What goes into a concert poster? Handel Alexander’s Feast

by Tim Crouch, Marketing Department

With Handel Alexander’s Feast just around the corner (Feb 22-25 at Koerner Hall), we’re looking back at poster designs created at the top of the season. As always, our multi-talented Choir director Ivars Taurins provided some inspirational art to help guide the design process, and we’re happy to share them with you!

The Family of Darius before Alexander – Paolo Veronese

The Family of Darius before Alexander is a 1565–1570 oil on canvas painting. It depicts Alexander the Great with the family of Darius III, the Persian king he had defeated in battle. Although Veronese had previously painted a version of the subject, since destroyed, the theme had rarely been depicted by other artists before him. The painting has been in the collection of the National Gallery in London since 1857. Interestingly, the splendid wardrobe is that of the Venice in which Veronese lived, rather than ancient Greece or the Far East.

Alexander entering Babylon, or The Triumph of Alexander – Charles Le Brun

Alexander, standing in a chariot drawn by two elephants, makes his triumphant entry into Babylon; in the background, one can make out the terraces of hanging gardens.

Charles Le Brun needed to find a style with the appropriate blend of gravity and solemnity. It was also necessary to maintain the legibility crucial to a work with so many figures, while conveying the diversity of the temples, vases, weapons, musical instruments, and costumes that make the scene immediately recognizable. An allusion to the grandeur of the reign of Louis XIV – who was also a great conqueror and powerful monarch – is evident, the political position clearly stated. Later reproduced as a tapestry, the painting was part of the collections of Louis XIV. From the Royal Collections, the work entered the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre.

Les reines de Perse aux pieds d’Alexandre dit aussi la tente de Darius – Charles Le Brun

This painting was probably completed at the end of the year 1660. It shows the mother of Darius throwing herself at the feet of the king of Macedonia, to implore clemency for his imprisoned family.

And hey – why not grab the throw pillow version of the painting?

And so – the final product from Sovereign State (note the baroque frame around the imagery)! This final image used the figure of Alexander from the final Le Brun painting, as well as opulent fruits, silhouettes of baroque instruments, and a baroque platter silhouette!

We look forward to seeing you at Handel Alexander’s Feast, February 22-25 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre.

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Alison Mackay & Maryem Tollar invite you to Safe Haven

A special video invitation to Safe Haven from Maryem Tollar.
Click on the image above to watch the video.

A Message from Alison Mackay

The worlds of baroque music and of present-day Canada are rich with amazing stories of resilience and innovation bringing transformation to communities offering a safe haven to newcomers.

Diely Mori Tounkara (kora virtuoso) and
Alison Mackay (show creator and double bassist)

The most important publisher of baroque music, Estienne Roger, whose work introduced the music of Vivaldi to J.S.Bach, was a refugee who fled from Louis XIV’s France to Amsterdam and became a successful printer and music exporter. His international network of refugee booksellers helped to consolidate the baroque style which lies at the heart of Tafelmusik’s repertoire.

In the Nova Scotia town of Antigonish, the Assam Hadhad family, who lost their Damascus chocolate factory in the Syrian civil war and fled to Canada less than two years ago are now employing twenty local people in the amazing community which helped them build a new chocolate factory. Boxes containing the signature maple-leaf-shaped “Peace by Chocolate” are being sold across the country and exported around the world.  You can read their story here.

In Safe Haven we’ll be weaving stories like this into a tapestry of music, words and images together with our wonderful guest artists Maryem TollarNaghmeh Farahmand, and Diely-Mori Tounkara. We are so excited to be embarking on this adventure with them and we’d be thrilled if you would join us on the journey!

 

 

Alison Mackay
Double Bassist & Show Creator

Don’t miss this extraordinary show, January 18-21 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and January 23 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Click here for tickets.

Safe Haven: Asylum seekers in the baroque age and modern day

by Tim Crouch, Marketing Manager

“you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.”

That line, full of anguish, is from the poem “Home” by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, who became London’s first Young Poet Laureate. The full poem (copied below) is used in Tafelmusik’s upcoming concert Safe Haven, an exploration in music, words, and images of the influence of refugee populations on the culture of their adopted countries.

“From the beginning of human history, war, persecution, poverty, and climate crises have caused people to abandon their homes and seek asylum beyond their borders.” says show creator Alison Mackay in the concert program notes. For modern-day Canada, “The stories of refugees who arrived here a generation ago reveal the tremendous contributions that they have made to the economy and culture of their new country.”

In 1685, 50,000 asylum seekers who escaped to England by boat from Louis XIVth’s France breathed new life into the English economy.   Here are two beautiful works of art made in London by members of French refugee families – a watch by Charles Cabrier (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Collection of Giovanni P. Morosini):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and a piece of silk woven by Huguenot weavers in the London district of Spitalfields. (image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1979):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warsan Shire’s full poem and story can be found here (from the CBC program The Sunday Edition).

Don’t miss this extraordinary show, January 18-21 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and January 23 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Click here for tickets.

What goes into a concert poster? Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation

You might have noticed a new crop of imagery for this season’s concerts, designed by our friends at Sovereign State.

A great deal of research goes into the production of these, and often times the inspiration comes from baroque imagery. Choir director Ivars Taurins is an expert in this realm, and provided us with a cornucopia of options. We’re happy to share a few them here for our Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation concert – some that made the final cut, and others that didn’t but were still fascinating to see!

WEDDINGS

Here is the a painting of The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox by William Hogarth. It was fashionable in Georgian England for men to wear wedding suits in pale greys and creams. Of note are the cupids with a horn of plenty.

The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox by William Hogarth

Detail of The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox by William Hogarth

A popular style of wedding ring in the 17th and 18th centuries was a gimmel ring — a ring with two hoops that fit together. They were used as betrothal rings: the engaged couple would wear one hoop each, and rejoin them to use as a wedding ring.

The use of two clasped hands in the design was a popular, going back the ancient Roman Fede ring: “fede” comes from the Italian phrase “mani in Fede,” meaning hands clasped in faith or trust.

Georgian (18th century) wedding rings were popular from Roman times right up to the Victorian age, and were known as Fede Gimmal or Gimmel rings. 2 or 3 hoops would fit together like a puzzle, with 2 clasping hands.

FUNERALS (inspiration)

The 17th and early 18th centuries were rife with “Vanitas” paintings — still-life paintings that depict the vain, futile nature of earthly pursuits and goods. They use symbolic objects such as skulls and rotting fruit to represent mortality, and the brevity of life and suddenness of death. Books symbolize human knowledge, and music and musical instruments (often with broken strings) suggest the pleasures of the senses. Flowers, butterflies, candles, and clocks or hourglasses allude to the ephemeral, transient nature of life.

Collier, Claesz, Vermeulen, and Boel are just a few painters who excelled in this art form. The painting below is by the French painter Simon Renard de Saint-André (1613–1677).

And here are some spine-tingling photos taken by Ivars Taurins at an exhibition at Versailles on Louis XIV’s funeral.

Exhibition at Versailles on Louis XIV’s funeral.

Note the wonderful silver skeletons with scythes and hour-glasses holding the giant crown!

CORONATIONS

Below is a portrait of James II, who was crowned King of England and Ireland (and James VII of Scotland) in 1685. John Blow composed the anthem “God spake sometime in visions” for this very coronation.

Portrait of James II, who was crowned King of England and Ireland (and James VII of Scotland) in 1685

And it wouldn’t be a coronation without a crown (or two). Here are a few, one of which made the final concert imagery. Below is an engraving of the Crown of State of James II. Underneath that image is an engraving of the Coronation Crown of St. Edward.

And so – the final product (note the baroque frame around the imagery)! This final image combines the three themes: the crown (coronation), the cut-out image (of a wedding), and the red shadow in the shape of a tombstone (funeral).

We look forward to seeing you at Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation, Nov 29-Dec 3, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Handel’s Messiah still resonates today

By Ivars Taurins, Director, Chamber Choir

Ivars Taurins, Director, Chamber Choir. Photo by Sian Richards
Ivars Taurins, Director

Why does an oratorio written in 18th-century England by a German composer still resonate so strongly to so many in this day and age? “Behold – I tell you a mystery…”

Why has “Hallelujah” struck a chord with people of all walks of life, whether it is Handel’s or Leonard Cohen’s? From an Inuit community in Alaska and a congregation in Kuwait singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, to the hundreds of cover versions and arrangements of Cohen’s song.

And why does Handel’s Messiah touch people of different backgrounds, faiths, and cultures? The universality of this work, beyond its remarkable, moving, and uplifting music, lies, I think, in its message of “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” and its themes of enlightenment and understanding, hope and faith, humanity and good will, sacrifice and charity – these are important values that we esteem and strive for, even in our secular world. And the triumph of these over suffering, injustice, selfishness, or man’s inhumanity to man – these are to be found in Handel’s masterpiece.  I believe that Messiah, like other great musical compositions, opens in us a spirituality, whether one belongs to a faith or not. It also offers solace – an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. And as such it has become an annual ritual for many.

Portrait of Handel

Messiah joins the ranks of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, or school and church nativity plays, or a holiday dinner with family and friends – all are rituals that are part of the private and public recognition of this special time of year – a time for giving and of thanksgiving. And a little ritual and mystery in our lives isn’t such a bad thing.

But something else – and perhaps therein lies the mystery – something about this work and its music and its message has touched more than the English-speaking world with its power and essence, allowing it to remain meaningful and vital to this day. And to that I say Hallelujah!


Join Ivars Taurins and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir for Handel Messiah from December 13–16, 2017 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre.

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.

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.