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

Eight Ontario-based composers have written new works for a 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 a theme, but I gave up partway through. I more or less defaulted to a three-movement concerto-like-form—which is “period,” in a hackneyed 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 in 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 technical and dynamic limitations I assumed would be there are not. I also wish I had more time to dedicate to figuring out the intricacies that make this ensemble great, as the sounds and idiosyncrasies, 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 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!

US Tour: Tafelmusik in Seattle

By William Norris, Managing Director

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to Know: Colin Labadie, composer

We’re excited to perform and premiere a brand new composition by Canadian composer Colin Labadie for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. Entwined was written for Tafelmusik and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of Canada Mosaic. Leading up to the premiere on March 23, 2017 at Koerner Hall, we caught up with Colin and asked him a few questions.

Colin Labadie, composer

What got you into composing?

It’s tough to pin down. I’ve always liked making things, music or otherwise. In high school I would make these little quartet arrangements of songs I was learning on the classical guitar. When I was auditioning for university, they asked what major I was thinking about pursuing. I said composition—I’m still not totally sure why, but it seemed most interesting to me at the time. I guess it was the right call since I haven’t really looked back!

Tell us a bit about one of your “mutant guitars”?

I had been improvising quite a bit, and started building little programs that let me manipulate the sound of the guitar in really new and interesting ways. But to get the sounds I wanted, I needed to play with the program quite a bit, and at a certain point I felt like I was playing my laptop more than my guitar. So I stuck a bunch of extra buttons and gadgets onto the guitar and got them talking to my laptop, basically as a way to have more organic and sophisticated control over the sound. It’s a lot of fun to play, though it sometimes has a mind of its own.

What makes you excited to be writing for Tafelmusik?

The calibre of the players and ensemble as a whole! I had known about Tafelmusik for a long time, mostly by reputation although I had seen them a few times. When I was working on the piece, I went down the rabbit hole and listened to as many recordings as I could to get a better sense of the group (their recent recording of Beethoven’s 9th is a personal favourite), and was continually blown away by their playing. Everyone’s also been friendly and easy to work with, which is a nice bonus.

What was it like writing for period instruments?

It was less painful than I thought it would be! (kidding, mostly). There were a few things I had to take into consideration, particularly how the strings speak a bit differently, but it wasn’t a major adjustment. I’ve actually always felt that my own musical sensibilities are a bit more aligned with early music than the classical/romantic era. So even though I hadn’t really written for period instruments before, I didn’t have to change my approach too much—I found that my ideas translated well onto the instruments.

This will also be performed by the TSO (on modern instruments)—was this a factor in figuring out to write the piece?

Absolutely. On any given piece, I think a lot about the particular ensemble that I’m writing for, but this is the first time that I’ve written something that will be premiered by two different ensembles. I worked hard to come up with material that I think will work both technically and aesthetically on both period and modern instruments. I guess we’ll find out how well I did! I’m actually really excited to hear how the two orchestras interpret the piece differently. (You can hear the TSO perform Entwined on April 22.)

How does your work tackle Canada’s 150th anniversary? What are some of the underlying extra-musical ideas?

I always have mixed feelings when it comes to celebrations like Canada 150. On the one hand there are plenty of things that I love about this country, and we certainly have much to celebrate. But on the other hand there are still a number of systemic issues that we need to take a hard look at. For example, I think the way indigenous people have been treated in this country is deplorable. Canada 150 deserves some credit for making reconciliation one of its four main themes, and I hope we keep sight of that through the year. There are some who still ignore or deny the effect that settler populations have had on indigenous communities. In Entwined, I have these interwoven parts within and between the string and wind parts—I was trying to symbolize how the histories of indigenous people and settlers are diverse yet deeply connected, and consequently how I and other settlers have a role to play in reconciliation.

What’s next for you in the world of contemporary music?

Actually, a break! (sort of). I had a really busy fall/winter, with quite a few commissions and theatre projects, on top of a busy teaching schedule. So I’m excited to take a few weeks off and get caught up on life. After that, I have a choral piece being premiered by the Menno Singers in early May, performances at the Festival des musiques de création in Jonquière, Quebec and Between the Ears in Kitchener, then three commissions for the summer/fall that all involve saxophone. I’m really excited to finally write the third movement to my sax/piano piece Strata, which is something that’s been on the back burner for a couple of years.

Last three songs you listened to

I’ve been really into this German electronic label called raster noton, especially this guy Alva Noto. The last three songs I listened to were all from his 2011 album Univrs.

Most importantly, have you found your favourite BBQ joint?

It’s been Hog Tails in Waterloo for a little while. I don’t know how they make their fried chicken, but it’s bonkers how good it is. For you Toronto folk, I’m a big fan of Barque on Roncy (Roncesvalles).

You can hear Tafelmusik perform Entwined by Colin Labadie in The Baroque Diva at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from March 23-26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: The Baroque Diva

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Christopher Verrette

Opera was an invention of baroque Italy, and while other regions would create their own styles, opera sung in Italian would continue to be enjoyed in many cities and courts throughout Europe, including Dresden, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and London. George Frideric Handel began to present his Italian operas in London in 1711, and personally recruited singers from Italy for the task. These singers became celebrities in their new home. Contemporary accounts of these artists describe not only their voices, but also their manner on stage, and (sometimes unfavourably) their “person” or relative physical beauty. Rivalry among the singers could become quite public, with their respective fans creating disturbances during performances.

The “degrees of separation” between the various composers on this program are slight indeed. Georg Philipp Telemann holds the Guinness world record (posthumously!) for the most prolific composer of all time, at least on the basis of the sheer number of pieces he wrote. He also seems to have been one of the best-connected composers of his time. From his chosen city of Hamburg he had extensive reach. He wrote music for other courts, was involved in music education, publishing, and early copyright matters, took interest in ethnic styles of music, and corresponded regularly with many other composers and theorists, including his lifelong friend, Handel.

Another of his friends and correspondents was the extraordinary violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, a pivotal figure in music in the eighteenth century. A leading violinist with the famed Dresden Kapelle, many distinguished composers dedicated music to him, including Telemann, Albinoni, and Vivaldi. There are also strong connections between Pisendel and the Bach family. It was in fact Pisendel who brought to the attention of Telemann (also an accomplished poet) that he should eulogize the recently deceased Bach. Telemann responded with an ode, as he would for Pisendel himself some years later.

Pisendel met the violin virtuoso, composer, and priest Antonio Vivaldi while travelling in Venice with the ensemble of the crown prince of Saxony. While it is often said that he studied with Vivaldi, the relationship seems more likely to have been an opportune meeting between two peers with genuine respect for one another. He did not otherwise have the easiest visit to Italy: jealous violinists in the orchestra tried to sabotage his first solo appearance, which he survived by keeping his cool and beating his foot. On another occasion he was detained by authorities in St Mark’s Square in an apparent case of mistaken identity, and it was Vivaldi himself who negotiated his release.

Telemann Concerto in A Major

Telemann’s A-Major Concerto includes some virtuoso passagework that may reflect his knowledge of Pisendel’s style, but the dominating feature of the work is its imitation of the peeping of frogs. The soloist initiates this, after the opening tutti, with an effect called bariolage, an alternation of an open string with a fingered note on the same pitch. This figure is elaborated and imitated, and soon we hear a whole chorus of frogs that the composer takes through some extended and unexpected harmonic sequences. In the second movement we hear the frog once more before the violin embarks upon a cantabile melody, but the frogs can still be heard in the viola part at times. The concerto concludes with an elegant minuet and no further amphibian interference.

Handel Ezio

(c) The Foundling Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Handel’s Ezio had all the ingredients to be a commercial success: an excellent cast of singers, a libretto by Metastasio, and all new sets and costumes (a relative rarity), but it only lasted for five poorly attended performances at the King’s Theatre in January, 1732, although the king himself attended all but one. Its female lead was the soprano Anna Maria Strada (pictured right) as Fulvia, a woman trapped between rival lovers and the murderous machinations of her own father. “Il mio costanza” comes in Act II, when she admits in front of the emperor Valentinian, who wishes to marry her, that she is in fact in love with the General Ezio, who has just been arrested (erroneously) for an attempt on the emperor’s life. Strada was part of a second wave of talented singers imported by Handel to rebuild his company after a bankruptcy. While her singing was admired, she was criticized for her appearance and the faces she made while singing, earning her the nickname “the pig.”

Telemann Concerto in D Minor

In the D-Minor Concerto, Telemann puts into opposition a wind trio of oboes and bassoon and a string group. In the first movement, they mostly play together in similar rhythm, like a big choir, but in the fast movements the two groups rarely play at the same time, as if in conversation.

Vivaldi Motet “O qui coeli”

Vivaldi is mostly associated with the city of Venice and the solo violin concerto, but he became increasingly interested in opera over the course of his career, and this would take him to other cities such as Rome, where his operas were presented during carnival in both 1723 and 1724. At this time he came into contact with Cardinal Ottoboni, a member of one of the wealthy families that employed many of the best musicians, including Handel at one time. The motet “O qui coeli” was probably written for Ottoboni. Perhaps it was intended for one of the singers who also performed his operas. The text calls upon the listeners to turn their eyes from the transient attractions of the earthly to the eternal promises of the heavenly.

PIsendel Sonata da chiesa

Instrumental music was used widely in church to support and sometimes even replace parts of the liturgy. While noted as a virtuoso, Pisendel shows in the Sonata da chiesa (church sonata) that he can compose with disciplined contrapuntal technique. The austere five-note subject of the second movement is typical of this style.

Handel Alcina

In 1733, Handel lost most of his singers to a rival company. Anna Maria Strada stayed though, and in 1735 played the title role in one of greatest successes, Alcina. This sorceress is one of his most captivating characters, in more ways than one: she keeps people prisoners on her enchanted island in the form of rocks, trees, animals, and some as spellbound lovers. Her demise comes when she falls in love with Ruggiero: he escapes her spell and she loses her powers. She sings “Ah, mio cor” upon the realization that she has been deceived and deserted, powerfully expressed through her unaccompanied entrance. In the middle section, she breaks out of her despair just long enough to swear vengeance if he does not return.

Pisendel Concerto da chiesa

The G-Minor Concerto reveals Pisendel’s considerable talents as both a violinist and composer. The intricate high passagework for the solo violinist is typical of his style, but he was highly regarded for his performance of slow movements. The fugal opening of the last movement is unusual in a solo concerto.

Handel Rodelinda

The role of Rodelinda was originated in 1725 by Francesca Cuzzoni (pictured right), one of the notorious rival sopranos in Handel’s troupe. “Mio caro bene” is the final aria of the opera, when Rodelinda is joyfully reunited with her husband, who had been exiled and believed dead. According to Horace Walpole, her performance was upstaged by her costume, which apparently scandalized the older audience but was adopted by the young as the height of fashion.

© C. Verrette 2017


Note about Entwined, by the composer

Over the next year, Canada will see numerous celebrations as part of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Canada certainly has much to celebrate, but it’s important to me that these celebrations don’t come without acknowledging the darker parts of our past, especially the treatment of Indigenous peoples in our country. We have taken important steps in recent years — Canada 150, for its part, has made reconciliation one of its four main themes. But I feel strongly that these steps need to be seen in the context of ongoing systemic discrimination.

Canada as a country is only 150 years old, but the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples goes back much farther. The interwoven layers of Entwined are meant to suggest how our stories are (and will continue to be) diverse yet deeply connected, and how we all have a role to play in reconciliation.


As a composer, Colin Labadie writes notably un-classical music for classical instruments. Through simple patterning and subtle variation, he seeks to build intricate yet clear structures and sounds. As a performer, he does exactly the opposite: he creates noisy and chaotic textures, usually with mutant guitars or homemade circuits. He often roots around in thrift stores, hunting for odd sounds in the world of forgotten electronics. Colin currently lives in Kitchener-Waterloo. He has been fortunate enough to perform or have his work performed across Canada, as well as in many non-Canadian countries. When he isn’t listening to music, he can usually be found trying to sniff out a good barbecue joint.


PROGRAM LISTING

Directed by Rodolfo Richter, violin
March 23–26, 2017, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning

COLIN LABADIE born 1984
Entwined: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th
World premiere: written for Tafelmusik and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada.

GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN 1681–1767
Concerto for violin in A Major, “The Frog” (Frankfurt, c.1718)
[Allegro]
Adagio
Menuet

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL 1685-1759
Aria “La mia costanza,” from Ezio (London, 1732)

G.P. TELEMANN
Concerto in D Minor, TWV 53:d1 (Hamburg)
Grave
Allegro
Affettuoso
Allegro

ANTONIO VIVALDI 1678–1741
Motet “O qui coeli terraeque serenitas,” RV 631 (Rome, 1723/24)

INTERMISSION

JOHANN GEORG PISENDEL 1687–1755
Sonata da chiesa in C Minor (Dresden, c.1721–23)
Largo
Allegro

G.F. HANDEL
Aria “Ah, mio cor,” from Alcina (London, 1735)

J.G. PISENDEL
Concerto da chiesa in G Minor (Dresden, c.1720–25)
Largo e staccato/Allegro
Largo
Allegro

G.F. HANDEL
Aria “Mio caro bene,” from Rodelinda (London, 1725)

Karina Gauvin’s appearance with Tafelmusik is generously sponsored by
John & Margaret Catto.

Colin Labadie commission funded by / financé par:

 

 

 

Join us for The Baroque Diva at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from
March 23—26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

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

By Dominic Teresi, bassoon

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

California sky. Photo: James Johnstone

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

Photo: Dominic Teresi

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

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

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

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

Checking out the seals. Photo: James Johnstone

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

US Tour 2017: San Juan and Winter Park

By Julia Wedman, violin

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

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

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

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

Today’s Up

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

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

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

Today’s Down

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

Sunday March 5, 2017

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Free Day

Today’s Up

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

Photo: James Johnstone

Today’s Down

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

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

Monday, March 7, 2017

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

Today’s up

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

Today’s down

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

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

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