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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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 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!
As a double-reed player I often get asked questions about my reeds. Why is a reed made out of bamboo? How long does a reed last? Where do you buy them? Why is it called “double reed”? Well, the topic is very complex and it would take a week-long symposium just to scratch the surface. Here I offer some useful information to satisfy your curiosity!
The term “double reed” comes from the fact that there are two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. A single reed consists of one piece of cane that vibrates against a mouthpiece. Double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon; single-reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone.
The role of the reed on the oboe and bassoon has been compared to that of the bow on the violin. The reed is the tool that produces the sound, and that allows the player to control dynamics, intonation, tone quality, articulation, and expression. In other words, it is the reed that gives life to the music: “C’est l’anche qui donne la vie!”
As you can imagine, delicate and fragile reeds are very crucial tools for oboists and bassoonists, and the struggle to find the perfect reed never ends! The importance of finding a good reed was well known already in the baroque era. In his famous treatise of 1752, Quantz wrote: “As for the tone quality of these two instruments [oboe and bassoon] much depends on the quality of the reed, and specifically, whether it is made of good, well-seasoned cane, whether it has the appropriate diameter that is neither too wide, nor too short, and that it is scraped neither too thinly nor left too thick.”
Musicians as Craftsmen
Most oboists spend a large part of their time making reeds: more than they actually spend playing their instrument! By necessity, oboe and bassoon players are not only musicians, but also craftsmen. Buying a baroque reed in a music store is not a possibility: there are few options available in the market, and they are low quality. There is very little documentation describing reed-making before 1780, which presents another challenge for those players who, like me, are dedicated to the baroque oboe and early reeds. There must have been a rich oral tradition handed down from teacher to student in the baroque era, which is forever lost to us.
Even though the internet offers articles on a scientific approach to reed-making — studies on the physics and engineering of a reed — I find the subject to be very mysterious and controversial. This might explain the curious inclination of oboists to sit for hours discussing reed scrapes, staples dimensions (staples are the metal tubes that hold the reed), diamond stones for knifes sharpening … sometimes even blaming climate change or global warming for the poor quality of the cane they are using!
The making of a reed starts by choosing the right material. Oboe players have been using a specific species of cane called arundo donax (a plant similar to bamboo) for centuries. Musical sources from the early nineteenth century spoke of the superior qualities of the cane in Frejus, near Marseille. This is the area from which most reed players still get their cane today.
The lengthy and laborious process of making a reed includes gouging, soaking, shaping, tying, scraping, refining … I’m sure it sounds like fun, but I can guarantee that this never-ending task can become quite … boring! (I have met oboe players who tried to teach their wives to make reeds to avoid the job!)
Personally, I like to concentrate my reed-making work during the summer. I spend my summers in Italy and my theory is that the weather, landscape, good food, and social support from reed-geek friends help me to succeed in the often tedious duty.
The worst of it is that most of the reeds an oboist makes turn out to be unusable. Oboe reeds are notoriously unpredictable since they are made from cane, an organic material. A finished reed that starts by emitting a few perfect notes may die abruptly in the middle of a concert. Another reed can last for weeks, survive the dry winter in Toronto, and end the season in triumph!
Students in reed-making class at Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute
The vast majority of the music we perform in Tafelmusik is from Europe in the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, a world dominated by royalty, birthright, and the rigid definition of society by class. We are, in all sorts of ways, trying to both understand that time, aesthetically, culturally, and socially, and also make that music relevant to the world that we live in today.
Sometimes, a context for those aims presents itself, unbidden. Her Excellency, Mme Payette chose all of the music that was to be a part of her installation this past Monday, October 2nd. The range of performers was wide, inclusive, and inspiring. Members of Tafelmusik were invited to take part because the new Governor General was once a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, an experience that she herself has characterized as transformative. Upon reflection, the ceremony was also one of the most eighteenth century experiences of my performing career!
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a contemporaneously significant if now largely forgotten composer and Kapellmeister of the second half of the eighteenth century (and great pal of Haydn and Mozart, both), wrote an autobiography in 1799, his last and sixtieth year. Amongst the tidbits of his recounts of daily life as a musician is the avuncular advice to young violinists (and I rely upon my memory here), “Before going to sleep at night, the young virtuoso is strongly advised to check the strings on the violin; if one should be found to be fraying, change it forthwith. Supposing the Prince demand it, and should you be called upon to perform the next morning at 6 a.m., better to have let the new string stretch for those hours, to ensure the purity of your intonation.”
Unlike Dittersdorf, as artists today, we enjoy immense autonomy — as a general rule, the audience waits for us to take the stage, not the other way around. Monday’s performance was very much at the command of the powers that be, and I can’t say I have felt that so intensely before. Tafelmusik’s position on the day was to play the first movement of Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, K.136 (no second repeat, we had to be done in +/- 4 minutes and 15 seconds) immediately after the address of our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, and before Her Excellency Mme Payette’s first address as the new Governor General of Canada. Not a bad spot! But not a spot that offered a great deal of flexibility.
During the ceremony, we were again, with all the other performers, in the holding room until we were taken to the green room. Our rehearsal the day before had not included the 21-gun salute being fired by howitzers on Parliament Hill, nor the shaking of the glass in the windows on our walk upstairs! I am not so accustomed to such displays of power, which would have routinely accompanied the presence of dignitaries in the eighteenth century.
Immediately after we played, we were taken back to the green room. It was from there, via closed circuit TV, that we heard Her Excellency’s first official address. Her messages of inclusion, striving to achieve, working as a team, and making decisions based on evidence to create the best possible world for us all were genuinely inspiring. At the end of the ceremony, all of the performers were asked to wait in the green room until Her Excellency Mme Payette and the Prime Minister, his wife, and the Minister of Heritage, Mélanie Joly, had the opportunity to greet us. We had been informed of the proper protocol for addressing the dignitaries, and had all practised up in advance. When they joined us (we were given a ten-minute warning then a three-minute countdown), the day took a very welcome giant step forward into Canada in the twenty-first century. I tried to squeeze in the “correct” address but didn’t really have an opportunity because each of them was so warm and direct. Her Excellency Mme Payette wanted to know if any of us present had been in the orchestra when she sang in the choir (no, I missed her by one year). Elisa Citterio, our new Music Director was next to me on the receiving line with her fourteen-month old daughter in her arms — Olivia was definitely a hit!
I truly wish that everyone in the orchestra and choir could have been part of this, but that was not to be. I know it would have meant a great deal to many of them, especially the people who have been here for even longer than I. Beth Anderson, our Director of Artistic Administration and Operations, was lucky enough to join us on this adventure. On the bus ride away from Parliament Hill, she remarked that she found it interesting that not one of the performers had actually been born in Canada. For a moment, I thought “That’s terrible!” but it quickly dawned on me that here we were, a group of high-achieving performers who have come together with the goal of creating a powerful team for good. Wasn’t that a big part of the inspiring message from Her Excellency?
I am fond of the notion that we are all becoming ourselves in the context of a world that is changing around us. I suppose I am still “becoming Canadian” like everyone around me, and last Monday’s experience was a particularly proud and inspiring part of that journey.
In our series of featuring long-term supporters, “My Tafelmusik” invites donors to share their story in a Tafelmusik house program, and various digital platforms.
Individual support is integral to Tafelmusik. It funds live concerts in Toronto and across the world, education programs for young people, innovative new multi-media and recording projects … in addition to bringing renowned guest artists to our stage.
By Margaret Szücs, Tafelmusik donor
Summer afternoons in my high-school days (the “golden years” of the CBC) I listened to classical radio programs, and thus became an avid Mozart fan at age 17. I even attended the Salzburg Festival when I was 23. I took piano lessons for about eight years, and when I was older, I sang in the alto section of our church choir when they performed Handel’s Messiah. Yes, I did finally “do” a Sing-Along Messiah a few years ago. Wish I had done it sooner, and more often.
Approaching my sixties, I found that a program with a 110-piece orchestra was rather tiring after a long day’s work, so I was delighted when a colleague offered me a Tafelmusik subscription she had “inherited.” I forsook the TSO, and went on to continue her subscriptions. For about 25 years I went to dinner and Tafelmusik concerts with my best friend. For 14 of those, I came in from Fergus, Ontario by car, and later, by bus. Tafelmusik was one of the reasons why I moved back to Toronto.
Baroque and classical music suit my personality. They’re structured and polite, even when they’re emotional. You know where you’re headed, but the fun lies in getting there.
My mother’s family lived at 103 St. George Street. They were Methodists, so I like to assume they attended church at what is now Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. This prompted me to donate four seats in the Balcony, commemorating three generations.
I donate to the Education Fund regularly in hopes of attracting younger people to the orchestra’s superb musicianship. In recent years I have also donated to the Regent Park School of Music, convinced that music is not a “frill.”
There is a big gap in my life since I broke a third vertebra a year ago. I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to attend the occasional concert at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.
Classical music is what keeps me going, and Tafelmusik has been my primary source. My sincere thanks for years and years of enjoyment — of the pre-concert talks as well as the concerts.
Support a global leader! Membership donations allow Tafelmusik to continue inspiring the love of baroque and classical music. Give today!