Get to know Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano

The wonderful Toronto-based mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó first appeared on the Tafelmusik stage in Handel’s Messiah two years ago, and we’ve been eagerly looking forward to her return ever since. We are especially thrilled that she is able to join us this season not only for our exploration of the remarkable music of Agostino Steffani — new to Krisztina’s repertoire — but also at Koerner Hall for our Messiah performances next month. Krisztina took a few moments from her busy schedule to answer our Get-to-Know questions.

When did you first start singing?

August 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of when I started as a young artist in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio. Although I had a few “gigs” prior to this date, this date is what I consider as the launching point for my career.

What was your first music gig?

When I was accepted into the Ensemble Studio, the COC was kind enough to hire me for a couple of contracts prior to the official start date of the program. The first contract was a Valentine’s Day initiative. People signed up their loved ones to be serenaded by a real live opera singer.

So, on February 14, 1998, I was that girl serenading strangers in Starbucks locations across the city!

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

The singer I have constantly turned to over the years for inspiration has been Anne Sophie von Otter. She is an exquisite musician and I greatly admire not only her voice, her talent, and her poise, but also her longevity in this business.

What is your favourite music to listen to?

I think my brain might be a little too saturated by music in my day-to-day life — between my own singing engagements and teaching singing at the University of Toronto, I am constantly listening to music (or so it seems!). So, in my down time, I love listening to podcasts and CBC Radio 1.

What are the last three pieces you’ve listened to?

• George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill
• Hosokawa’s The Raven
• Handel’s Dixit Dominus.
All pieces I’m working on this season!

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

I love going for my daily walk through Prospect Cemetery near my home — it’s a little slice of peace, a relatively quiet and green space, and everyone you meet as you go through is always friendly. I also love doing pilates and yoga — both keep me sane in the midst of my crazy performing, teaching, and family schedules. And I also love just hanging out with my husband and twelve-year old daughter, Phoibe … at the moment, we are watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race on Netflix!

What is your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

There are SO many great places to eat in Toronto, it’s hard to choose! But I’m a little obsessed with smoked meat at the moment, and we have a wonderful local place called Earlscourt BBQ on St. Clair West which is simply mouth-wateringly good. And they happen to be downstairs from the yoga studio, so if you’re lucky, you can do yoga while smelling the meat being smoked downstairs. Not everyone appreciates that combination, but this Hungarian girl certainly does!

Where is your own, personal oasis in Toronto?

Sitting on my couch with my cat!

What is your great ambition?

To continue to make a living making music until I die!?

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?

Work hard, be prepared, be flexible, be on time (!), and never, ever lose sight of who you are and what you have to say as an artist and musician. Oh, and try not to take everything personally … you’ll get a lot of “feedback” — from teachers, coaches, friends, family, audiences, reviewers, random people on the street — EVERYONE has an opinion. Try not to let it get to you TOO much!


Hear Krisztina Szabó perform with Tafelmusik in STEFFANI: DRAMA & DEVOTION from Nov 8–11, 2018 and in HANDEL MESSIAH from Dec 18–21, 2018.

Get to know Brandon Chui, viola

This season, violist Brandon Chui takes up his position as the newest core member of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Brandon had a busy freelance career on modern viola when his interest in period playing inspired him to attend the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer and Winter Institutes. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard!

 

We know you as a violist, but you first studied violin. What drew you to the violin?

Brandon Chui, violist

It was actually through my love of the trombone that I discovered the violin. I’d already been playing trombone for a couple of years in band class at school. I discovered a bunch of orchestral VHS videotapes my dad had recorded off PBS. I was watching all the trombone bits but soon fell in love with the violin. After a year of begging, my parents let me have my first violin lesson at the age of thirteen. They didn’t want to commit to anything because of a previously failed experiment with piano lessons. I remember my first lesson like it was yesterday — my teacher Zheng Zhong He came to our house and opened up the case to my violin. Words can’t describe the excitement I felt!

What was your first music gig?

Two friends from high school and I set up a group that played at weddings and other community events. With a configuration of two violins and keyboard, our group — called Strings of Joy — charged $150 for a wedding. Fifty bucks for a fifteen-year old was still a decent chunk of money twenty years ago. By that time I had also picked up the trumpet in high school and occasionally belted out Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary on the namesake’s instrument. Man, those brides got more than they bargained for; I pity the poor souls who were subject to my shenanigans!!

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My primary teacher in university, Mark Skazinetsky, really made me think of phrasing, line, colour, the impact of different types of articulation and how it affects musical characterization — he was the one who really fostered my love for music as an art form, not just playing the violin, and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts a music student can receive.

What is your favourite music to listen to?

I spend a lot of time on the road, and along with blaring Handel as I cruise the mean streets of Toronto, hip hop and R&B often make appearances on the car stereo. It’s 99% classical at home though, and I go through periods of composer obsession. Bach always hits once a year where I simply can’t get enough. Right now, I’m coming off of a month-long Bruckner craze.

What are the last three pieces you’ve listened to?

  • Bruckner Symphony No.8, with Bavarian Radio Symphony and Mariss Jansons
  • The Spinner’s I’ll Be Around
  • John Legend’s album Get Lifted, the last thing blasted in the car

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

Laughing loudly with friends while eating food. A lot of food.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

It’s not the most glamorous place, but Roti Cuisine of India up at Spadina/Dupont holds a real special place in my heart. Special shout-out to their Baigan Burtha and Lamb Korma!

You have a night off — what do you do?

During basketball season, I always check in advance to see if there’s a Toronto Raptors game happening during our nights off. If there is, you’ll find me glued to the TV. With the addition of Kawhi Leonard to the roster this season, you can expect more of the same from me. Another activity I am known for is eating. If it’s tasty, I eat it.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?

Be realistic: the majority of musicians don’t win an orchestral job right out of school. Most will have to live the life of a freelancer. Be prepared: it’s a tough business, with too many people fighting for too few jobs, and there are always bills to pay. You better love the hell outta music to do this.

A Fond Farewell to Carol Campbell

After 32 remarkable seasons at Tafelmusik as Front-of-House, Volunteer, and Events Manager, Carol Campbell is retiring. Former Managing Director Tricia Baldwin worked with Carol from 2000–2014, and offers these reflections. We all join her in wishing Carol the very best!

Carol Campbell, 2018

Confucius said, “To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue. These five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.”  Kindness isn’t “niceness”; it is a thoughtful approach to humanity as it is a life discipline. This life-long discipline has been Carol Campbell’s modus operandi throughout her three decades at Tafelmusik. It is this kindness that really set the bar at Tafelmusik, and it clearly glows throughout the volunteer team as it has the entire Tafelmusik family. Carol has a beautiful, intuitive way of approaching people, while having the mind of a traffic cop in walking every event through beforehand so that not even the tiniest of details is overlooked. That’s because she cares so much and has the discipline to think things through.

Carol has a beautiful way of guiding from the centre, whether it is with her family or with Tafelmusik’s wonderful volunteers and staff colleagues. She, like the Tafelmusik musicians, has a quest and urgency for excellence, an amazing work ethic, real spunk, and doesn’t rest until things are done right.

I have rarely seen a person who has such loving conflict resolution skills. I remember when a clearly agitated man came into the sanctuary yelling and swearing during the intermission of a concert. I saw Carol approach this man. He trusted her right away and followed her out of the hall.  I asked her what she had said and done. She said, “He was hungry, so I gave him a cookie.” Just another example of why Carol is loved so much by the Tafelmusik family.

Volunteer Reception, September 2018

Now Carol is entering the next adventure in life. She loves her family and is a devoted wife, mother, sister, aunt, and friend. I wish Carol all great things ahead, and may she be touched by the kindness and love that she has shown all of us for so many years. And remember Carol, it’s in the fine print: no one’s heart ever really leaves Tafelmusik. It’s just the way it is.

By Tricia Baldwin

Get to know TBSI soprano Emily Yocum Black

Emily Yocum Black

Soprano Emily Yocum Black joins us at TBSI this season from Paducah, Kentucky. TBSI, the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute, is an intense two week course that includes masterclasses, orchestra and choir rehearsals, chamber ensembles, private lessons, dance classes, opera scene study, and an array of lectures and workshops.

Despite the busy schedule, we were able to catch up with Emily. Get to know Emily with our Q&A.

How did you get into singing?

I grew up with singing in the house – my mom and grandmother are really wonderful singers and they both play the guitar and sing in harmony by ear so I was brought up in that environment. My interests widened to musical theatre and choir in high school and when I went to college I really became interested in all genres of vocal repertoire. From the beginning of my formal music training, baroque music seemed to fit very naturally with my voice and throughout my undergrad and graduate degrees, I explored more and more of this repertoire. I still really enjoy singing and performing many different types of music!

Why did you decide to come to TBSI?

I first heard about Tafelmusik when I attended a summer program called SongFest in my undergrad. One of my roommates was from Toronto and she introduced me to the group and their recordings. Some time after that, I “followed” Tafelmusik on Instagram and saw their post about TBSI and I decided to apply! I am one year out of my masters and I am now trying to get a little bit of focus going forward in my career. This program seemed like the perfect fit for really immersing myself in early music with some of the very best instructors in the field!

What is one of your favourite parts about TBSI so far?

I love collaborating with all of my fellow colleagues in the various ensembles. So far, I’ve worked very closely with not only my fellow vocalists but with flutists, violinists, viola d’amore players, harpsichordists, cellists, lute players, etc. I have learned so much just by being involved and in tune with their processes in music-making and how that intertwines with mine.

What is one of your most memorable gigs?

My very first gig with period baroque instruments was Handel’s Messiah with Bourbon Baroque in Louisville, KY where we performed the entire work with 12 singers – each singer also acting as soloists throughout. I’ve performed this gig with them for the past three years and even though it’s something that is done so often, especially during Advent, getting to do the piece with such a small ensemble really brings life and energy to Messiah that I think is sometimes lost.

Who is your favourite composer to perform? (Doesn’t have to be baroque)

Oh gosh, this is like asking what kind of cheese you like best (also a hard question for me to answer). I’d probably have to say Mozart, although Bach is way up there as well.

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

90’s country pop … especially The Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces album. I know every word.

What are the last three songs/pieces you’ve listened to?

Handel – Tornami a vagheggiar (Alcina)
Nickel Creek – The Lighthouse’s Tale
ABBA – Super Trooper
(I feel like this is a very accurate representation of my wide musical tastes)

What is your favourite thing to do in your hometown during your free time?

I love to cycle down to our local brewery and have a beer out on the patio with family right around sunset.

What do you look forward to seeing/doing in Toronto?

Well, we visited the Toronto Islands this weekend and that was beautiful! I loved the view of the city from the islands and all the cottages. I am also looking forward to having some poutine – which I know is really a Quebec food however I’m sure it’s going to be more authentic than the poutine I’ve eaten in my native state of Kentucky. We do fried chicken much better than poutine, I think.

What is your great ambition?

I honestly think my greatest ambition is to make music as long as I can to the best of my ability with authenticity, beauty, love, and passion for the art form. From singing on a big concert stage to a gymnasium full of kids, I hope I can always adhere to that ideal.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

My parents, for certain. They have supported me so much in everything that I’ve done and have always encouraged me to do what makes me happy. They are the most compassionate and caring humans I have ever known and I would do well to live life half as fully as they do.

Where do you see yourself 10 years in the future?

I see myself traveling around the country performing with various ensembles specializing in the early music repertoire, yet certainly being able and open to performing all different kinds of music. But always returning to my home-base in Paducah, KY where I’d like to continue to foster new music-makers and lovers through teaching voice.

What words of wisdom would you pass onto future TBSI participants?

It is a whirlwind two weeks but there is so much information and knowledge to be gained here. From the lectures to the masterclasses and concerts, soak up as much of it as you possibly can! Where will you find such an amazing assemblage of faculty and students all intensely focused on the baroque for 14 days?!

Get to know Susan Suchard, soprano

Soprano Susan Suchard has been a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir since 2003. She teaches voice in her private studio at Trinity-St. Paul’s, and conducts the Preparatory Chorus of the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto, for whom she also serves as General Manager. 

How did you come to be a singer?
I grew up singing in church. When I was young my family attended a Brethren church in London, Ontario. There was no piano or organ played in services. One of the elders, always a man, would stand up and “call out” a hymn. He would then proceed to sing the first line and everyone would join in. My brother, sister, and I would giggle when the singing got into dangerously high or low ranges, which it often did.

Then, in elementary school, I was inspired by Mrs. Sheila Schaus, the itinerant music teacher. I loved when she came into the classroom. Her perfume was exotic and she wore bangles that jangled when she conducted.

In high school, there was no vocal music program, so I took up the French horn, an instrument that allowed me to create lovely lyric singing lines (when I wasn’t required to play off-beat quarter notes!).

I became a horn major at Western University and began studying voice on the side. I did as much playing as I could in large ensembles and quintets, but each year I also sang in one of the Faculty of Music’s choirs. In my fourth year, I joined the Opera Workshop, and after singing Pamina in The Magic Flute and Blanche in The Dialogues of the Carmelites, I gave up the French horn to concentrate solely on singing. [Editor’s note: Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director Ivars Taurins was playing viola in the orchestra for those operas at Western!]

What was your first music gig?
My first paid gig was as a horn player in the London Musicians’ Union Marching Band at the Western Fair in London, Ontario. I suppose my first unpaid gig was as the student music director of a high school musical for children called The Lion Who Wouldn’t starring Tom McCamus, now of Stratford Festival fame, and Nancy Palk, one of the founding members of Soulpepper Theatre.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
Both of my parents played piano very well by ear. I learned to play too, and I read well enough to accompany my voice students, but sadly I did not inherit their skill at just sitting down and rattling off a tune. At any party or event, one of my parents could often be found leading a sing-along. To this day, my dad can’t pass a piano, in an airport, restaurant, or on the street in Huntsville, without sitting down to show off his party pieces.

What is your favourite music to listen to?
I am a sucker for a sad beautiful tune. I love the ballads from musicals and standards. I’ve always wanted to put together a cabaret show, but, because the songs I love are all sad, I’m not sure anyone would want to sit through them! 

What are the last 3 recordings you’ve listened to?
In trying to help one of my students find repertoire for a grade 9 Royal Conservatory examination: Bach’s “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich,” Fauré’s Au bord de l’eau, and Jean Coulthard’s Quiet.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
During my daily 45-minute drive to Trinity-St. Paul’s, I like to listen to audio books, with a decaf latte in the cup holder.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

I like to try a new restaurant every time I go out downtown, but a trusty standby in the east end is The Real Jerk on Kingston Road.

Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?
I’m fortunate enough to have a lovely, leafy back garden with lots of shady space. Last summer, my husband built a swanky new deck, so I’m looking forward to getting out there again in the spring. Otherwise, my daughter and I like to have a spa day every now and then at the Elmwood.

Are you involved with any other organizations?
When I’m not singing or teaching in my studio at Trinity-St. Paul’s, you’ll find me in the basement, also at Trinity-St. Paul’s, in the office of the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto with my general manager’s hat on.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
I’m itching to be in front of an adult choir as a conductor. I enjoy working with children’s choirs, and have done all my life, but I am really feeling the urge to work with an SATB or SSA group. I have a church soloist job and, when the organist is away, I step in as conductor. Each time I do it, I realize how much I enjoy the experience.


Hear Susan sing with Tafelmusik Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra in BACH B-MINOR MASS, from April 5–8, at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and on April 10 at George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Get to know Patrick Jordan, viola

Patrick Jordan has been a violist with Tafelmusik since 1995. He hails from Texas, and is also a member of the Eybler Quartet, based here in Toronto.

Patrick Jordan, viola. Image: Sian Richards

How did you come to choose your instrument?
Great story here. The Grade 6 orchestra teacher gave all the Grade 5 students a music aptitude test. I’d never had any real music instruction, but did very well (despite consistently mixing up the major and minor modes). We were told that one could choose the violin, viola, or cello for the next year. I had never heard of the viola, so that’s the one I chose!

What was your first music gig?
The first time I received cash for playing was excerpts of Messiah at some church in Lubbock, TX.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
That’s a brutal one. My teacher in Lubbock, TX, Susan Schoenfeld, basically saved my life as an adolescent — she gave me work to do, a home away from home at times, and a carefully considered socialistic outlook on the world. Tick the inspiration box there! Another of my great teachers was Eugene Lehner, who taught me how to relate music emotionally and structurally, but also about why we teach. Tick the inspiration box there! Bruno Weil has been an inspiration. Jeanne Lamon has also been one. So have my Eybler Quartet colleagues Aisslinn Nosky and Julia Wedman. Perhaps the greatest of them all has been my treasured wife, Margaret Gay (also cellist of the Eybler Quartet). 

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?
There’s really just music; I think I did all my “guilty” time as a kid growing up on the buckle of the Bible Belt in Texas. What might be unexpected in my listening is Top-40 pop, R&B, and Ravel! My go-to comfort piece, about once a year, is Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel. If you haven’t heard that, do yourself a favour, and devote the 24-26 minutes to a profound experience. 

What are the last 3 recordings you’ve listened to?
Well, I’m in the middle of editing a new Eybler Quartet CD, so movements 2, 3, and 4 of Beethoven’s Op. 18, no. 6. (Editor’s note: the album is now available.) If you’d like a less navel-gazing answer, I can offer The Seven Last Words of Christ by Haydn, Build a Rocket Boys by Elbow, and Senesce by Nick Storring.

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?
Modesty forbids answering that directly. I do love cooking, however.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?
See the answer to the previous question — I don’t eat out a lot. Chiado, however, has never disappointed me.

 Where is your own, personal, oasis in Toronto?
About 40 cm to the right of my stove, where I do most of my kitchen time.

You have a night off — what do you do?
Between April and September I might go to a baseball game (Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs of the Intercounty Baseball League, or more likely the Toronto Cardinals, my son’s elite-level team); as often as not, cook for a bunch of people!!

What is your great ambition?
To keep working and recording with the Eybler Quartet until the energy or money runs out.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
In many professional fields, I’d be expected to have retired in the next ten years. Playing the viola means I might be able to squeeze another two or three decades out of it.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?
Make your own fun. Whatever is being presented to you as “the way to do music” is a tiny slice of the whole picture. Play music that turns your crank, and you’ll almost certainly turn someone else’s!

Get to know Alison Melville, recorder soloist

Virtuoso performer Alison Melville joins a select chamber group of Tafelmusik musicians to present the baroque recorder in A Recorder Romp (Feb 8–11, 2018) at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. We sat down with Alison to learn more about her. Enjoy!

How did you come to choose your instrument?

Like many people I first encountered the recorder at school, as an after-school offering. I was eight years old and lived with my mum in southwest London (UK). That autumn, my classroom teacher Mr. Green offered to teach after-school group recorder lessons, charging only for the cost of the recorder and instruction book—a generous gesture for which I’ve always been grateful, because a higher cost would probably have made it unaffordable. I didn’t know what a recorder but when I heard that it was the flute thing my Uncle Bill played, I’m told I got very excited and wanted to be signed up right away. Uncle Bill was a cool guy.

What was your first music gig?

I first played for a paying audience as part a renaissance ensemble at the Forest Hill Library. The program was a mixed bag of music played by about ten musicians, including former members of the Toronto Consort David Klausner, Frank Nakashima, and the late Garry Chrighton, a couple of us teenagers, and other early-music enthusiasts. My first road trip was to PEI as a fourteen-year-old, playing the Hindemith and other rep as a “demo” ensemble for a music educator’s conference.

My first “union” gig was a CBC studio recording made using the Kunstkopf technique, which used microphones in the ears of a plastic head placed in the middle of the performing ensemble. It was a cutting-edge technology at the time and offered a “surround-sound” to classical music listeners. It was the first time I was hired to play with my professor Hugh Orr and Susan Prior (now Carduelis), who would become a frequent colleague, and I was both honoured and thrilled.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I guess I’d have to say it’s the late great Frans Brüggen, the Dutch player who more than anyone else really put the recorder on the map in the latter part of the last century. His beautiful and very personal playing was a revelation to the teenage me, and his attitude equally so— he seemed completely at peace with playing the recorder, an instrument seen as substandard by many, and not to be taken seriously. Whether they were wrong or right wasn’t really the point, and didn’t matter.

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?

Is there really such a thing as “guilty pleasure” music? I like listening to many different kinds, but if I had to narrow it down I’d choose Motown, Merseyside, experimental, some off-the-wall soundtracks … can’t decide!

What are the last three recordings you’ve listened to?

Lennon-McCartney, Here, There and Everywhere

Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes), The Lads of Alnick

Mavis Staples, We Shall Not Be Moved

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

Almost three years ago I began to learn printmaking, first at Nuit Blanche 2014, and then in classes with Loree Ovens at Open Studio. So far I work mostly on monotype and collagraph prints, and love these processes because they are so instructive and surprising. You learn a lot about yourself by exploring a new and different artistic practice, and it’s great to bring that info back to music making. So if I have a day free I might be found down at Open Studio, getting my hands blissfully paint-covered. (visit openstudio.ca to learn more.)

Are you involved in any extra-musical groups?

My partner Colin Savage and I ran a chamber music series (Baroque Music Beside the Grange) for many years, and after a decade’s hiatus plans are afoot to revive it, so some time is taken up with getting that rolling again under its new name of North Wind Concerts (stay tuned!).

I’m a member of Open Studio and of the Toronto Heliconian Club, and I’m a supporter of Amnesty International, Street Health, and the David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis Foundations.

Where do you see yourself 10 years in the future?

I have no earthly idea. I just hope I’m healthy and wiser.

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians, especially kids at school learning to play the recorder?

Remember it’s about the music. Remember what music is about, which is not the same as athletics.

Being able to make music is really a big gift—pay attention, listen, work hard, and spin it through your heart as best you can.

And if you’re a recorder player, don’t be too surprised or bummed at the questions you will get throughout your life about why you chose this instrument, whether you play something else too, and if not, why not? We all have our own musical voices and if the recorder is yours, then just sing with it.

Join us for A Recorder Romp from Feb 8–11, 2018 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St.Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

Get to know the Messiah Soloists

Joining us in this season’s Handel Messiah is a stellar line-up of soloists: soprano Joanne Lunn, countertenor James Laing, tenor Rufus Müller, and baritone Brett Polegato. We sat down with our four soloists to find out a bit more about them. Enjoy!

How did you come to decide to sing?

Joanne Lunn, soprano

Joanne Lunn, soprano: I have always loved singing: I believe I used to drive my brother crazy when we were children by constantly singing. I joined the church choir as soon as they would have me. I can vividly remember that I would stand up and sing my heart out in the final hymn on a Sunday when the choir processed by, hoping someone would hear and say I could join!

 James Laing, countertenor: I had always enjoyed classical music and ended up singing in the bass section in my school choir. There was a time when lots of the trebles voices broke and suddenly the bass row was overflowing. However, there was a space beckoning amongst the ladies on the alto row …

Rufus Müller, tenor: Apparently I sang before I could talk. But when it came to deciding if I could sing professionally, when I sang as a student in the Tallis Scholars, I asked a couple of my professional colleagues in the ensemble if I had a chance of making a living in London. Countertenor Michael Chance simply laughed and said, “Don’t be ridiculous!” I took that to be a “Yes.”

Brett Polegato, baritone: In school, I was somewhat of a math geek. I was also involved in many in-school instrumental ensembles (I played oboe and tenor saxophone) and after-school choirs. I was offered a full scholarship to Waterloo for Computer Science and to the University of Toronto for Vocal Performance. I chose music with the thought that, if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to math. Thirty years later, I’m still singing!

 

What was your first music gig?

Joanne: I won a competition that the BBC ran when I was young called “Choirgirl of the Year.” That year-long experience of concerts, radio broadcasts, and recording sessions really made me decide that I might just be able to give singing a go.

James Laing, countertenor

James: My first solo gig was performing “Come ye sons of art” by Purcell at a small church in … errr … Buckinghamshire? There is a wonderful countertenor duet within the piece, “Sound the trumpet,” and my partner on this occasion was one of my heroes, James Bowman. Talk about pressure: the grandfather of countertenors and the upstart whippersnapper!

Rufus: My first paid gig was while I was at university, singing the baritone (yes, baritone!) solos in Duruflé’s Requiem for a local choral society. I think I got £20.

Brett: My first professional gig was singing Figaro for Opera Atelier in their production of The Marriage of Figaro. Conductor Marc Minkowski was making his North America debut, and Tafelmusik was in the pit. In fact, I left an opera diploma program to accept this gig. Not a bad way for a 24-year-old to start!

 

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?

Joanne: I listen to a wide variety of music ranging from medieval right up to music from the charts, courtesy of my children!

James: Oooh, tough one but you can’t go wrong with a bit of Dolly Parton.

Rufus: The Carpenters! Karen Carpenter’s voice was one of the most creamy, sensuous voices in the pop world — ever. And her fight to the death with anorexia gives a plangent edge to everything she sang.

Brett: Broadway recordings. I can’t get enough showtunes!

 

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

Joanne: Walking along the white cliffs in Kent on a sunny day near where we holiday regularly, with a hearty meal at the pub halfway of course!

James: Spend time with my family — my wife certainly appreciates being able to offload our four children on me!

Rufus: In the summer, going to the beach. In the winter, daydreaming about being on the beach.

Brett: Read. I’m an avid reader and a collector of first-edition, signed books.

 

What is the most challenging aspect of singing Messiah for you?

Joanne: I love singing Messiah! It is my challenge after having sung it so many times to keep it fresh, as if it were the first time I had ever sung it: for myself, for the audience, and most importantly for the sake of the message it tells.

James: The challenge for me is trying to get an audience to not just “listen”’ to the piece, but to really engage with it. A difficult thing to do with such a well-known work.

Rufus Müller, tenor

Rufus: Remembering my words in the alto-tenor duet near the end: “Oh death”? or “Oh grave”? On one occasion I sang: “The sin of death is Sting.” Oh, no! Now I’m going to be nervous about it in Toronto — why did I agree to answer these questions!!

Brett: Each bass aria requires a different weight, colour, and articulation. I work hard at trying to fulfil the impossible demands of each while balancing the set as a whole. It’s fortunate for me as a baritone that the tessitura gets progressively higher as the evening goes on, so I can “warm up” into them. At the final aria, “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” when many basses are ready to call it a night, I’m ready to raise the roof!

What Messiah part do you especially look forward to?

James: Funnily enough, my favourite part is non-vocal: the Pifa orchestral interlude which introduces the shepherds. I love the translucent quality you get from the strings and the way that every section has an intertwining voice. Simple and beautiful.

Brett Polegato, baritone

Brett: Every year, I look forward to the response from the audience. Robert Shaw used to say to his choristers before a performance: “Remember, there is someone here tonight who’s hearing this piece for the first time. And someone here who’s hearing it for the last time.” I think of this particularly when I perform Messiah, which for so many audience members is an annual tradition. I ask myself: who will NOT be here next year to hear this? It reminds me to make each performance count.

Join Joanne, James, Rufus, Brett and Tafelmusik Orchestra and Choir for Handel Messiah at Koerner Hall, Dec 13—16, 2017. Tickets available here.

Get to know Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepianist

Get to know Kristian Bezuidenhout

Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout returns to direct Tafelmusik this November in Mozart’s Piano. Leading up to the concerts, Marketing Manager Tim Crouch caught up with Kristian over the phone while he was at his home in London, England. Here is the full conversation.

Welcome back to Tafelmusik! What have you been busy with since we last saw you in 2013?

Well, I guess it’s safe to say that one of the biggest things that’s happened since then is the completion of the solo Mozart cycle for Harmonia Mundi. Ten CDs of solo keyboard music. When I started the cycle in 2009 I didn’t have a sense that when it came to an end it would feel so bittersweet. But when volume 9 and 10 came out it felt a little bit like the cast of Will & Grace saying, “This is the final episode.” It was a really big thing to have done, to spend so much time with Mozart’s solo keyboard music — to really investigate it as thoroughly as that.

Some of the recent highlights for me have been closer collaboration with many of the groups I have admired from afar. One of them was the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique with John Elliot Gardiner: we had a big tour of piano concertos in November of last year. That was life-changing thing for me.

I have been increasingly directing more and more from the keyboard. Tafelmusik was really one of the first projects that I directed from the keyboard in repertoire like that. You know, being on the stage with a group as wonderful as Tafelmusik and exploring a program like that, playing piano concertos and symphonies and directing from the keyboard and playing continuo, is a whole different ball game. I was so touched by the positivity, and the energy and the classiness of the playing, and how natural that whole relationship felt. It was just terrific.

I think that experience really gave me the courage that I needed to set off down that path. There have since been projects with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, English Concert, Juilliard 415, and others. One of the highlights was directing my first St. Matthew Passion, with Dunedin Consort, in an essentially one-on-a-part performance which I directed from the harpsichord and organ. It was truly one of those moments that just changes your sort of DNA overnight.

Bach has played an ever-growing role in the last few years, including performing and recording all of the Bach violin sonatas with Isabelle Faust. Rediscovering my early training as a harpsichordist at the Eastman School and the chance to spend so much time working on Bach’s keyboard music has filled me with great joy.

Tell us a bit about the program you’ve selected for this week?

This program was designed along similar lines as the first one in 2013. I think it’s always been my belief that it’s wonderful to hear a full program of Mozart, but it’s also fantastic to hear music that influenced him. Hearing Mozart in context with music of the Bach sons provides us with fascinating insights into his working methods and where he finds inspiration in the music that he hears. With Carl Philipp and Johann Christian I’d like to think that there’s a certain sense that the fusion of styles that those two composers represent finds its natural outcome in the music of Mozart. We know that when Mozart was in London he met Johann Christian Bach, and something about JC really deeply impressed Mozart. For me, it’s this inexpressible, incredibly highly refined Italianate sense of melody that Johann Christian seems to conjure, almost singlehandedly, historically speaking. I think Mozart is very touched by the wonderful artlessness of the melodic writing of Johann Christian. As to Carl Philipp, one of the things that impressed Mozart was his incredible sense of making music sound as if it is almost improvised on the spot, sometimes going to places of real extremity in terms of the gesture. I find that when you hear CPE on a program of Mozart, it sounds much more kind of lyrical and beautiful, and Mozart conversely sounds much more revolutionary and at times eccentric. I love the fact that you hear composers so differently when you hear music of composers who influenced them around the same time. And I love the contrast in textures that you get between solo works for keyboard, symphonies, piano concertos, and then strings symphonies as well. The wonderful differences in colour and taste when you hear the JC Bach Symphony, curiously for him in the key of G minor, which is so much more Sturm und Drang than we might associate normally with JC Bach. Then the kind of laser clarity and brilliance of Carl Philipp’s incredibly difficult string writing, and how that bleeds into the mature string and wind sound that Mozart conjures for the piano concerto in the 1780s. It’s a marvelous look at the laboratory element of orchestration in this period I think.

You have a very full touring schedule. What do you do to stay healthy and happy while on the road?

When you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning for a flight, you have to tell yourself that that’s what you’re getting paid for, in a sense. Then you get on stage and play with wonderful colleagues in great halls, and that’s really the part that’s free.

You know, more and more you just look a little bit to the creature comforts. The thing that I look forward to most is finding a really lovely bar in a new city and going there with colleagues after a concert and having a really nice gin martini and just experiencing the new city. One of the things I love more than anything is getting up after breakfast and just walking for hours in any new city that I’m in, or any city for that matter. The feeling of not being a tourist while you’re supposed to be a tourist is so great, because you’re walking the street and experiencing city life. I’m not one these people who forces myself into a really strict museum or tourist itinerary, as that kind of stresses me out.

Having high-speed internet connections when you’re on the road is wonderful. Recently, I have been on a mad obsession with Bach cantatas, studying scores online in hotel rooms, and getting a grip on the text and the historical context. And then there are other times when there’s nothing better than settling down with Netflix and a martini.

Who is your favourite composer to perform?

I think maybe a year ago I would have said Mozart. But recently, I would say the feeling of enrichment that one gets when one plays Bach, and I don’t mean so much playing solo keyboard music. I have never had felt quite as intensely connected with something as I felt when directing the St. Matthew Passion.
I think it’s safe to say Bach’s large-scale vocal and orchestral music — that feeling of high and incredible, almost exhausting concentration that you need to play Bach — is probably the feeling is that I’m chasing most at the moment. It’s very different with Mozart. It’s much more natural and effortless somehow, even as a player. I think increasingly I’d say that Bach is the person that fulfills that role, especially in a collaborative situation, where I’m playing continuo in sort of larger organism.

What do you like to do on a day off?

I’d say that I’m super house-proud. Honestly, I love cleaning. I love getting home and just setting things straight, getting the house tip-top. The first thing I do is I go and buy fresh flowers. Probably because life is so chaotic and you’re at a different airport all the time, I love the feeling of structure and order. I then take my physiotherapist’s advice as much as I can, to relax, and to sleep!

What was your first music gig?

Probably the first time I thought that I was actually really 100% a professional musician was a solo recital that I gave in Utrecht in 2001 after winning the Bruges competition. It was a prize concert, so it wasn’t an official engagement in a sense, but I was paid a fee — the largest single amount I had been paid for anything —and I remember in that moment thinking, “OK, this is really what is happening now.” It was a kind of kooky concert in a coffee shop, a solo Mozart recital, and my brother came … it is a really strong memory.

What are the last three recordings you listened to?

I just opened Spotify to check what I’ve been listening to:

Michael Nyman’s No Time in Eternity, performed by Céladon. It’s a fifteen-minute piece for viols and countertenor with Byrd and Tallis. It’s exquisite, a total find for me as I was just browsing around: it was on a playlist from the Ambronay Festival. I was just so struck by the beauty of this piece.

An amazing relatively recent disc of Du Mont motets (O Mysterium) from Ensemble Correspondances, a French group directed by Sébastien Daucé. What they’re doing for late seventeenth-century French music, particularly Charpentier, is just unbelievable.

Bach Cantatas for soprano with Carolyn Sampson and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, which was released in May 2017.

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?

Definitely ABBA — I’m not shy about it!

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

I think it’s very clear for me that that is John Eliot Gardiner. I think it’s a question of what reaches you at a certain time in your upbringing. For me growing up in Australia, many of his recordings came into my life and changed the whole way I thought about how this music would sound. Crucially, I was really struck by that when reading so many of his texts and interviews. He takes both the music and the details of the historicism of it seriously, but then at the end of the day, it is combined with really strong and sensible instincts and really top-quality playing. And I thought to myself at that moment, okay this is it. This is the field. I want to be playing old instruments because this sound just reaches me in a really visceral, strong, dramatic way. Having had the opportunity to work with him a couple of times, I am so deeply impressed by the ability for someone on that level to continually be asking themselves questions, and continually be forcing themselves to be on the highest level, despite the fact that it would be very easy to rest on decades of top-quality, path-breaking projects.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?

I would like to start my own group. As much as I love Mozart, the Bach sons, and Haydn, I’m dying to really get into German sacred repertoire and address a new idea for the large-scale Bach choral and orchestral works, especially the Passions. Of course, this has been done one-on-a part before, but I want it to again be reclaimed by the keyboard director at the heart of the proceedings. I think that is truly so absolutely characteristic of what the journey of directing these pieces means. I am dying to record both of the Passions with a group of eight to twelve singers and a very small orchestra. Although we’ve got countless recordings of these pieces, they do somehow bear renewed investigation every time. There is something about any audience that hears these pieces, when the performers are really engaged on that level … they think they could hear the whole thing, all three hours, again. I am so struck by that, deeply, with Bach. So, just more and more of that!


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

Get to know Elisa Citterio

Leading up to Elisa Citterio‘s debut as Tafelmusik’s new Music Director, we sat down with Elisa for a short Q&A so we all could get to know her better.

Photo credit: Trevor Haldenby

Welcome to Toronto, your new home! Did you know much about the city, or Canada as a whole, before your first visit?

Thank you! My first visit to Canada was when I first met Tafelmusik in 2015, and at that time I knew nothing at all about either Canada or Toronto. In the past I had turned down many tours of your country because I was too busy with other commitments, but every time I hoped to be able to come as soon as possible. My wishes came true!

What do you look forward to exploring in the city?

I am so excited about exploring the different neighbourhoods, with so many cultures living together, to discover many kind of foods, and to find green areas around the city. I am looking forward to relaxing walks on the beaches. I’d like also to explore other musical events here.

What are you looking forward to performing this year?

To be honest, I am looking forward to performing anything with the orchestra, choir, and Ivars! But I am particularly excited to perform with our guests Jeanne Lamon, Bruno Weil, Kristian Bezuidenhout, and Alison Melville.

Who are your favourite composers to perform?

Bach and Mozart. But I love Monteverdi as well. I have to say that I have also loved performing works by Strauss, Janáček, Shostakovich, Puccini, and Verdi.

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

If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said dancing the tango, visiting with my nephews and nieces, and walking in nature. Now I spend every free minute with my one-year-old daughter.

What was your first music gig?

It’s difficult to remember, because my mother organized a few concerts every year with her piano students, and I played every time on both piano and violin. I suppose the first time I probably played a Bach minuet on the piano, and a violin concertino by Küchler. The first professional performance was for the award ceremony of a violin competition: I was twelve and I played an easy Vivaldi concerto.

What are the last three recordings you listened to?

• Bach Goldberg Variations
• Mozart trios
• Some Vivaldi operas

What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?

I used to listen a lot of tango music from the 1940s and 1950s, and also some Italian pop music.

What is your great ambition?

In terms of my career, I have always wanted to play beautiful music with good musicians, but often good musicians aren’t so kindly. Tafelmusik’s members are good musicians—and kind! As to my personal life, I’ve been looking forward to leaving Milan, because I don’t like living in such a chaotic city. Toronto is
certainly bigger, but I think you have many more green areas here. I had also been wanting to have a baby for many years but I didn’t have the time to realize this wish. I am so happy to have my daughter Olivia in my life. Now my biggest ambition is to be helpful to Tafelmusik.

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

There are so many wonderful musicians all over the world, and the list would be very long! Firstly I received a big inspiration from my mother, since she loved music so much — whenever she was home she listened to classical music, and she practised piano for half an hour every night, even after very long days. And I had lessons with so many teachers, and some of them were really inspiring. I can mention four of them: Chiara Banchini, Enrico Onofri, and Luigi Mangiocavallo for baroque violin, and Dejan Bogdanovich for everything.

Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?

That’s the most difficult question for me at this moment of big change. The next three years will be a great adventure both for me and for my family. Maybe we will all fall in love with your country! Of course, taking care of them and of their wishes for the future is a priority.

We don’t have the soccer following that Italy does, but we do have some passionate fans! Do you follow any sports teams?

Actually I don’t — I don’t appreciate the big business that surrounds soccer, so I won’t miss it. I enjoy following the Olympic Games, but that’s all.

You can hear Elisa perform with Tafelmusik in A Joyous Welcome from Sept 21-24, 26, 2017. Tickets are available here.