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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Family Reunions for Tafelmusik

By Christopher Verrette, violin

Will noted in his first post for this tour how remarkable it was to him that he could fly 5 hours from Toronto and land in the same country. We had a similar experience at ground level travelling by bus and ferry from Victoria to Kelowna for several hours without leaving the province of B.C. In Europe, one might have passed through three countries in the same time and distance. We had good weather again for the ferry crossing Tuesday morning. A bald eagle conveniently posed for us in a tree by the docks. I find the combination of fresh air on the open deck and hot chocolate particularly satisfying.

Our lunch break was scheduled, appropriately, for Chilliwack, which is also the name of a band, as I learned last fall when we were composing an all-Canadian playlist for the benefit of Will, who had only recently joined us from England. B.C. is full of sights of natural beauty, and the otherwise mundane shopping plaza we stopped at was surrounded by mountains, and the sun was shining. When I got back on the bus I had links to Chilliwack songs waiting for me on my email, (as well as a tangential King Crimson one.) We finished up the film Roman Holiday, and Allen also showed us a brief clip of Blair Williams, our narrator for House of Dreams, playing a waiter in American Psycho (2000.) (He similarly embarrassed me years ago by showing The Witches of Eastwick, in which I appear briefly on screen.)

Hepburn movie_PA
Roman Holiday (in British Columbia)

One of the pieces we are playing is a beautiful aria from Bach’s Cantata 42 on the biblical text “Whenever two or three are gathered together…” which is an extremely timely text to reflect on, because “play date” season for the Leipzig and Damascus show has officially begun! Play dates are what we call anytime players get together to practise the music we need to know from memory, either on-book, off-book, or somewhere in between. Attendance is completely voluntary, so the particular combination of instruments can be odd at times. For example, playing only the three viola parts of a Lully piece, without either bass or treble line can be bizarre. (One guest conductor called these parts “the stuffing” of the orchestra, but I prefer another’s “cream.”) Some play dates are announced in advance, or are predictable (i.e. half an hour before showtime), but others can flare up unexpectedly, whenever two or more are gathered. They can happen onstage, backstage, in the gym at Trinity St.-Paul’s (our home venue), or in hotel conference rooms. I don’t think we have done one in an airport yet, but I could totally imagine that happening. These gatherings are an important part of the memorization process for us, and a positive indicator of the remarkable spirit of this orchestra, as well. The process is greatly assisted by the little personalized books pictured in an earlier post, to which the details of choreography will be added later. I personally have done a huge amount of memorization work on buses in B.C. over the past few years.

There has been a constant sense of family reunion surrounding this trip. Nanaimo is Aisslinn Nosky‘s hometown, so it is always special for us to play there. (Could there be something in the water there that fosters musical talent? It is also the hometown of Diana Krall and Allison Crowe.) Julie Wedman‘s dad lives in Victoria and was personally responsible for at least 30 ticket sales. Julie was also reunited in Kelowna with her Aunt Alanna, whom she hadn’t seen since she was 8, and I had the pleasure of taking their photo in the lobby after the show. Another happy reunion in Kelowna was with violinist Liz Enns, both a friend of mine and Cristina Zacharias‘ first teacher. (I have fond memories of being able to play for my first teacher in my hometown of Durham, New Hampshire with Tafelmusik back in 1999.)

Julie and Aunt Alanna
Julia Wedman and her Aunt Alanna

For the Kelowna-Edmonton leg of the journey, our production gear and large instruments were shipped by ground, but the people and smaller instruments flew. Beth Anderson was out at the airport early, going through a tense but ultimately successful negotiation to get all our instruments safely in the cabin of the plane. I had intended to finish writing this on the plane, but was distracted by the beautiful scenery. Edmonton is surprisingly warm, markedly different from the last time we were here, and there is great excitement and a bit of competition over the laundry room in our hotel.

Flying over mountains
Not a bad view!

Nanaimo Next!

With a free morning on Monday it was a chance for a lie-in, a wander about town, or, if you were me, a chance to catch up on emails and ponder software systems. At lunchtime I popped out with Chris Verette and Alison Mckay to meet with Bob Fraser from the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. As well as playing with the VSO he also chairs the OCSM, a network of Canadian Orchestral Musicians. Bob took us to a really fantastic (and tiny) Japanese restaurant, where I could counteract last night’s cocktails with some super-healthy fish. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the OCSM and also to talk about shared issues such as music director searches and the like.

After this it was time to head back onto the bus for our drive to Nanaimo. On arrival I was thrilled to see I had another great entry for my collection of glamorous backstage entrances!
Stafe Door in Nainaimo
Before the rehearsal started we had time to sort out every orchestra’s top priorities when arriving at a venue – coffee and Wifi (and tea as well, of course).
After a short warm-up rehearsal there was time for dinner in the green room and also time for a meeting with some musicians who are going to be participating in a new project we’re starting in May. This was a great chance to pin down rehearsal times and repertoire in person – so much better than a million emails flying around!
Following this there was time for a little relaxation, with Julie Wedman taking full advantage of the very cosy sofa in the Green Room!
Julie relaxing backstage
The 30 minutes before a concert are a cacophony of sound backstage with musicians warming up in any spare space they can find. I took a little video just so you could get an impression of the sound and we’ll get it posted shortly.
Out in the foyer collecting my ticket, I had a rather nice surprise, bumping into Andrew Clark, who for over 20 years was Principal Horn of my previous band, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. He moved out to British Columbia several years ago so it was great to see him and have a little catch-up. Chatting backstage after the show, he reminded me of the time I had dragged the horn section to some random shopping mall to play and to drum up interest in our concert series in that town …
It was great to see yet another packed venue, especially on a Monday, which is never anyone’s favourite day of the week for a concert. Back on the tour bus afterwards my colleague Beth had laid out an assortment of refreshing beverages (i.e. beer) along with snacks. Beer on the bus is something of a regular tour treat, I understand, and a very welcome thing too.
We were entertained on the drive back to Victoria not only by the beer but also by film from Allen Whear’s extensive collection – he is something of a movie buff, and we were treated to a screening of a classic Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday.
The next day I (very sadly!) left the band in Victoria and traveled back to Toronto, via one of the shortest and scariest flights I’ve taken on an ancient and tiny plane from Victoria to Vancouver. So Chris Verette will be taking over blogging duties. However I will write one more bonus blog looking at some of the logistics and practicalities of putting together a tour like this. Thanks for reading!
William Norris, Managing Director

Duncan, Brits, and Choreography

Duncan, Brits, and Choreography

I’m running a day behind with my blogging, so while I’m writing this on the bus back from tonight’s concert in Nanaimo, I’m actually going to tell you about the previous day’s events.

Sunday saw us head to Duncan, about an hour north of Victoria, for a matinee performance. Along the way we saw some pretty spectacular scenery from the road, views over water and mountains, frustratingly only glimpsed briefly through gaps in the trees.

As we arrived into Duncan I spotted one of the town’s claims to fame – an enormous hockey stick and puck – apparently the world’s largest!

Arriving at the venue I mused on how stage doors to theatres and concert halls are, almost no matter where you are in the world, uniformly unglamorous and nondescript. I’m half tempted to start a blog which just features pictures of stage doors and nothing else.

While the first show in Vancouver had seen a full rehearsal and run-through of the entire show, since then (starting in Victoria) the band had gotten used to just having warm-up rehearsals in each venue, to get used to the different acoustic of each and to polish anything that needed to be looked at. At the start of the second half of this show, House of Dreams, we also have the Orchestra start playing from within the auditorium before walking onto stage, and as each venue is different this needs to be worked out and lit differently in each one.

We were here in Duncan at the invitation of the Cowichan Symphony Society and their Chair Ted came backstage and introduced himself. I immediately twigged a familiar sounding accent and it emerged he was from Yorkshire in the UK. Despite living here since the 1960’s he didn’t sound even a jot Canadian!

At his invitation I joined a pre-concert reception where I said a few words about the Orchestra. Afterwards I spoke to a few people there, all of whom were Brits – I know it’s British Columbia but this was ridiculous – one of them even hailed from a village about 30 mins from where I grew up!

On the coach back to Victoria after the show I chatted with Cristina Zacharias and Alison Mackay about some of the practical elements of the show. For example, I wondered how they remembered the choreography, particularly when they hadn’t performed the show for a year or more. While the original director Marshall Pynkoski from Opera Atelier did sometimes visit rehearsals to refresh the movement, the real secret was, it turned out, in the little individual scores each member of the Orchestra has. These books are prepared for everyone individually by Charlotte Nediger, so that they can learn and memorise their part. And within these the musicians write their movement cues so they know what to do when – Christina’s book is pictured below, with a plethora of notes!

Christina's music and notes

After the bus ride home we headed out for dinner.Our little group ended up at a rather healthy, but totally delicious restaurant. Any health benefits, however, might have been cancelled out by the drinks served at a rather lovely little cocktail bar I found later on…

William Norris, Managing Director