Breaking Baroque has moved!

Your go-to blog for all things Tafelmusik and baroque music has moved to a new location. Click here to visit Breaking Baroque’s new home on Tafelmusik’s official website.

There you will find all of our previous posts and any new content. We hope you like the new place.

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Congratulations to Martin on 25 years at Tafelmusik!

For many, the Tafelmusik Box Office wouldn’t be the same without our trusty Manager, Martin Reis. Whether he’s helping subscribers with their ticket packages, helping newcomers find the best possible seats, or sharing with you what concerts he’s really looking forward to, Martin is always there when you need him. You might have even caught sight of his alter ego, the French Postman, on stage with Mr. Handel at Massey Hall over the years! As with many Tafelmusik staff, Martin has a full and busy life outside of our walls. We recently chatted with Martin about his time at Tafelmusik and his other interests and hobbies.

Martin Reis. Photo by Jono Castellino

You joined Tafelmusik 25 years ago. How did you hear about the job?

The job was listed at an employment centre.

Did you know about baroque music before joining us?

Yes, quite a bit. My father was a church organist and my mother’s maiden name is Bach (of course, no relation). After moving to Canada from Germany, I worked for several years for Tourism Toronto and would very often send visitors to enjoy Tafelmusik concerts. So when a job opened up in the Box Office in the early nineties, I jumped at the chance.

What have been some of your favourite concert moments over the years?

Oh, too many to list here, but that weekend when former Mayor Mel Lastman called in the army because Toronto was snowbound and the concerts went ahead anyways, one even by candlelight, that was pure magic. I also have very fond memories of performances by Anner Bylsma, Marion Verbruggen, Stefano Montanari, the many astounding multimedia programs of Alison MacKay, and our wonderful choral concerts.

Do you have a favourite church cat story?

Even though the new feline addition to the church, Meesha, is holding her own, my faveourite story is when legendary church cat Moriarty managed to get onto the stage in the middle of a concert and a red-faced house manager had to come to the rescue — to the delight of the audience. The Tafelmusik musicians never missed a beat.

You’re an avid cyclist — have your pedals taken you anywhere exotic?

I think my most exotic ride was an adventure in the Altiplano of Bolivia. I rode down a mountain bike trail starting at 5200m and ending in the jungle. Not sure how I survived that, but certainly not something I will ever try again. Closer to home, I really loved bike-touring in magical Haida Gwai.

Martin de la Rue, the French Postman, delivering a special telegram
to Mr. Handel at Sing-Along Messiah in Massey Hall.

Many concert-goers may not know about your alter-ego, the French postman. How did he come about?

Martin de la Rue, the French Postman, came about by sheer coincidence. A filmmaker friend needed help finding a vintage French postal costume for a short film, so I bought one for him online. It did not fit him at all, but was just my size. Voila! The inspiration for my alter-ego character comes from an early film by Jacques Tati called Jour de Fête, which is about a French postman. My alter-ego knows how to have fun and has appeared at Nuit Blanche (2008), the Sing-Along Messiah (2013 & 2016), and mostly recently this summer at Art Spin in Toronto. One day, we’ll actually finish the short film.

On top of all of this, you’re an incredible photographer. What are your favourite things to shoot around the city?

Thank you, you are too kind! When I go about the city, I very much enjoy photographing the quieter corners of our city, the alleyways, and the older buildings of Toronto. There is a lot of beauty all around us and all you need is time to find it.

If you have favourite stories to share about Martin, we’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave comments here, or email us at info@tafelmusik.org.

Renovation excitement at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

By Mara Brown, Senior Operations Manager

There is renovation excitement at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre this summer – the east basement downstairs washrooms are being revitalized!

The onsite work kicked off the first week of July and is expected to be completed in September. We are, of course, unable to magically create extra space, but we are working hard to “freshen things up” and maximize every inch of space in the existing footprint. The current plans include adding an additional washroom stall in the women’s washroom and we are adding a small powder room for the women as well.

Inspiration for the design and finishes are being drawn from the existing architectural features of the more recent sanctuary and lobby renovations. The last time these washrooms were renovated was in 1991, so we look forward to the big reveal to our audience this fall!

My Journey with Bach

By John Abberger, oboe

I have always been fascinated with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. With music loving parents, I probably heard his music as a small child. I remember the moment when I became absolutely captivated by one of his compositions as a youth. How does he do it? How does his music reach so deep inside us, and how does it have such an uncanny ability to express so profoundly what it is to be human? Performing Bach’s music has been a touchstone of my career as a musician. It’s almost as if I set out on a journey (without realizing it as such) to try to understand Bach’s music deeply, and to communicate this understanding to an audience by performing these compositions to the best of my ability.

Over the course of my forty-year career I have learned that the more you give of yourself to Bach’s music the more it gives back. My love and fascination for Bach’s music led me, in my early days as a professional, to the period instrument movement and the study of historical performance practice. This was a revelation for me. Performing Bach’s music on an oboe that at least resembles one he would have recognized, and understanding in some small way the performance practices and modes of expression that were part of his musical language has vastly increased my appreciation for the expert craft with which his compositions are created.

Musicians of Toronto Bach Festival

Bach wrote a quite a lot of music, and his music is performed the world over by many fine music organizations. But an organization devoted to the performance of music by many composers from many centuries cannot perform more than a small number of his compositions with any regularity. A Bach Festival, on the other hand, exists to focus the attention of its audience only on Bach’s music. The Toronto Bach Festival takes as its mission the goal of increasing and deepening our collective understanding of Bach’s art. This includes:

  • performing all of his music, to broaden our experience of his art.
  • performing music by his predecessors to provide some understanding of the traditions within which he worked.
  • performing music by composers whose works were profoundly influenced by his music.

With each iteration of the festival I want to enrich our audience’s experience of Bach’s music. I want to show you the incredible delights of his keyboard music, in many ways Bach’s most personal music. I want to celebrate with you the joys of the instrumental music, both chamber and orchestral. And I want you to experience the wonders of his choral works, much of which you have never heard before.

As I have matured as a musician the depth of my appreciation for Bach’s music has grown considerably. I have come to understand in great detail how Bach uses the harmonic language of his time with such expressiveness. I have learned how he used the musical structures of his time so effectively. I have learned how he set the texts of his vocal works with such amazing clarity. But when all is said and done, I feel I am no closer to explaining how he does it, how he speaks to the innermost core of our being with such devastating insight. This, to me, is the essence of Art: to use the materials at hand to create something that adds up to far, far more than the sum of its parts.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing The Circle of Creation with a portrait of Bach on a screen.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performing “J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation.” Photo by Glenn Davidson

What was that performance that captivated me as a youth? A performance at a Bach festival in the area where I grew up, the Bach Festival of Winter Park, one of the oldest Bach festivals in North America. (In the Orlando area, Winter Park is the equivalent of North York in Toronto.)

One could say (with only a bit of hyperbole) that my experience at this performance set me on my path as a musician. I continued to study music and the oboe in high school, at university in Louisiana, and in graduate school at the Juilliard School in New York. It was only after I left school that I discovered the period oboe, and I immediately realized that the period instrument field is a direct avenue to performing lots of Bach. Immersing myself in the study of historical performance has also provided me with crucial insights into a foundational understanding of the best way to perform his music.

I feel fortunate to have ended up in Canada and Toronto where music is held in such high regard. Perhaps there will be a youth sitting in the audience at one of our concerts who will be captivated by this remarkable music as I was that day many years ago.


John Abberger is principal oboe for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, and Artistic Director of Toronto Bach Festival. Hear John perform in the third annual Toronto Bach Festival from May 11–13, 2018. For tickets and concert information, visit torontobachfestival.org.

A special message from Christina Mahler and Alison Mackay

Our upcoming 40th season is a time for celebration, and as with all anniversaries, a chance for reflection, particularly for those orchestra members who have been with us since the beginning.

Christina Mahler, cello, and Alison Mackay, double bass, have recently let us know that they will be retiring from the orchestra after the 2018/19 season.

Both Christina and Alison are performing a number of concerts next season, and there will be lots of time to celebrate each of their tremendous contributions to Tafelmusik, and to wish them well as they embrace this next step in their lives.

Alison’s legacy will also continue in her rich array of multimedia programs that are now part of Tafelmusik’s repertoire. She continues to dream up new ideas, and will share these with Elisa and the orchestra for consideration for future seasons.

Christina and Alison have asked us to share the following personal messages with you, and are very much looking forward to sharing Tafelmusik’s milestone anniversary with you next year.

A MESSAGE FROM CHRISTINA

It was 37 years ago that I moved from Holland to Toronto to play in Tafelmusik. Canada has truly become my home. I would like to thank all of you for your warm welcome and all of my colleagues for a remarkable 37 years of music making.

I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to play in Tafelmusik for all these years. It has been an amazing journey of collaborative chamber music making, which is in my view the highest musical goal.

As instrumentalists, we are very similar to dancers and athletes in terms of the demands our profession puts on our bodies. Even a few years ago, I believed that I would go on playing in Tafelmusik forever. But as those years passed, my visits to the chiropractor and physiotherapist have increased to the point where I realize it is time for me to slow down and plan my retirement from Tafelmusik’s fast-paced schedule. Therefore, next season, Tafelmusik’s fortieth, will be my final year.

Working with Jeanne Lamon for my first 35 years with Tafelmusik has been wonderfully fulfilling. I am also very excited to have the opportunity to work with our warm and inspiring new Music Director, Elisa Citterio. I really look forward to the programs that we will play together before my departure next season.

It is not easy to say goodbye to you, our home audience. Our relationship has been very meaningful and important to me. We have grown together in our understanding of the music we all love. Although this represents the closing of a major chapter in my life, it is not the end of the book. I very much hope to be playing the cello in concerts for a long time to come.

I’m sure that Tafelmusik will find a wonderful principal cellist to replace me. The future is very bright for Tafelmusik and I will always hold the orchestra and the audience very close to my heart.

A MESSAGE FROM ALISON

The 2018/19 season will mark my fortieth year as a member of the Tafelmusik Orchestra, and since I was 26 when I joined, it will be time to bid a fond farewell and pass the job on to one of the gifted bass players of the next generation. It has been the privilege of my life to share the stage with my beloved colleagues, each of whom is a brilliant and brainy virtuoso, and I will be forever grateful to orchestra founders Kenny Solway and Susan Graves for inviting me to join, to Jeanne Lamon for 35 years of inspiring leadership, collaboration, and profound shared experiences, and to Elisa Citterio for her passionate commitment to Tafelmusik and for her warmth as a colleague and friend.

For me, the Tafelmusik musicians, staff, donors and audience members are a family with whom I feel a deep personal connection in our shared love of our organization. The Music Directors and Managing Directors of the orchestra have given me unique opportunities to experiment with the ways in which baroque music is presented in performance, and the players have participated in our special projects with untold hours of extra work and flair on stage beyond my greatest hopes.

Excited about the future of Tafelmusik, I look forward to my final season with zest and then to joining you all in the audience to see what new magic will unfold.


If you wish to send remarks and wishes to Christina or Alison, please forward them to info@tafelmusik.org.

My Instrument: Christina Mahler and her Vuillaume cello

In a previous issue of a Tafelmusik house program, Christina Mahler introduced you to the cello she plays in baroque repertoire, made by José Contreras c.1740. In our issue for Beethoven “Pastoral” Symphony, she introduces her second instrument, a later instrument made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume c.1840.

By Christina Mahler, cello

Some of you may remember the wonderful Canadian double bass player David Sinclair. He played with us often in the 1990s, and can be heard on quite a few of our recordings of classical music from that time. He now lives in Paris with his family and works mostly in Europe.

David’s grandmother, Adelaide Liefeld, was a professional cellist, a difficult career choice as women were not accepted in symphony orchestras at that time. At the age of eighteen she went to the Chicago Musical College to study with Jaroslav Gons, paying for her tuition and food by playing in silent movies.

After graduating, Adelaide joined a women’s orchestra which played in New York, before touring the world from 1927–29. They played on all continents, staying in each place for weeks, months, and in the case of Australia, for over a year. There is a wonderful photo of her riding a camel, with pyramids in the background! It must have been an exciting life, in spite of having to play frustratingly “light” music as a steady diet!

Her last stop was Paris, where she resumed her cello studies with Gérard Hekking at the Paris Conservatoire. Hekking played a beautiful Vuillaume cello and was able to find another gorgeous Vuillaume for Adelaide, which she played for the rest of her life. She returned to Canada in 1933 to marry and raise a family. She later played in the Regina and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestras, and was a passionate chamber musician and teacher.

Just as José Contreras, the maker of my baroque cello (eighteenth century), is considered the Stradivarius of Spain, Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (nineteenth century) is often called the Stradivarius of France. His instruments are robust, well-balanced, and simply superb. They are in a class of their own.

In 1994, David’s family was ready to part with this extraordinary cello that they had inherited. I fell in love with it and was fortunate enough to find an investor. I now have the privilege of playing it whenever I want, which I will be doing in the Beethoven concerts in Koerner Hall in May.

My Instrument: Julia Wedman and her Jacobs violin

Julia Wedman playing her Jakobs violin at Handel House in London.
Julia Wedman playing her Jacobs violin at Handel House in London.

By Julia Wedman

My baroque violin was made in 1694 in Amsterdam by Hendrik Jacobs. It is on permanent loan to me from violist Max Mandel, principal violist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, frequent guest with Tafelmusik, and my former partner and current dear friend.

This beautiful instrument was bought for Max when he was in high school. Max was a talented and serious musician from a young age, and his parents quickly realized he needed a professional quality instrument to play. They all fell in love with the sound of the Jacobs when Max tried it out at the shop of former Tafelmusik violinist Jack Liivoja, and Max played it throughout his teens and early twenties. When Max was a student at the University of Toronto, he switched to viola, and then moved to New York. It was at this time that the violin came into my hands. Max was broke (paying for tuition at Juilliard and rent in NY) and needed to sell the violin. It went back to the shop, but no one wanted it — everyone complained that it was too quiet. When I came home from studying baroque violin at Indiana University, I had the idea that maybe we would have more luck selling Max’s instrument as a baroque violin. We brought it home from the shop, I put gut strings on it, tuned it down a semi-tone from modern pitch (A=440) to baroque pitch (A=415), played a few notes, and proclaimed, “We can’t sell this violin!!! It is too good! I need to play it!”

The Jacobs loves being tuned to the low pitches — when it is tuned to A=415 or lower, the voice of this violin is free, warm, dark, and gorgeously rich. There is an intimacy in the quality of sound that I absolutely love and have rarely found in other instruments. The Jacobs can express a kind of emotional vulnerability that connects with people on a very deep level, and I am so grateful for the closeness my audiences feel with me. When I hear other people play it, I am always surprised by how soft it sounds, but its “limitations” demanded that I learn to use my bow in a different way — I have to use the instrument’s natural resonance with focus and strength to project the sound.

One fateful day — a blustery March evening of my second year in Tafelmusik — I was walking home after a concert, and as I turned the corner to my street, there was a big patch of black ice. I slipped and fell backwards, onto my violin case, which I had been carrying like a backpack. Ow!!! I dusted myself off, went inside, and took a hot bath to ease the pain. The next morning, I took out my violin to practice. I opened the case and to my shock and horror, the sound post (the little post inside the violin) had smashed through the top of the instrument! It looked so bizarre, I immediately closed the case and started walking around in circles, saying, “That doesn’t look right!” Finally, I worked up the courage to open the case again, and this time, I had to face the truth that I had broken Max’s beautiful violin. Choking back tears, I called our luthier, “Saint” Quentin Playfair, and explained the situation. He told me to gather every little shard of wood in a clear plastic bag, and bring it to him immediately! It took Quentin about six weeks to do a complete restoration. Miraculously, he was able to fix it so exquisitely that I can’t tell where the cracks are, and it sounds better than ever!