Opus: Testing – In conversation with Brenden Varty, Patrick Arteaga, and Curtis Perry

In our final post leading up to Opus: Testing- Period Piece, in collaboration with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre,  we would like to introduce composers Brenden Varty, Patrick Arteaga, and Curtis Perry.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

Brenden Varty: When I was at home for the winter holidays, I found myself reading a book about ‘Frosty the Snowman’ to my younger brother, who is 4 — 19 years younger than me! In the front of the book, I came across the message “To: Brenden — Love: Mom, Merry Christmas!” I must have received this book when I was 3 or 4, and it struck me as a special that I was now reading a book to a loved one who was the same age as I was when I had been given it.

This got me thinking of how the meaning of the book (both symbolically and in regards to the actual story) had changed for me since I was 4 years old, but was again being received by a different 4 year old in much the same way as previously. I started to think about how the meaning the book had for me at 4 years old was almost definitely similar in many aspects, but undoubtedly different in some regards, as the meaning my brother was giving it now.

Of course, the different meanings it has had over time and for different people (me at 4 and 23, my brother at 4 — not to mention my mother) is removed from what the object actually is – pressed tree pulp, dyed and bound. These thoughts led me to recognize that all the decorations, movies, and other objects laying around the house that at some point had meant something to me were now being given different meanings, whatever they were, by my younger brother.

It is amazing the sentiments that we can attach to inanimate objects, how they can trigger memories in us, and how we can muse about what they might mean to others.

In my piece, I took the chord progression from Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 11, and wrote my own melody and arrangement to go with it. This serves as the ‘true form’ for the object. The subsequent variation uses reharmonization techniques and is written in a more modern style which I am partial to, serving as the meaning I might ascribe to an object. The second variation uses aspects from the theme and first variation, and through cut-and-paste and newly composed material, explores the meaning someone else might give the object—there will of course be similarities between two people’s memories of the same object, and so this variation echoes the first variation while being approached in a completely different manner.

What/who did you listen to in preparing to write for period instruments?

BV: To prepare for this composition, I listened to several Baroque concertos by Bach and Handel. I wanted to approach this piece conceptually, and so rather than listening to modern chamber works, I decided to explore sounds and textures that I thought fit with my overall concept, while drawing the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the piece from a classic Baroque work.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

BV: The great New York alto saxophonist and composer John Zorn has been a source of inspiration for me over the past several years. Zorn fits seamlessly into both the jazz and classical avant-garde worlds, and has developed a unique voice within his compositions. His works with chamber ensembles, big bands, string ensembles, and jazz groups all drip originality, and do not often approach extremes that might deter his listeners.

Is there a particular (conceptual/methodical/other) thread running through your recent?

Patrick Arteaga: I am often working towards creating independence between voices while still having them share a contrapuntal codependence. For some time I have been achieving this using harmonic concepts that use very systematic approaches, though as I become more comfortable with these processes I find myself applying these systems much more organically as I am writing. Recently my focus has been shifting to include explorations in rhythm, meter and time to achieve greater distances between contrapuntal voices: an instrument may pull out of a texture by breaking out of the collective meter or tempo before re-assimilating or developing new textures based on the new temporal dichotomy. I also find myself simplifying the thematic material that I am working with, often basing a complete piece on a short gesture. The simplified material allows me to apply more distorting processes and to find opportunities to give the performer more expressive space while giving me more control over the thematic development.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

PA: Today I’ll be Ry Cooder touring Bugs Bunny’s folk repertoire, or Bugs Bunny touring a Ry Cooder cover band.

Tell us about your interest and existing experiences with period performance (as a composer, performer, and/or listener).

Curtis Perry: I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between new music practices and early music practices. As early music as a rediscovered performance practice movement arguably only gained traction by the mid 20th century, I feel it has come to represent a facet of contemporary music making that was initially overshadowed by trends in serialism and what I would call the “ripe to decayed” music of composers like Poulenc and Hindemith. Today, whether I hear the “Gouldbergs” or Buxtehude, or maybe the Brandenbergs, I hear an overall sense of lightness and un-encumbrance, because I think the idea of “freedom through strictures” reigns supreme in music the same way “show don’t tell” is the famous dictum in literature. I admire that there’s a code and a regimented obsession over accepted standards and practices for early music performance and I was delighted to be able to drop myself into a working situation where I wanted to deliberately give performers a lot of choice in the interpretation of the score, while also writing something that cleaves to the strengths of the decisions such performers would be more likely to make.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

CP: I think that we—as in likely anyone taking the time to read this—live in a decadent age. The Opus Testing call for proposals made note that we live in an era of unprecedented disposability. Somewhat paradoxically, I think that precisely because of these conditions we are living in a baroque period—where the truth seems to run increasingly rare and opulence seems necessary.

But I think it’s the sense of working through all that detritus and acknowledging it and arranging it in a way that makes some kind of sense—and handling it with care—is what makes period performance the ideal vehicle for this theme of objects and memory of lasting value.

I chose my keys simply because they are some of the few objects that have consistently stayed on my body over the past five years or so. The piece runs through a standard three-part structure—slow-fast-slow, anticipation-building-release. The current title, The Key Less Turned, is an allusion to The Road Less Traveled, a book by Morgan Scott Peck. In it he offers advice for a fulfilled life. One of the arguments is that “true” love as an action that one undertakes consciously. The original title for this piece was “Let Love Locks Live,” or something like this—unapologetically metaphorical and alliterative. However, that is a terrible title, so I went for something more nuanced. I have three keys on my ring—for my building, for my apartment, and one for my suitcase that I almost never use. So, the piece is a meditation on possibility and on resisting the lure of banal, everyday existence, for the purpose of seeking to know—to know the self and others, in order to better love. In a roundabout way, then, this piece is really about that memory yet to come.

What/who did you listen to in preparing to write for period instruments?

CP: Now, don’t do what I did. And that is not to worry about listening to any period instruments, composers, or performances in particular. I’ve listened to quite a bit of it, and there are only so many ways you can, say, harmonize a descending bass, and so I figured if my memories of my favourite pieces are only vague, then perhaps I might eke my way into something that is not a pastiche and not in homage, but rather, something that is clearly learned from what came before, but also clearly a new thing—just as I suspect might be the goals of early music practitioners. That is a difficult thing to accomplish. I’m not sure if I’ve done it, but that was my goal.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

CP: Of course, I’m going to talk about the most different instrument in this instrumentation as compared to modern ensembles. The harpsichord is not what you might think it is on recalling its pop culture representations. The harpsichord is a bad-ass beast and it will destroy you. I am not ashamed to say I was pleasantly surprised by its power in the first reading of my piece.

Who/What serves as a primary source of inspiration for you these days?

CP: I have started teaching English as a second language in the past couple of years, and I often find inspiration in my students—I have the privilege of working with adults, and I love listening to their stories, learning about cultures, and seeing new perspectives from the students as immigrants and as new Canadians. I don’t know if that manifests in a clear way in terms of creative energy, but I have consistently found working with students to be inspiring.

Is there a particular (conceptual/methodical/other) thread running through your recent compositions?

CP: I’ve only got a couple of other recordings so far, so it’s hard to say. In addition, I think it’s doubly hard to analyze your own work. It’s like understanding your own vocal accent. It takes an outsider. I hope that I might get to the point where somebody writes about my work—even if it’s not received ideally. That would be interesting.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

CP: I think I’d like to try borrowing William Byrd’s contrapuntal sensibilities…

Meet the other composers in previous interviews: Roydon Tse & Joshua Denenberg, and Tova Kardonne & Patrick McGraw.

We invite you to join us to hear the results of Opus: Testing – Period Piece on March 26, at 7:30pm. Reserve your free tickets here. Limited tickets available!

Opus Testing: Meet the composers – Tova Kardonne & Patrick McGraw

In a previous post, we introduced two composers Roydon Tse and Joshua Deneberg from Opus: Testing- Period Piece, in collaboration with Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre.  We would like to introduce two more; please meet Tova Kardonne and Patrick McGraw.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

Tova Kardonne

Tova Kardonne: My connection to baroque period music originates in dance. The ballet classes of my childhood were slanted towards baroque conventions more often than I realized, and the period music of our practice became the soundtrack of my daily life for years and years. I still find my old pointe shoes evoke a lot of emotion in me, tiny, battered, and bloodstained as they are. But I’ve been struggling with memory as a source of inspiration. It has been really hard to see the object within the era in which it lived, and not impose the whole journey that was unleashed from those beginnings on these little shoes. It was fairly late in the game that I realized that there’s no getting around the present. This present reality, the artistic practice with its over-reachings and body-punishing exigencies, that’s all going to cast its light on memory. Further, that light doesn’t taint the authenticity of the memory– or perhaps, doesn’t simply taint it–  but allows me to connect the disparate pieces of life into a continuous narrative. I rebel against the little inclusions of untruth that result from that process, inevitably. And I rebel against the grand, lumbering juggernaut that this piece keeps threatening to become, much too big and fraught for the little object of memory that inspired it. So it’s a fraught little seed of music that has come out of this process, and the process of finding it has been circuitous, but fruitful.

Is there a particular (conceptual/methodical/other) thread running through your recent compositions?

Tova Kardonne: I’m noticing a shift recently. I used to describe my source of music as a black box. Every time I’d look in the box, it would be empty. Just when I had decided I didn’t need to look in the box to know that it’s empty, something would jump out. Composition was a process of listening in the dark, waiting, and letting a thing be itself. Composition was discovery, or channeling. I’m noticing that I’m less able to engage in musical composition that way these days. My head is a noisier, brighter place. It’s harder to find the black box and the quiet time to listen to the dark. In fact, the surest path back to that dark quiet space is to take all the interference and write it down. When I stop condemning the noise and the light as distractions and obstacles to my compositional source, I have begun to notice that the noise itself is the music I’m looking for. I sincerely hope it doesn’t stay this way; I much prefer the previous box scenario. In the meantime, here we are. I suppose it will stay this way until I’ve made my peace with sound and fury as a default mode.

Tell us about your interest and existing experiences with period performance (as a composer, performer, and/or listener).

Patrick McGraw

Patrick McGraw: As a small child, some of the music I remember hearing most was Vivaldi and Handel, but at the time I assimilated all types of music as an undifferentiated mass with little consciousness of style periods or sense that one could (or should) listen differently to Beethoven than to Bach. Expelled from the garden, I can no longer approach music from quite the same naive perspective, but this workshop was a chance to blur some of those distinctions in a more mature if less innocent way. I had little previous experience with period instruments as a composer. Perhaps the closest parallel was last year when I suddenly had the opportunity to write for santur, an instrument that had been entirely unfamiliar to me.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

PM: The practice of period performance is itself a form of memory reconstruction. Like any memory, it is coloured by subsequent experience. The object I chose as an inspiration to start the process was a small ceramic whistle in the shape of a fish. I began with the sound of its irregular trill as a musical idea, and blended this with a quotation from Handel representing some of my earliest experiences hearing Baroque music. In the end, the nostalgic feelings I have about the time when I used to own that whistle do not seem especially at the forefront of the final result. The memory, like that of early listening, has perhaps been filtered through and transformed by my subsequent encounters with Hindemith and Bartok, among others.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

PM: Composing for instruments always involves a type of dialog between one’s imagination and the voices and natural tendencies of the instruments. I was curious to see in which ways my thinking would be nudged toward the Baroque. Perhaps the thing that surprised me most was the nature of the differences between period string instruments and their modern counterparts—I had been accustomed to imagining wind and keyboard instruments as evolving considerably more.

Is there a particular (conceptual/methodical/other) thread running through your recent compositions?

PM: I have been growing more interested in electroacoustic music recently, and trying to integrate some of those techniques more thoroughly into my practice so that electroacoustic and conventional chamber music become complementary means rather than distinct activities. Another thread through many (but not all) recent compositions has been an interest in drawing more directly on my physics background as a source of inspiration. Another form of reconstruction, perhaps.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

PM: Almost anyone who plays piano professionally. Or maybe Jimmy Page—it would be pretty cool to play guitar like that for a day.

We invite you to join us to hear the results on March 26, 7:30pm! Reserve your free tickets here. Limited tickets available!

Opus Testing: Meet the composers – Roydon Tse & Joshua Denenberg

Eight Ontario-based composers have written new works for baroque quartet that have been inspired by personal objects. These compositions will be performed by members of Tafelmusik in a casual workshop presentation part of Opus: Testing- Period Piece, in collaboration with Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre. Some of the composers sat down for a Q&A with Musica Reflecta, and we learned about their writing process, challenges and more. Meet composers Roydon Tse and Joshua Denenberg.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

Roydon Tse. Photo credit: Tim Blonk

Roydon Tse: My piece for the Opus Testing workshop is titled Forgetting, and concerns the loss of memory and details over time. Memory is a subject that I have explored in previous works, and is a subject that remains relevant in my life as I witness loved ones lose their memories as result of poor health and age.  The concept of the piece is quite simple: I wrote a theme and upon each restatement, there is less and less of the theme present. In a way, it is a reverse series of variations in that I take away things from the theme that appears at the beginning, leaving a skeleton or core in its place. There is a bittersweet quality to the piece that reflects the sadness and hope in the face of loss, and I think that music is unique from other art forms in that we can witness its progression through time, and therefore I felt it was an appropriate concept to explore. The length restriction for the work was perfect as it allowed me to explore the implications of using what I call ‘subtractive’ form in a miniature form before applying it to a larger work.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

RT: I was struck by the strength of the harpsichord at a close distance in comparison to what I imagined a harpsichord would sound like. It is such a different instrument from the piano and as a pianist I assumed that I could write idiomatically for the harpsichord until this workshop …  Chris Bagan has been very helpful on that front!

Who/what serves as a primary source of inspiration for you these days?

RT: Bach.  While he is such a prolific and important composer, he is inspiring to me because of his humility and faith, dedicating all of his energy to glorify God through his music.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

RT: The fantastic Jacob Collier, who has astounding skills as a performer on multiple instruments, arranger, and composer.  He has a tremendous ear for complex harmonic progressions, and it would be amazing to hear music through his ears for a day!

Memories for harp and marimba by Roydon Tse

Tell us about your interest, and your existing experiences, with period performance (as a composer, performer, and/or listener).

Joshua Denenberg

Joshua Denenberg: I played in a baroque quartet on bassoon as an undergrad. I was terrible at it.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

JD: Originally there was, I gave up partly through. I more or less defaulted to a 3 movement concerto like form—which is “period”, in a hackney sort of way. Some traces of my original ideas made it into the second movement.

What/who did you listen to in preparing to write for period instruments?

JD: I really didn’t change my listening up as preparation. Not that I dislike baroque music or period performance (on the contrary), I just didn’t want to be “inspired by.” Aping at neo-baroque styles has been done by a lot of composers who are a lot better at writing music than I am.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

JD: A lot of the technological and dynamic limitations I assumed would be there are not. I also wish I had more time to dedicate to figuring the intricacies that make this ensemble great as the sounds and idiosyncrasies are, while maybe not as complex as the contemporary, are distinct and just alien enough to the casual musician that there is a lot for modern composers to explore.

Is there a particular (conceptual/methodical/other) thread running through your recent compositions?

JD: I’m trying to be more minimal and reductive in process (probably a result of the music I’m listening to). It’s not going well.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

JD: Hans Zimmer, of course.

We invite you to join us to hear the results on March 26, 7:30pm! Reserve your free tickets here. Limited tickets available!

A special homage to the amazing women of Tafelmusik

This International Women’s Day, we would like to take a moment to celebrate all the amazing and intelligent women who have appeared both onstage and off over the years here at Tafelmusik. Their contribution has been an essential part in making Tafelmusik what it is today and we are proud to consider them family members.

We could literally spend hours honouring all the strong and vibrant women who have graced the stage and hallways of our office but here are a few that have influenced the course of Tafel history for the better.

Tricia Baldwin was the Managing Director of Tafelmusik from 2000 to 2014. During her tenure, Tafelmusik enjoyed a prolific and prestigious period on the world stage, including 57 provincial, national and international tours. Her tenure has also seen the development of audiences and artists through the renovation of Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and the expansion of programming into Koerner Hall and the George Weston Recital Hall. Her relentless efforts permitted Tafelmusik to successfully launch its very own Tafelmusik Media label in 2012.

Ottie Lockey was Tafelmusik’s Managing Director for close to 20 years, from 1981 to 2000. During her tenure, she helped Tafelmusik establish itself as one of the country’s most highly regarded musical organizations and greatest cultural exports. Her devotion to Tafelmusik permitted our Orchestra and Chamber Choir to secure a wide and loyal audience, an extensive catalogue of recordings, and an international touring network.

 Alison Mackay, violone and double bass

Alison joined Tafelmusik in 1979 and is the creative brain behind our now world-famous multimedia presentations. Some audience favourites include The Galileo Project, House of Dreams, Bach: The Circle of Creation, and Tales of Two Cities, to name but a few. Much of Tafelmusik’s international appeal in recent years has been made possible by Alison’s inexhaustible creativity. Her contribution to orchestral life in Canada has been honoured with the Betty Webster Award in 2013.

Charlotte Nediger, Harpsichord, Organ

Charlotte joined the orchestra in 1980 at age 21 has called Tafelmusik home ever since. Besides sharing her musical skills onstage, Charlotte is very active behind the scenes occupying the role of Assistant to the Music Director, Librarian, and Programme Editor. She also oversees Tafelmusik’s successful Summer and Winter institute. Her devotion on stage and off not only inspires, but also helps build tomorrow’s generation of period performers.

Christina Mahler (cello), Cristina Zacharias (violin), Geneviève Gilardeau (violin), Julia Wedman (violin), Patricia Ahern (violin), and Aisslin Nosky (former Tafelmusik violin)

Needless to say that the contribution of these talented women has truly been part of Tafelmusik’s local and international prestige. Exquisite music lives at the heart of Tafelmusik and and in the hearts of these gifted women.

Soprano: Michele DeBoer, Brenda Enns, Emma Hannan, Francine Labelle, Carrie Loring, Meghan Moore, Susan Suchard | Alto: Kate Helsen and Valeria Kondrashov.

Today we also celebrate the brilliant women of our choir. Through the gift of their combined voices, the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir has gathered worldwide praise and accolades. It is no surprise that Tafelmusik programs involving our Chamber Choir attract audiences in great numbers. We owe this success in part to these accomplished women.

Carol Campbell, Front of House, Volunteer & Events Manager

If you have come to one of our concerts, you have surely seen Carol, who has been with Tafelmusik for over 30 years. She has been responsible for running our front-of-house during concerts, as well as managing our army of happy volunteers. The care and attention Carol puts into making concerts run as smoothly as possible is an essential ingredient in keeping our audience happy and coming back year after year.

Beth Anderson, Director of Artistic Administration & Operations

Beth has been with Tafelmusik since 2003. Her role is essential in putting together and running a season of programming. On tour, she is indispensable: getting from A to B may sound simple, but not when travelling with an orchestra! She brilliantly ensures that every detail is in place. As one of our more senior staff members, she has become a reference for historical notes and also contributes to maintaining a reassuring environment for newer employees to thrive in.

Jeanne Lamon, Music Director Emerita

We of course could not complete our homage to the women of Tafelmusik without mentioning Jeanne Lamon, who was Music Director of Tafelmusik from 1981 to 2014. Jeanne Lamon has been praised by critics in Europe and North America for her strong musical leadership and has won numerous awards. In 2000, Jeanne was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada, and in 2014, a Member of the Order of Ontario. Her remarkable legacy to Tafelmusik and Toronto is undeniable.

In February 2017, Tafelmusik officially appointed Elisa Citterio as its new Music Director. Elisa was the unanimous choice of both the orchestra and search committee. We are thrilled to be welcoming yet another inspiring and talented woman to our family.


Cheers to all women in our Tafelmusik family, onstage and off, in our audience both locally and internationally. Today, our music honours you.

By Réjean Tremblay, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing and Sales

We went to the movies! Or, What would Beethoven do?

Tafelmusik staff went to check out a new film at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema, titled “What would Beethoven do?”, part of the Music on Film series put on by The Royal Conservatory.

To find out a bit more about the film, check out the trailer:


What Would Beethoven Do? | New Documentary Teaser from What Would Beethoven Do on Vimeo.

We had a fiery and lengthy discussion after the film, about the state of classical music in general – here’s what some of our thoughts were!

First from Managing Director Will Norris:

“So many thoughts and talking points after watching ‘What would Beethoven do’. First, a reaffirmation of the power of music and the joy and happiness it brings – in the film most ably exemplified by Bobby McFerrin and the boundless enthusiasm of conductor Benjamin Zander. A lively debate ensued afterwards in the pub. Top of my mind after the concert was the issue of performance venues. Conventional performance spaces offer acoustic perfection but often accentuate that ‘fourth wall’, that divide between audience and Orchestra. Current-day concert presentation often does little to break that wall, with little to no interaction between performer and audience. Some of my most profound musical experiences have been in acoustically sub-par spaces but where I have been able to feel connected to and close to the performers, and I discovered chamber music by hearing it played in a pub. Conventional concert halls will always have a place, but should we be valuing other parts of the concert-going as much as we value acoustics? Should we be pressing for flexible performance spaces which allow for varied audience configurations? And lastly, a thought that we can never become complacent. It is so easy working for an orchestra just to follow the trodden path – but last night’s film was a reminder that we need to be constantly evangelical for our artform, and, as part of that evangelism, constantly questioning what we do, how we do it and searching out and grasping new opportunities for our music to be heard.”

Associate Director of Philanthropy Phil Stephens decided to look into some statistics:

There no lack of confusing statistics out there, but here are a couple of interesting ones:

“1808: A Beethoven grand public concert drew only from aristocracy and middle class, equaling no more than 2.5% of Viennese residents. LINK

2002: Classical Music Consumer Study said 16% of adults in the U.S. attended a classical music concert in the 12 months prior to the survey. LINK

Classical audiences seem to be getting younger and more diverse these days. If you‘re an orchestra going back to the same trough repeatedly with diminishing results, try diversification! Do not expect an audience to come to you.

Classical performers and administrators could benefit from a regular dose of modern music (yes, even pop), and perhaps should view music as wonderful entertainment more often. Help foster a culture of exploration and sharing, instead of pushing conformity and academics.”

From Tim Crouch, Senior Manager of Marketing & Audience Engagement:

“Having many friends who are composers, I find one of the most interesting topics from the film was the discussion over the definition of classical music. Depending on who you talk to, classical can mean so many different things. To those in the know, it’s a genre from a specific time-period. To newcomers, classical can be an overarching term for almost anything that’s not ‘pop’, sometimes associated with relaxing studying lists (though I’d argue classical music is anything but relaxing). 

In the end, it brings up the interesting exercise of a review of terminology. This may seem like semantics, but I think it’s important, as artists and arts administrators, to own what we do, with a strong focus of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. This may require us to reject static definitions of our genre, and all the connotations associated with those definitions. Traditions are important, but when they get in the way of music-making and connections with the audience, the art becomes a museum piece.

One thing I know is definite – what we consider to be western classical music/music of the European tradition is one of the most dynamic, ever-changing art forms, and acts like an incredible sponge, soaking in influences from around the world. If we can make even minuscule strides to convey this to classical naysayers, and reject decades of over-formalized connotations, I think we’ll have come a long way. For me, it starts with what we call ourselves.

PS For an interesting link on this subject, go here.” 

And finally from Peter Harte, Marketing Manager:

“I did thoroughly enjoy this film. I appreciate any piece of art that provokes discussion, educates, and prompts me to seek out others opinions to help justify my own. The big question asked is what are orchestras doing to engage new and younger audiences for a long period of time rather than just offering a one time “unique date experience”? I am not a musician myself, but through this film I could easily see the passion these musicians have, and the true love they have for their craft. But it made me wonder, why is it often difficult to see this while attending a concert? How do we break down this 4th wall from the stage and allow audiences to really see the spirit and intensity coming from these musicians? Yes, all important questions we ask ourselves time and time again.

A comment during the post-film Q&A that stood out to me was from a gentleman who was trying to compose a question about whether having DJ Scratch Bastid collaborate with a string quartet at the RCM was a one-time gimmick or indeed an innovative approach to liven up otherwise predictable repertoire. If the question had been presented more clearly it may have started a dialogue between us all about what exactly are orchestras committing to when these electronic DJs are placed on stage. I’ve seen or heard numerous orchestras incorporating electronic music or live DJs into their season programming, and generally you can see that it does brings a new audience and energy to the concert experience. However, these events may only occur once a year, and more often than not the orchestra and DJ are disconnected in their performance. It’s almost there, but not quite. Have any orchestras made a true leap of collaborating with multidisciplinary artists? Or are they simply throwing in unrelated disciplines of art to make the experience seem “cool”?

I can’t help but ask myself, why do we assume young people enjoy electronic music? And why do so many orchestras use this as the gateway to get new folks into their doors and excite them about orchestral music? Maybe the concert hall and the formal attire of our musicians needs to change to help break the high class reputation classical music has. Maybe we need more movies like Fantasia to help a new generation visualize and relate to what they are hearing. Or maybe an easy to digest explanation is needed as to why a piece of music is being performed, by this specific organization, right now, to help us understand its relevance.

I love that this film made me ask myself these questions and has sparked discussions between myself and my colleagues, and hopefully between you too. It’s definitely worth seeing.”

Over to you – what do you think? What would Beethoven do, were he alive today?

The Canadian Fiddle Tune Project

by Christopher Verrette, violinist

One of the ways Tafelmusik is commemorating the Canadian Sesquicentennial is through the Canadian Fiddle Tune Project. In conjunction with Alison Mackay’s Visions and Voyages concert program, students from the Etobicoke School of the Arts and the Suzuki program at the Miles Nadal JCC are learning a compilation of fiddle tunes from different traditions as well as some baroque pieces by both English and French composers. The students are being coached on the fiddle tunes by Anne Lederman, and by myself on the baroque music. We will all come together to perform them on stage at the Jeanne Lamon Hall right after the Sunday performance of Visions and Voyages, February 26.

The Fiddler, by Cornelius Krieghoff

The Miles Nadal JCC is a vital part of the Bloor/Spadina neighbourhood and Bloor Street Cultural Corridor. The music programs there are connected with Tafelmusik in another way: one of the longtime teachers there is Gretchen Paxson, who is married to oboist John Abberger, and many children of Tafelmusik players have participated over the years, including my own daughter. It is thus a familiar place to visit, although I only recently noticed a detail that underscores the importance of music to its activities and mission: there is a plaque honouring Leonard Bernstein in the main lobby.

It is a longer trip for me to visit the Etobicoke School -and the Grade 9’s rehearse early!- but it is always rewarding to be able to introduce what we do to another generation of musicians and music lovers, and to personally see and hear the thriving musical scene they have there. It will be a festive event when all the students come to our venue to perform the pieces with members of the orchestra.

It is always great to get young people in our audience, and the students will attend our Friday night show, but it is even better to engage with them in the act of making music together. I am particularly interested to hear what Anne does with these fiddle tunes; she has a wide repertoire and fluency in numerous styles and traditions. The students are making a big commitment by learning all the music from memory. We hope the short performance will contribute to our collective sense of the diverse influences that make up Canadian music and culture in this special year.

Hear the results of the Canadian Fiddle Tune project on Sunday, right after the concert, at approximately 5:30pm in Jeanne Lamon Hall.

Don’t miss our remaining shows – best availability is Thu – Sat! Click here for more information.

New music for old instruments

by William Norris, Managing Director

Contemporary music and period performance may not, at first sight, be obvious bedfellows. But, it may surprise you to know, it’s an area that Tafelmusik has a track record in. In past years we have worked with composers including Mychael Danna, Emily Doolittle, Christos Hatzis, Ruth Watson Henderson, Grégoire Jeay, Marjan Mozetich, Michael Oesterle, Imant Raminsh, James Rolfe, Jeffrey Ryan, and Linda Catlin Smith to create new works for both choir and orchestra. For a period band that’s not such a bad list!

Of course there is little point in us commissioning new music that could be played by anyone — if that were the case then it would make more sense for composers to work with a modern orchestra. Rather, we prefer to work with composers who are intrigued by the possibilities that period instruments bring. Composers who want to make the most of the different timbres and textures possible with our instruments.

On Wednesday we embarked on a new contemporary music adventure, as we start a new project in association with Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre. We’re going to be part of an ongoing project called Opus:Testing which gives emerging composers the chance to explore new territory in their writing — in this case that new territory is period instruments. Over the course of two workshops, Opus:Testing provides an open and safe space for artists to explore, collaborate, and create.

Walking through period performance with the composers. Canadian Music Centre
Walking through period performance with the composers. Canadian Music Centre

Four musicians from Tafelmusik will be participating, working with eight composers who have each prepared some musical sketches to work on during tomorrow’s first workshop. Following the workshop, composers can revisit and fine-tune (pardon the pun) their work drawing upon the learnings of the session, before musicians and composers regroup for a second and final workshop.

We’ll be bringing you further blogs charting the progress of the project and are also pleased to be able to tell you that the second workshop (at the Canadian Music Centre, Sunday March 26th at 7:30pm) is open to the public, so do come along to hear what emerges from this new initiative.