouthpiece (in the collection of Horniman Museum & Gardens)

Compared to other brass instruments, the horn has one of the largest tube expansions, from the narrowest tube at its beginning to a large bell at the end. Its length is dictated by the key required for the music. For example, in this program, twelve feet are needed for pieces in F, and sixteen feet for pieces in C. Sometimes the length is changed by swapping over a detachable coil of tubing called a crook, but this was a technological improvement that only gradually gained acceptance in the eighteenth century. Prior to that development a separate horn was needed for each key. Both versions will be in use for this program, and the horn section need make no apology for any crooks observed in their ranks!


Join us for A Joyous Welcome from Sept 21-24, 26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

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.

Intimate German Baroque Advanced Playlist

by Tim Crouch, Senior Manager of Marketing & Audience Engagement

We’ve put together a playlist of (most) of the music you’ll hear at Intimate German Baroque (Jan 19 – 22, 2017), featuring English baritone Peter Harvey and Jeanne Lamon, violin. It’s a great way to get into the spirit of the concert before you hear it live on stage. Since we are not including a recording of Böddecker’s Sonata sopra La Monica, you’ll have to come to the concert to hear it. Enjoy!

The first piece on the program and on the playlist is H.I. F. von Biber‘s Fidicinium sacro-profanum no. 1 in B Minor (Nuremberg, c.1683). We included L’Armonia Sonora’s recording.

The next track on the playlist is Dietrich Buxtehude‘s Cantata “Mein Herz ist bereit” (Lübeck, c.1680), featuring our guest artist, Peter Harvey, and the Purcell Quartet.

Then we visit J.S. Bach’s mentor and cousin Johann Christoph Bach and his Lamento “Wie bist du denn, O Gott?” (Eisenach, late 17th century). The version we selected for the playlist is by The English Baroque Soloists with conductor John Elliot Gardiner.

We revisit Biber and his Sonata no. 3 in F Major for violin & continuo (Nuremberg, 1681). This version is performed by Romanesca (Andrew Manze, baroque violin; Nigel North, lute and theorbo; Johnn Toll, organ).

The final piece on the playlist is Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Cantata 82 “Ich habe genug” (Leipzig, 1727) with baritone Peter Harvey, and John Eliot Gardiner and The English Baroque Soloists.

You can find this playlist on our YouTube channel at youtube.com/tafelmusik1979.


Join us for Intimate German Baroque at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre from January 19-22, 2017. Concert information and tickets are information is available here.

 

Personal Reflections: Tales of Two Cities

by Patrick Jordan, viola

Tafelmusik’s performance of Alison Mackay’s latest creation, Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, at the Aga Khan Museum last week on Friday, December 9 was many things. It was on the one hand the culmination of the production of the video component of our upcoming DVD of the program. It was also and all of a sudden, one of the most moving and intense performances I have experienced in quite some time.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Trio Arabica on stage at the Aga Khan Museum
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Trio Arabica rehearsing at the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Mara Brown
Recording the audio tracks at Grace Church-on-the-hill. Photo: William Norris
Recording the audio tracks from September 30-October 1 at Grace Church-on-the-hill. Photo: William Norris

Most of the video being shot on Friday was of the audience, not the orchestra — that was done on Thursday. Also, the audio portion of the program had already been completed before this show. So it was in some ways a regular concert with the slightly disconcerting elements of cameramen on the stage and the house lights up to full. Those are distractions to be sure, although being able to see the public so clearly revealed an audience that was a mix of extraordinarily familiar faces and some very new ones. Among the new ones I particularly noticed a couple which I guessed to be of Middle Eastern descent, maybe in their 40s, seated six to seven rows back, in the centre; the man of the couple seemed particularly engaged by the entire program: the actor Alon Nashman, Trio Arabica, the images, and Tafelmusik.

For whatever reason, I allowed the distractions of my day to get the better of me (this happens to all of us on stage in some moment or another). I don’t know if it was the extraordinary circumstance or one of my own all-too-reliable demons, but I didn’t achieve my personal best in the most exposed bit I have in this program (which happens in the first half). I came offstage feeling less than great about myself.

We went out for the second half, and when we reached the very powerful sequence of images that tie the history of Leipzig and Damascus to the current plight of Syrian refugees living in Germany and continuing to celebrate their culture, I again noticed the couple in row 6–7. The woman was gently stroking the arm of her partner, who was becoming visibly more upset as the sequence unfolded. He began to weep. I almost couldn’t stay on stage, I so wanted to go out to offer additional comfort to this fellow. A poem relating and embracing the cultures of various European cities and Damascus follows that sequence, and the man was continuing to weep, his partner continuing to offer solace. I felt almost helpless on stage.

The show ends with a popular song in Arabic, during which the phenomenal singer Maryem Toller encourages the audience to join in. And there before me was the fellow in row 6–7, now beaming and joyously singing this obviously very familiar tune.

One of the perks of being a musician who performs in public routinely is that I get thanked a lot. People clap for me, people tell me “Great concert!” after a show (or even approach me on the street), people ask for an autograph — the variety of thank-you’s is large. And I’m genuinely grateful for the support, I really am. However, it is not often that I want to fall on my knees and thank an audience member like the fellow in row 6–7. But thank him for what exactly? For allowing himself to be so moved? For cleansing me of my preoccupations with my own performance? Because whatever I did today, it obviously didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to blunt the bigger message for him. To thank him for the bigger gift of grace? And where does that grace begin and end? I am certainly eternally grateful to my colleagues on stage and behind the scenes at Tafelmusik. And grateful to the Aga Khan Museum for probably putting me in the path of someone new. But it also reaches very far back, to gratitude to my mother, who came to every concert I played as a kid, and whose support probably made it possible for me to be on that stage today. And to my childhood viola teacher who saved my life at key moments.

For a certainty, I left the concert knowing that today was a good day for art, and a good day for the meeting of souls.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Trio Arabica and Alon Nashman at the world premiere at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performaning Arts. Photo: Bruce Zinger
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Trio Arabica and Alon Nashman at the world premiere of Tales of Two Cities at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performaning Arts, May 17, 2016. Photo: Bruce Zinger

Memories of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir

By Peter Mahon, countertenor

As the longest serving member of the choir (hands up all those who remember me from the 1980s!), I have been asked to write about my memories of the choir over the last 35 years. As you might imagine, there are many from which to choose over that length of time. The problem is to decide which ones to talk about.

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2001
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2001

I could mention the growth and development of the choir from an essentially amateur ensemble with a quartet of paid section leaders to a fully professional group.

There was our first recording in 1987, for Hyperion Records with soprano Emma Kirkby. We recorded in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene … in February, in the freezing cold because the heat was turned off to stop the pipes banging. We were all wearing winter coats, hats, and scarves. Not pleasant, but it was worth it.

Vivaldi Cantatas, Concertos & Magnificat, 1987
Vivaldi Cantatas, Concertos & Magnificat, 1987

There was the incredible expansion of our performance schedule around the same time. I was working in the office and got to witness it first-hand. The demand for tickets was like an avalanche. In very short order we went from two concerts per project to five. We went to Massey Hall for the Sing-Along Messiah for the first time. Our first year we had 1,500 people and of course, now we sell out with scalpers outside the hall.

We have been fortunate to work with many great guest conductors: Gustav Leonhardt, Andrew Parrott, Richard Egarr, Sigiswald Kuijken, Nicholas McGegan, Ton Koopman, Bruno Weil, and Kent Nagano, to name a few.

Kuijken worked with us in 2002 while the Salt Lake City Olympics were going on. I will always remember the look of puzzlement on his face when he saw everyone on stage smiling near the end of the Sunday afternoon concert. What he could not see was Elly Winer standing at the back of the hall with his hands held up showing the final score of the gold medal hockey game, Canada 5 – USA 2.

After the concert, everyone rushed downstairs to the men’s dressing room. As the guys were undressing, the ladies all barged in to watch the medal presentation on the small b&w television that we had brought in. As the Canadian flag was being raised, in various stages of undress, we sang one of the finest renditions of O Canada that you will ever hear.

For many reasons the choir does not do much touring. However, we have been to Montreal twice recently. First, to sing the Bach B-Minor Mass with the orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano. It was during the month of January and we got to experience the kind of winter that we don’t normally get in Toronto. It was 25 below zero for the entire week. We were very glad that we could walk from the hotel to the hall without going outside.

A couple of years later, Maestro Nagano paid the choir the singular honour of inviting us to take part in the opening concert of Montreal’s new Maison Symphonique in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with OSM and OSM Chorus.

It was quite a change from one of our early tour in the mid-1980s. We went to Michigan to sing two performances of Messiah. In Detroit, we sang in a 2,000-seat hall. The most memorable part of the performance,  and indeed of the tour, was the rapturous applause that we received at the end of the concert from our audience of 23 people. The concert promoters probably should have spent a little more on marketing. We have certainly come a long way since then.

As a new parent in 1981, I would not have imagined that I would still be singing with Tafelmusik in 2016. It has afforded me my favourite memory, namely the pride and pleasure of performing with two of my children and my son-in-law, each of whom has been a member of the choir in recent years.

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir members, 2016/17. L-R: Paul Oros and Joel Allison, bass; Peter Mahon, alto; Daniel Webb, tenor; Meghan Moore, soprano.
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir members, 2016/17. L-R: Paul Oros and Joel Allison, bass; Peter Mahon, countertenor; Daniel Webb, tenor; Meghan Moore, soprano. Photo: Sian Richards

Finally, it has been a great pleasure to get to know many of you through the years and an honour to perform for you. It is always a special moment to walk out on stage at the beginning of a Tafelmusik concert, being greeted with your warm applause and the friendly smiles on so many familiar faces. I look forward to forging more happy memories for all of us in the years to come.

Join us for Let Us All Sing!, November 5-6 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

Some Personal Reflections: Celebrating 35 inspiring years

By Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director and Founder Ivars Taurins

Choir Director and Founder, Ivars Taurins
Choir Director and Founder, Ivars Taurins

As a young child, listening to my parents’ recordings of Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, or Barbra Streisand, I was captivated by the way these singers could express not only the text they were singing, but the meaning and emotion behind individual words. Later, in my teens, I had the same experience listening to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elly Ameling, or Robert Tear.  Still later, I discovered that the technical term for this magic is “word painting.” All of these singers had a way of illuminating the text and its potent emotions with a simplicity and directness that could be overwhelming … this combined with consummate vocal skill, creating sounds that could at once soothe one’s soul or tear it apart.

Music, essentially an abstract form, can stir up concrete emotions within us. Music’s meanderings through time and space can, to quote Nicholas Brady, so “court the ear, strike the heart, and captivate the mind” as to be overwhelmingly palpable. When music is paired with a text it becomes doubly potent.

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2016/17
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2016/17

Now in my 60th year, and celebrating the 35th anniversary of my collaboration with the remarkable singers of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, I find I am still filled with that same childhood fascination with the fusion of words and music, and how these two elements, in the hands of a great composer, can be melded, moulded, and burnished to a wonderful lustre. I look forward to continuing to share this fascination with you for many years to come.

‘Tis Nature’s voice, thro’ all the moving wood
Of creatures understood:
The universal tongue to none
Of all her num’rous race unknown.
From her it learnt the mighty art
To court the ear or strike the heart,
At once the passions to express and move.
We hear, and straight we grieve or hate, rejoice or love.
In unseen chains it does the fancy bind,
At once it charms the sense and captivates the mind.

Nicholas Brady (from Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1692)


Join us for Let Us All Sing! as we celebrate a milestone in Tafelmusik Chamber Choir’s history – it’s 35th anniversary. November 2-6 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.