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.

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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.

Get-to-know TBSI alum, Matt Antal

Our annual Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute is at the halfway point of an intense two weeks of rehearsals, lectures, masterclasses and more. We recently introduced you to TBSI alum and violinist Michelle Odorico. Today, we would like you to meet violist Matt Antal, who is not only a TBSI alum from 2013, 2014 and 2015, but is a current TBSI participant in the first ever Viola d’Amore workshop with Tafelmusik’s Thomas Georgi.

Matt Antal in the 2017 TBSI Viola d’Amore workshop. Photo credit: Lysiane Boulva

Matt first applied to attend TBSI in 2013 on a bit of a whim just before starting his Masters, and it opened up a whole new perspective towards learning for him. Today, both Michelle and Matt are enjoying successful careers as musicians, including performing with Tafelmusik, and we feel privileged to have been able to play a large part in forming those careers. Matt has written about his experiences at TBSI and TWI below.

Matt Antal, viola (far right), performing with Music Director Designate Elisa Citterio and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in Handel Water Music, September 2016. Photo credit: Trevor Haldenby
Matt Antal

I first attended TBSI during the summer before starting my masters in modern viola performance. I had always enjoyed early music, but had never had the opportunity to play a period instrument before, so I really did not know what to expect. Upon arriving, I was immediately immersed into a world full of intelligent people who were friendly and enthusiastic about music — something that is all too rare in my experience.

There is no better feeling than playing music with people that love music just as much as you do. Every single day featured several “mind- blowing” moments, when something I believed to be true my whole life would be disproved, in the best possible way. These moments made me realize how much there is to know and sparked my own desire to discover new topics of my own.

I attended TBSI the following two summers and subsequently TWI the two winters after that, and always looked forward to it as my favourite time of the entire year. I enjoyed not only the music but working with such fantastic teachers and fellow students. So I decided to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts in early music at the University of Toronto, studying with members of Tafelmusik while gigging around town playing baroque viola almost exclusively.

Join us as we continue to build “baroque for the future” with a charitable gift towards the Artist Training Fund. Your contribution today ensures that musicians like Matt and Michelle have the opportunity to develop into the musicians they are destined to be: well equipped to share their gifts with appreciative audiences everywhere. If you wish to make a charitable gift, please give here.


Matt Antal’s appearances with Tafelmusik

Handel Water Music, September 2016
The Baroque Diva, March 2017

Upcoming Tafelmusik appearances

Mozart’s Piano with Kristian Bezuidenhout, November 2017
Handel Messiah, December 2017

Get-to-Know TBSI alum Michelle Odorico

The sixteenth year of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI) and the sixth year of the Tafelmusik Winter Institute (TWI) are upon us. TBSI and TWI are world-renowned training programs for advanced students, pre-professional, and professional musicians in instrumental and vocal baroque performance practice, led by some of the world’s finest musicians in the field. It is inspiring to look back at a very long list of musicians who have participated in the Institutes over the years. The learning and music-making has enriched the musical lives of students and faculty alike on a level we could barely imagine fifteen years ago.

A baroque dance lesson with TBSI participants led by Opera Atelier’s Co-Artistic Director Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, 2013. Credit: Mariana Dempster

There are so many stories to share about our alumni. We remember Alberto from Costa Rica, who worked so hard to bring several members of his ensemble to TBSI, taking back what they learned to a culture where opportunities to study baroque music are almost non-existent. Our Australian tours have inspired numerous young musicians to journey to Toronto to work with us at both TBSI and TWI in a cultural exchange that is energizing for all of us. Violist Elmarie came from South Africa in order to take what she learned back to her students, with the aim of creating a period ensemble there.

There are also many participants who have gone on to appear on the Tafelmusik stage, both singers and instrumentalists, including violinist Michelle Odorico. We would like to introduce you to Michelle who has recently done just that, and was compelled to take up a career as a period performer because of her experience at TBSI and TWI.

Michelle Odorico, violin

Growing up in Pickering, my aunt and uncle would occasionally take me to see Tafelmusik performances. I loved going to these concerts and I believe they gave me a strong attraction to baroque music growing up.

After completing my Bachelor of Music from the University of Ottawa in 2012, a friend and I attended TBSI, thinking it would be a fun thing to do. Little did I know that it would be an intensive university course, jam-packed into two weeks. I was overwhelmed with the depth and amount of information, but was completely hooked. What stood out was how the faculty fostered a safe, encouraging, and inspiring environment — their enthusiasm and patience eased the transition to learning a new style of playing. I loved meeting people from all over the world, and being surrounded by the unique playing styles of my peers and mentors.

I knew after TBSI that this was what I wanted to do, and thanks to Jeanne Lamon and Charlotte Nediger, I was able to begin a Master’s degree in baroque performance at the University of Toronto that fall. I returned to TBSI the following summer, and attended TWI from 2013–2016.

I believe that every musician should go to TBSI. Having this groundwork in place helps bring the music to life. I try to teach these principles of baroque playing to my own students, and I see how much they enjoy learning about them.

My ultimate goal as a musician is to be able to use the baroque violin as a way to communicate and connect to others. Because of TBSI and TWI, I have been able to do this much more than I ever could have anticipated.

Join us as we continue to build “baroque for the future” with a charitable gift towards the Artist Training Fund. Your contribution today ensures that musicians like Matt and Michelle have the opportunity to develop into the musicians they are destined to be: well equipped to share their gifts with appreciative audiences everywhere. If you wish to make a charitable gift, please give here.


Appearances with Tafelmusik

Purcell Dido & Aeneas, October 2016
Let Us All Sing!, November 2016
Asia Tour, November 2016
Toronto Education Concerts, January 2017
Visions and Voyages, February 2017
Ontario Tour, March 2017
U.S. Tour, Feb/Mar, 2017
Mozart Mass in C Minor, May 2017

Upcoming Tafelmusik appearances
Handel Alexander’s Feast, February 2018
Beethoven Pastoral Symphony, May 2018
Australia Tour, May/June 2018

Michelle Odorico (violin) with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and  Chamber Choir in Let Us All Sing, November 2016. Credit: Trevor Haldenby

Get to Know: Colin Labadie, composer

We’re excited to perform and premiere a brand new composition by Canadian composer Colin Labadie for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. Entwined was written for Tafelmusik and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of Canada Mosaic. Leading up to the premiere on March 23, 2017 at Koerner Hall, we caught up with Colin and asked him a few questions.

Colin Labadie, composer

What got you into composing?

It’s tough to pin down. I’ve always liked making things, music or otherwise. In high school I would make these little quartet arrangements of songs I was learning on the classical guitar. When I was auditioning for university, they asked what major I was thinking about pursuing. I said composition—I’m still not totally sure why, but it seemed most interesting to me at the time. I guess it was the right call since I haven’t really looked back!

Tell us a bit about one of your “mutant guitars”?

I had been improvising quite a bit, and started building little programs that let me manipulate the sound of the guitar in really new and interesting ways. But to get the sounds I wanted, I needed to play with the program quite a bit, and at a certain point I felt like I was playing my laptop more than my guitar. So I stuck a bunch of extra buttons and gadgets onto the guitar and got them talking to my laptop, basically as a way to have more organic and sophisticated control over the sound. It’s a lot of fun to play, though it sometimes has a mind of its own.

What makes you excited to be writing for Tafelmusik?

The calibre of the players and ensemble as a whole! I had known about Tafelmusik for a long time, mostly by reputation although I had seen them a few times. When I was working on the piece, I went down the rabbit hole and listened to as many recordings as I could to get a better sense of the group (their recent recording of Beethoven’s 9th is a personal favourite), and was continually blown away by their playing. Everyone’s also been friendly and easy to work with, which is a nice bonus.

What was it like writing for period instruments?

It was less painful than I thought it would be! (kidding, mostly). There were a few things I had to take into consideration, particularly how the strings speak a bit differently, but it wasn’t a major adjustment. I’ve actually always felt that my own musical sensibilities are a bit more aligned with early music than the classical/romantic era. So even though I hadn’t really written for period instruments before, I didn’t have to change my approach too much—I found that my ideas translated well onto the instruments.

This will also be performed by the TSO (on modern instruments)—was this a factor in figuring out to write the piece?

Absolutely. On any given piece, I think a lot about the particular ensemble that I’m writing for, but this is the first time that I’ve written something that will be premiered by two different ensembles. I worked hard to come up with material that I think will work both technically and aesthetically on both period and modern instruments. I guess we’ll find out how well I did! I’m actually really excited to hear how the two orchestras interpret the piece differently. (You can hear the TSO perform Entwined on April 22.)

How does your work tackle Canada’s 150th anniversary? What are some of the underlying extra-musical ideas?

I always have mixed feelings when it comes to celebrations like Canada 150. On the one hand there are plenty of things that I love about this country, and we certainly have much to celebrate. But on the other hand there are still a number of systemic issues that we need to take a hard look at. For example, I think the way indigenous people have been treated in this country is deplorable. Canada 150 deserves some credit for making reconciliation one of its four main themes, and I hope we keep sight of that through the year. There are some who still ignore or deny the effect that settler populations have had on indigenous communities. In Entwined, I have these interwoven parts within and between the string and wind parts—I was trying to symbolize how the histories of indigenous people and settlers are diverse yet deeply connected, and consequently how I and other settlers have a role to play in reconciliation.

What’s next for you in the world of contemporary music?

Actually, a break! (sort of). I had a really busy fall/winter, with quite a few commissions and theatre projects, on top of a busy teaching schedule. So I’m excited to take a few weeks off and get caught up on life. After that, I have a choral piece being premiered by the Menno Singers in early May, performances at the Festival des musiques de création in Jonquière, Quebec and Between the Ears in Kitchener, then three commissions for the summer/fall that all involve saxophone. I’m really excited to finally write the third movement to my sax/piano piece Strata, which is something that’s been on the back burner for a couple of years.

Last three songs you listened to

I’ve been really into this German electronic label called raster noton, especially this guy Alva Noto. The last three songs I listened to were all from his 2011 album Univrs.

Most importantly, have you found your favourite BBQ joint?

It’s been Hog Tails in Waterloo for a little while. I don’t know how they make their fried chicken, but it’s bonkers how good it is. For you Toronto folk, I’m a big fan of Barque on Roncy (Roncesvalles).

You can hear Tafelmusik perform Entwined by Colin Labadie in The Baroque Diva at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from March 23-26, 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.