US Tour: Tafelmusik in Seattle

By William Norris, Managing Director

At the time of writing, I’m trying to think of a good play on the infamous movie title for this blog, but it may end up being plain old Tafelmusik in Seattle. Let us know if you have better ideas.

After our show in La Jolla, we retired to our hotel. Hotels on tour are an interesting little facet of tour life. You never quite know what you’re going to get, and they vary wildly, being usually organized by our host venue. Dominic has already described the lovely hotel in Santa Barbara. The following night we were somewhere quite a different – more of a motel style venue, on the edge of a busy road, so really quite different, although the fact I found I could sit by the side of the pool AND still get WiFi was a definite plus!

In La Jolla we found ourselves at a rather plush golfing resort, so we were happy to retire to the bar there after the show, in the company of Amy from our agents Colbert Artists, who very kindly treated the orchestra to a round of drinks. Some however had their sights set on healthier and equally relaxing goals – the hot tub. The official close time was 11 pm, but by the time we arrived back it was 10:50 pm. Reception was mobbed by enthusiastic potential bathers, and they very kindly agreed to extend the opening by an hour, news which was greeted by excited whoops and cheers!

After their dip, the bathing portion of the tour party dropped by those of us in the bar, in their bathrobes. I shall spare them the embarrassment of posting pictures here!

 

The next day was a long one and necessitated an early start for our 10 am flight to Seattle. At the airport, our Tour Manager Beth Anderson managed check-in as usual. No matter how much prep you do, it’s always a slight unknown as to how checking musicians with instruments, cellos with their own seats, and all the cargo including double bass will go down with the particular check-in crew on duty that day. Sometimes you get unlucky and get a (British TV reference coming up) ‘computer says no’ reaction.

Luckily, on this occasion, the staff of Alaska Airlines came up trumps and all went smoothly. After arrival in Seattle (with the bus parking seemingly situated the furthest possible distance from baggage reclaim) we transferred to the hotel and the orchestra had a few hours to catch their breath.

This was, I think, the 8th hotel of the tour. Changing hotels almost daily can be pretty disorientating – I woke up several times with zero idea where I was, frequently thinking I was in the previous night’s room. It’s one reason why touring can be so tiring – so huge kudos to the Orchestra (and indeed to Tour Manager Beth Anderson and the whole technical team) for never flagging, at least not visibly.

The concert in Seattle was a fitting cap to the tour. A great venue, a full hall and a super-engaged and enthusiastic audience. (Read a review from The Sun Break.)

Following our return to Toronto (via Vancouver, as the planes from Seattle are too small for our instruments and cargo), the Orchestra had a week off from Tafelmusik duties – before we get back in to our season with The Baroque Diva next week in Koerner Hall. See you there!

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra final bow at the Meany Theater, Seattle, WA.

US Tour: Santa Barbara, Long Beach, and La Jolla, CA

By Dominic Teresi, bassoon

Early Tuesday morning we left Winter Park, Florida, and headed across the country to begin the final West Coast leg of the tour. It probably comes as no surprise to say that Southern California is a favourite destination for everyone in the orchestra. This has been our third time in the area in recent years, and we were all excited to return to some of our favourite spots in Santa Barbara and La Jolla. The only down side was that the tour schedule was heating up at this point — four travel and concert days in a row meant there would be little time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

California sky. Photo: James Johnstone

Nevertheless we were all very excited at the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean as we made our way up the coast highway to Santa Barbara. Our hotel was the same one we stayed in on our last trip here, the historic Upham. It is the oldest hotel in Santa Barbara and the rooms are all little one-room cottages clustered around a beautiful garden where one can sit tranquilly and enjoy breakfast or just soak up the sun. Given that this was the last free night of the tour a group of us set out in search of a good taqueria, which is not difficult to find anywhere in SoCal.

Photo: Dominic Teresi

We ended up at Rincon Alteña, a little hole in the wall in downtown Santa Barbara and were not disappointed. The next day we were free in the morning to explore the town. Jet lag had me up early so I embarked on a morning walk and discovered a lovely little park with a pond full of turtles!

While I certainly love California for the weather and the food, what I most enjoy about touring in my home state is seeing the family and old friends and colleagues I have scattered up and down the coast. Patricia Ahern, Patrick Jordan, Allen Whear, Cristina Zacharias and I all spend our summers in Carmel-by-Sea playing in the Carmel Bach Festival, and two dear friends from the festival, Gail and Stan Dryden, made the trip down from Carmel just to hear our concert and hang out a bit afterwards. The concert venue was the beautiful and historic Lobero Theater, which is where we played on our previous visits. The full house and enthusiastic audience was proof that we’ve developed quite a following here, and after the concert we were immediately invited back to bring our next touring program here.

Outside of Hotel Upham. L-R: Michelle Odorico (violin), Allen Whear (cello), Alison Mackay (double bass), Patricia Ahern (violin), Christopher Verrette (violin), Patrick Jordan (viola), Blair Williams (narrator). Photo: Dominic Teresi

The next day was a very full one — it began with us hopping back on the bus and heading down to Long Beach for our concert at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts (named after the late Karen Carpenter) at CSULB, a few miles south of Los Angeles. Julia Wedman and I were dropped off en route at the University of Southern California where we both gave masterclasses to some of the many talented students at the fine music school there. Julia worked with the USC Early Music Ensemble, and I worked with modern bassoon studio, giving them an introduction to the baroque bassoon and historical performance practice. After our classes we were rushed down to Long Beach to join the rest of the orchestra during the pre-concert warm up. The Hall was a bit too large for our group and a challenge to play in, but the small but enthusiastic crowd made up for it. An old college roommate of mine, Steve Trapani, who happens to live just a few blocks from the performance venue, generously invited the whole orchestra over to his home for a post concert party complete with his excellent home brewed beer!

Checking out the seals. Photo: James Johnstone

Our final day in Southern California began with another bus ride, this one to the lovely village of La Jolla just north of San Diego, where the La Jolla Music Society resides. Here I got to spend a couple of hours with my beautiful niece Amanda, who lives in San Diego, and nephew, Tim, who drove all the way from San Luis Obispo to come hear the concert. The concert venue was located in the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, overlooking the ocean and just a few steps from Seal Rock, where we were able to see dozens of harbour seals and their babies sunning themselves on the beach. The concert venue there is about to be renovated and ours was the last concert ever played in that space. We’ll look forward to returning to La Jolla on our next California tour and playing in a brand new concert hall!

US Tour 2017: San Juan and Winter Park

By Julia Wedman, violin

One of the things I love the most about touring (and maybe life in general) is that unexpected things happen — both unexpectedly wonderful and unexpectedly challenging. This blog is dedicated to the highlights and challenges of touring.

Sitting next to me on the airplane the other day, our wonderful narrator, Blair Williams, inspired me by quoting Australian actor Zoe Caldwell, “Without a challenge a skin begins to grow around the soul.”

Julia Wedman, violin, and Dominic Teresi, bassoon, in San Juan. Photo: James Johnstone

Saturday, March 4, 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico, 8pm Concert at the Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals, Centre de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferre

Today’s Up

Concerts are often the best part of touring, especially when we are playing one of our memorized programs. This concert was a true highlight. The hall in San Juan is incredibly beautiful — the perfect size and acoustic for a group like ours! Named after the famous Catalan cellist Pablo Casals (1876–1973), it seemed particularly fitting that we would play the music of his favourite composer. Casals said, “For the past 80 years I have started each day in the same manner … I go to the piano, and I play preludes and fugues of Bach … It is a sort of benediction on the house.”

Sala Sinfónica Pablo Casals. Photo courtesy of Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré

I love the magic that performing in a great hall inspires in Tafelmusik. It is like an upward spiral — when we hear something beautiful, we are moved to respond with something equally striking, and suddenly the music takes on new shapes that we had never heard before. Adding to the momentum of the upward spiral is a completely engaged audience, like the one we had in San Juan. Just after intermission, I always go up into the balcony and play part of the Allemande from Bach’s D-Minor Partita. Even though it is exciting to be so close to the audience, it can be nerve-wracking to play so far away from the rest of the orchestra. In this concert, it was heart-warming to be part of the crowd. I got to see first-hand how the audience was responding to every sound and image — laughing, whispering to friends, and soaking up everything coming to them from the stage. There was a vibrancy in the response that gave me a true sense of community —everyone was seeing and hearing this concert with the same kind of excitement and love that I have for it! I think people coming to classical music concerts often think that they have to be quiet all the time. Yes, we do need still moments, but I love a boisterous audience and prefer genuinely spontaneous silences that come when the audience and performers are so tuned in that we all need a stillness. In a solo earlier in the program, I have a silence, and one of the tests of me, the hall, and the audience is how long I can draw out that silence. Tonight’s was one of the longest!

Today’s Down

Some days our tech team faces big challenges on tour. We travel with our own computer, projector, and large-scale screen, and our technical team (Raha Javanfar, Glenn Davidson, and Glen Charles Landry) arrives several hours before the orchestra in every venue to set up the screen and the projector, focus the lights, and tape the floor medallion to the stage so that Blair and the orchestra know where to stand. One of the biggest challenges at the Sala Pablo Casals was finding a place for the projector so that the image had a clear path to the screen over people’s heads. In order to make that work in San Juan, Raha spent 90 minutes scrounging around backstage “MacGyvering” a stand for the projector in the lighting booth. The resultant pyramid consisted of the projector on top of its own case, on top of scrap pieces of wood, on a table, on the conductor’s podium, on top of a skid. It worked perfectly!

Sunday March 5, 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Free Day

Today’s Up

It was my first true day off (no practising!) since the beginning of January. Rhett Lee Garcia, one of the wonderful organizers of our San Juan concert, set up a last-minute tour of the rainforest in gorgeous Yunque National Park. Hector, our knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, picked us up at 10am, and after a scenic drive past incredible coastal views, we stopped at his friend’s grocery where we picked up delicious fresh pineapple, mangoes, and coconut candy. As we drove up into the mountains, he described the medicinal qualities of the trees. “For every disease there is a cure within 20 feet in the rain forest,” he declared. He dropped us off at the top of a narrow stone trail, from where we followed a small stream of water which gained volume as we walked down amongst the lush vegetation, leading to stunning waterfalls. About ten minutes into the walk, I felt my lungs expanding and a deep breath entered my body. It was as if I hadn’t been breathing for months! When we got to the falls, we dipped our feet in the cold water, and the two Glenns bravely dived straight in! Today was an exquisite reminder of nature’s power to heal body and soul.

Photo: James Johnstone

Today’s Down

This was such a wonderful day that even the challenges were fun! We had planned a big dinner for the whole orchestra at a beautiful restaurant in the old city, and a few of us went in early to walk around. After a day of perfect weather, the sun gods decided we had had too much, and a torrential rain storm rudely interrupted our visit to the sixteenth-century citadel, Castillo de San Felipe. We arrived at the restaurant soaking wet, freezing, and starving. Unfortunately the restaurant, located in a charming former convent, was not having its best night. Soon after we arrived, a scuffle (fistfight!) ensued between two members of staff, and our server, who was new, was visibly rattled. The restaurant was understaffed so the food took a long time to arrive — two and half hours! In true Puerto Rican style, they kindly gave us free appetizers, but the food wasn’t quite up to the high standards of many of the officianados in our group. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the ambience and the company, and I took advantage of the tiny hand dryer in the bathroom to dry out my socks while we waited for dinner!

Storm clouds brewing. Photo: Julia Johnstone
Food time after the rain. Photo: Dominic Teresi

Monday, March 7, 2017

Winter Park, Florida, 7:30pm. Concert at the Tiedtke Concert Hall, Keene Music Building, Rollins College

Today’s up

After an early wake-up and a long day of travel we arrived in sunny Winter Park, Florida, to play for The Bach Festival Society concert series, which was founded in 1935 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth. One of the things we all love about touring is having a chance to visit our musician’s family members around the world. Many of us get the most nervous and also play the best when family members are in the audience (both in Toronto and on tour). Tiedtke Concert Hall in Winter Park is not far from oboist John Abberger’s family home. Not only did we have the honour of playing on such a prestigious and long-running concert series, filled with an audience of smiling Bach-lovers, we were treated to a lovely reception organized by John and his brothers! We were treated to Lester Abberger’s delicious homemade smoked salmon, got to cuddle with Will Abberger’s beautiful golden Labrador, and were treated to a viewing of family treasures, which included the sweetest portraits of John and his brothers as children. It is always fantastic to meet family and find out more about our beloved colleagues’ early years. We also had the pleasure of seeing Tricia Ahern’s mother and Chris Verrette’s brother. We will definitely have to come back to Winter Park soon!

Today’s down

One of the other challenges of touring with a baroque orchestra is that we don’t travel on airplanes with our own harpsichord, so we need to find harpsichords in the places we perform. Today’s harpsichord presented a problem when guest harpsichordist James Johnstone arrived before the orchestra to practise and tune. Many harpsichords have a transposing mechanism that enables them to play at A=440 (modern pitch) or A=415 (baroque pitch). When James arrived, the Dowd harpsichord was at A=440, and the mechanism to switch it over was stuck. After 20 minutes of struggling, Glenn Davidson (from the tech team) came over to help. They were pressed for time because we had arrived almost an hour late to the hotel (delayed flight, faulty GPS on the bus getting to the venue). It caused a little stress — a harpsichord tuned at the wrong pitch would not do! The orchestra would be arriving soon and everything needed to be in place for the dress rehearsal. The stage was a different shape than usual (wide and narrow), so the screen had to be placed beside us rather than behind us. We needed every bit of rehearsal time for re-organizing choreography and getting used to the new space. James had almost fixed the problem when Glenn Davidson arrived to complete the last puzzle piece. Crawling under the harpsichord, Glenn discovered an extra screw that needed to be taken out for the transposition to fall into place! James quickly began tuning as the orchestra arrived, and rehearsal only started about five minutes late. That was great for me because I was late too. I have a lot of food allergies and hadn’t been able to eat anything at the airports that day. My food supply was low, and I had to find a little grocery store after getting to the hotel. In a rush, I dropped my rice cooker, and I thought it broke. But I was able to fix that too!

The orchestra is in California with performances scheduled in Santa Barbara, Long Beach and La Jolla. Then the tours ends in Seattle, Washington.

US Tour 2017: Oberlin and Penn State

By Christopher Verrette, violin

Tafelmusik is touring the US from February 28 to March 11, 2017, presenting Alison Mackay’s multimedia program J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation. This concert combines text, music, stunning projected video and images to explore the world of the artisans—paper makers, violin carvers, string spinners, and performers—who helped J.S. Bach realize his musical genius. Tour dates and other info at tafelmusik.org/Tours

Less than 24 hours after playing our final Visions & Voyages concert at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, Tafelmusik set off by bus to the US for a two-week long tour. We experienced no difficulty with visas for musicians at the border, which was a relief, but the paperwork for our stage gear was missing a stamp from our last journey, so we had to double back to the Canadian side to attend to that. Our first stop was Oberlin, Ohio, home to Oberlin College and one of the finest conservatories of music in North America. The school was founded in 1833 by a couple of ministers as one of the first coeducational institutions of learning, and was open to African-Americans as well. Oberlin is otherwise a quiet town with its Ben Franklin Five and Dime store and Apollo Art Decoy movie theatre (which showed its first “talkie” back in 1928) still in use. The campus itself is lovely, and it was welcoming to see the maple trees on the central green being tapped for syrup.

Bobblehead Bach on stage in Finney Chapel, Oberlin, OH. Photo: Pat Jordan
Bobblehead Bach on stage in Finney Chapel, Oberlin, OH. Photo: Pat Jordan

Oberlin has one the oldest and best programs for historical performance, including a summer institute that is in its 46th year. A group of us were able to visit with one of its architects, Catharina Meints, and get a tour of the collection of violas da gamba and other instruments that she and her late husband, James Caldwell amassed over the years. They began collecting in the late 1960’s (she explained that their courtship consisted mostly of playing viol duets!) and the process was not merely one of accumulation of instruments but also of their restoration and of learning a great deal about different national styles of design and construction, and their relation to other arts. One detail she pointed out that has really stuck with me is the head of a 1740ish French instrument, which is a representation of a “noble savage”, a beautiful embodiment of that view of the North American peoples, especially as we come from last week’s Sesquicentennial project.

Bobblehead Bach with the Nittany Lion, Penn States official mascot. Photo: Pat Jordan
Bobblehead Bach with Penn State’s mascot, the Nittany Lion. Photo: Pat Jordan

Our next stop was Penn State University, our third recent visit there. Larger than Oberlin, it is still very much a college town, in fact, the name of the town is “State College”. The university has a deep history dating back to the 1850s, commemorated by many informative signs on the campus, and visible in many old, large trees. The Old Main is a beautiful stone building next to our performance venue. In addition to our performances of J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation, Tafelmusik players made contact with students in both places though performance master classes and visits to classes in other disciplines, as well as a visit to a high school. Given the academic nature of our audiences in both places, the section of the program concerning dress codes in Leipzig brought on much laughter, as university professors are referred to as “second class citizens” and students with master’s degrees as fourth class. Lawyers fall in between as third class…

Photo: Christopher Verrette
The Old Main, PennState University. Photo: Christopher Verrette

Tonight, the orchestra performs in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the Corporación del Centro de Bellas Artes, followed by a stop in Winter Park, Florida. Watch for more photos and updates!

Asia Tour 2016: South Korea

By John Abberger, oboe

After two days of rehearsal we performed our first concert on the tour on Sunday, November 12 at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. The two days of rehearsal in China were grueling but necessary for several reasons.  In the first place, we have not performed Bach: The Circle of Creation since we first mounted it in April 2015, or more than eighteen months ago, and there is general agreement that Circle of Creation is the most difficult memorization feat that we have tackled to date, owing to the complexity of Bach’s music.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir Published by Andrew Eusebio Page Liked · 14 November · On the bus heading towards Daegu, South Korea.This is how we Tetris the orchestra into a minibus. Nobody moves until the bass gets off. Photo: Beth Anderson
On the bus heading towards Daegu, South Korea. This is how we Tetris the orchestra into a minibus. Nobody moves until the bass gets off. Photo: Beth Anderson

Secondly, we had to work with the new narrator, who would be reading the script in Mandarin.  This presents several challenges of its own. The narrator must famaliarize himself with the music and the flow of the show back and forth between music and words, and we must get a feel for the narrator’s body language, since we cannot rely on understanding cues from the text itself as we normally do. All of this gave us a bit of extra adrenaline on opening night of the tour.  We were fortunate to have an excellent narrator in David Zhang, however, and the performance went well. It was warmly received by an audience of about 800, a respectable crowd, but, sadly, scattered about in a 1,600 seat concert, giving the impression of a smaller number.

On to Korea.  Monday, November 14 was a long travel day: 9:30am departure from the hotel, 10:45 arrival at the Shanghai Pudong Airport for a 2:00pm flight, which was delayed on the ground for 1 hr. and 40 minutes.  Add to this a one-hour time change, and we were on the ground at the Incheon airport in Seoul at about 8:00pm local time with still another 50-minute bus ride to the hotel in the Gangnam district of Seoul.

L-R: Marco Cera, Dominic Teresi, Hyun Chul Lim, John Abberger, and Patrick Jordan
L-R: Marco Cera, Dominic Teresi, Hyun Chul Lim, John Abberger, and Patrick Jordan

We are fortunate to have a wonderful friend in Seoul, a bassoonist named Hyun Chul Lim who was a university classmate of Dominic Teresi, and we count him as a member of an exclusive club of friends that we have in various cities around the world. We look forward to seeing them again when we return, and in addition to enjoying a wonderful friendship built upon repeated visits to their home cities, they provide invaluable guidance to local sights and dining spots. Hyun in particular never disappoints. On Wednesday he took a few of us to a beautiful spot just outside of the city where we visited a Buddhist monastery located near the top of Un-Gil-San mountain, one of the hills that surround Seoul.

Photo: Dominic Teresi
Photo: Dominic Teresi

After driving up a steep one-lane road, we park and walk the last 500 meters or so to the small monastery compound.  While listening to the monks chant in the background, we stand near a 500-year-old gingko tree, and enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding hills. Below us we can see the point at which the North and South Han rivers join to form the Han river that runs through Seoul. There is also a commanding view from a small teahouse in the compound, and we take a moment to savour a cup of hot green tea before taking our leave of this beautiful spot. Back at the bottom of the mountain we stop for a fantastic lunch of grilled river eel, cooked at the table over charcoal embers. Once grilled and sauced, the slices of eel are rolled up in a lettuce leaf with chili sauce, slivers of fresh ginger, and slices of raw garlic. They are indescribably delicious, and we gobble as many of these morsels as we can to prepare us for the next round of rehearsals, this time with a Korean actor/narrator.


Asia Tour 2016: South Korea

Fri Nov 18, 7:30pm
Grand Concert Hall
Daegu, South Korea

Sat Nov 19, 5pm
Tongyeong Concert Hall
Tongyeong, South Korea

Sun Nov 20, 7pm
LG Centre
Seoul, South Korea

Asia Tour 2016: Tafelmusik visits Shanghai

By Michelle Odorico, violin
Michelle Odorico joins the orchestra on her first Tafelmusik tour – and what a way to begin, travelling to China and South Korea and playing a fully memorized Bach program! We’re proud to say that Michelle is an alumna of Tafelmusik’s artist training programs: she was first introduced to baroque violin at the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in 2012, inspiring her to pursue a Master’s degree with Jeanne Lamon at the University of Toronto. She attended TBSI twice, and the Tafelmusik Winter Institute four times, last year featuring as concerto soloist. It’s been thrilling to see her playing with the orchestra this fall: in Opera Atelier’s production of Dido & Aeneas, and in our mainstage concerts celebrating the choir’s 35th anniversary. We asked her to submit a few blog entries while in Asia so that we could travel along with her on her first Tafelmusik tour.
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Welcome screenWe landed in Shanghai late afternoon on Wednesday. It was my first fourteen-hour flight, and as much as I enjoyed watching three movies back-to-back, I have a new-found respect for those who travel overseas on a regular basis. We were warmly greeted at the hotel with hot tea, flowers for Jeanne, and a “Welcome Tafelmusik” page on their lobby screen.

Thursday was our free day to recover from the long flight and adjust to the new time zone. I tagged along with violinist Julia Wedman and guest harpsichordist James Johnstone, who is here from London, England.

We planned to go to the Yu Gardens but we missed the entrance and ended up walking around the western wall of the gardens, where we absorbed the authentic feeling of the old city with its tiny streets and street vendors making food in front of their homes. There we nearly met our demise by Shanghai’s silent killer – the electric motorbike. They can come from any direction at any moment without warning and poor unsuspecting tourists would benefit greatly if they would use their bell.

We finally found the entrance to the gardens. Created in 1569, the Yù Yuán means the Garden of Happiness and was the largest and most prestigious garden in all of Shanghai. Our favourite part was the dragon and the beautiful tiled roofs. We stopped for a refreshment at the “local coffee shop” (aka Starbucks), and then walked through the main tourist area, which we immediately dubbed “Selfie Square”. Selfie sticks were in abundance and so we decided to join in ourselves.

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L-R: Julia Wedman, violin, James Johnstone, harpsichord, Michelle Odorico, violin

Many of us from the orchestra visited the South Bund Fabric Market on our free day. It is a three-story building filled with suits, coats, dresses, scarves, etc. There you can have the outfit of your choice in any material, colour, or size that you need — delivered to your hotel a few days later!

Friday was a full rehearsal day at the Shanghai Mass Arts Centre. We rehearsed in a dance studio and had a productive day, despite it feeling like the middle of the night.

Later that evening, a group of six of us wanted to go on a boat tour see the stunning architecture along the Huangpu River, which runs through the centre of the city. I took a taxi with violinists Jeanne Lamon and Patricia Ahern. In a second taxi were Alison MacKay (double bass), Allen Whear (cellist) and Raha Javanfar (projections designer). We ended up being dropped off at two different boarding stations and got on two different boats. Jeanne spotted them on the other boat as they passed us.

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Shanghai architecture

On Saturday we had a rehearsal with David Zhang — (our narrator for the Chinese performance), who learned the show remarkable quickly and whose beautiful English helped the rehearsal process tremendously. In the afternoon we had a small but appreciative audience of patrons from the Shanghai Mass Arts Center.

That evening, we went to a really cool area — the French Concession — and had dinner at the fantastic “Green and Safe” restaurant. It is right across from the Shanghai Conservatory where cellist Allen Whear taught and performed earlier this year and has a bright and warm atmosphere — both the food and company were wonderful!

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L-R: Allen Whear, cello; Patricia Ahern, violin; Christopher Verrette, violin; Julia Wedman, violin; James Johnstone, harpsichord; Allison Mackay, double bass.

Stage Doors and a final stop in Kingston

The instruments sent to Edmonton by ground transportation were supposed to arrive Thursday, in advance of the orchestra, but there was a snafu. I happened to be in the hotel lobby Friday morning as Tour Manager Beth Anderson, cellist Christina Mahler, and lutenist Lucas Harris were anxiously awaiting their arrival, just then, a day late. There had been no concert the night before, so no disaster on that front, but it is always an uncomfortable feeling to be separated from one’s precious instrument, and one’s pulse rate surges until it is confirmed that it has arrived intact. All are fine, though, and even better in tune than one would expect after such a journey. The setup of the set and projector was also delayed by this, but as usual, our crack tech crew had everything under control by showtime anyway.

The afternoon and evening off in Edmonton is welcome, as we have performed every day so far. People are enjoying the warm weather and the laundry machines, although a play date is still held at the hotel that afternoon. I, however, choose to take a few hours off from the violin, my personal electronic devices, and even my “buddy” – meaning my little Leipzig and Damascus memorization book – and take a good, long walk. When I return to each of them, I discover that the world has not ended, so I stand by my decision.

A notice that the hotel fire alarms will be tested is a strong incentive not to be there at that particular time. Since the Winspear Centre, home of the Edmonton Symphony, is not far away, I decide to photograph its stage door for Will’s collection, even though we are not playing there this time. Our venue will be a church, which may not have a stage entrance as such.

edmonton stage door
The ongoing chronicle of Stage Doors – Winspear Centre, Edmonton

The Robertson-Wesley church turns out to have very good acoustics, much more like playing at home than most of the theatres on this trip, and it means narrator Blair Williams can deliver crystal clear text without the use of a microphone. This is preferable, being more harmonious with the music, which is strictly acoustic. There is, however, less stage space to work with than usual, so we carefully work through all of the movement in the show to avoid collisions, bumps on the head (some us need to sit directly under the screen in this venue), and to make sure people can see who they need to see at any given moment.

Saturday begins with a bus ride through the prairies to Calgary, a less dramatic backdrop than the mountains of B.C., but nonetheless compelling in its own way. We arrive at the Hotel Alma, conveniently next to the performance space on the campus of the University of Calgary. Two players are soon whisked off for educational/outreach activities: Julia Wedman for a masterclass for students at the university, and Tricia Ahern to coach an amateur group called the Blue Arch Strings.

As a Mahlerite, I am amused by the card on the coffee machine that says “Wake up with Alma” and the guest comments card that says, “Tell us how you feel about Alma.” It is tempting to fill it out in Gustav’s voice, writing something like: “To live for her, to die for her! Have a nice day :)” but I resist.

We are performing at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, which also has a beautiful acoustic, so again no mic is needed, and it is more straightforward for the motion than the last venue. We have a brief meet-and-greet with audience members after the concert, and I am very touched to meet two gentlemen attending together who announced that they were celebrating seven years cancer-free. It seems they met each other during chemotherapy, where they used to listen to Tafelmusik CDs. It is a great way to finish this Western tour.

We do have one more performance of House of Dreams in Kingston, Ontario, on Tuesday. This will be at the Isabel Bader Centre, which is run by our former Managing Director, Tricia Baldwin, and will be both another great reunion and our debut as an orchestra in that venue. A few of us went as a chamber group last spring and found it to be excellent. We will also be preparing and premiering our next multimedia project, Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, there in May. (Readers of this blog will know that memorization is already well underway for that project.) Tricia’s vision is to unite the different artistic departments of Queen’s University under this one roof, and our projects of this type seem a beautiful example of that vision, mirrored in the beautiful contemporary description of Joseph Smith’s Venetian villa from House of Dreams as “the perfect union of all the arts.”

Christopher Verrette, violin

Bach in a bed
Good night Bach!