Tom Georgi’s “Baroque Bootcamp”

Tafelmusik violinist Thomas Georgi started a Baroque Boot Camp this summer where a bunch of musicians congregate at his house every second Monday morning and just fawn over baroque music together.

We asked two of the musicians to share their experience with us. Raha Javanfar and Kailey Richards are no strangers to Tafelmusik. Raha is Tafelmusik’s projections designer for Alison Mackay’s multimedia productions, and Kailey is enrolled in the Master’s program at University of Toronto, studying with Tafelmusik musicians. As well, both Raha and Kailey are alumni of Tafelmusik’s Baroque Summer Insititute (TBSI).

Don’t miss the Baroque Boot Camp recital on August 23 at 7pm at Heliconian Hall. It’s a Pay-What-You-Can concert and everyone is welcome.

Julia Wedman, Gretchen Abberger, Molly Evans, Andrew Dicker, Kailey Richards, Raha Javanfar, and Elena Spanu

By Raha Javanfar

Raha Javanfar. Photo credit: Jen Squires

Well, for a gathering that includes friends getting together, playing beautiful music, sharing a lovely meal, and having some laughs, “Boot Camp” seems like an unfair description! Thomas Georgi’s Baroque Boot Camp has got to be the most relaxed and enjoyable boot camp ever. It’s quite the casual and delightful affair: gathering around a harpsichord in Tom’s kitchen every other week, about six to eight of us eagerly attend to keep our TBSI chops in shape…not to mention our quiche chops!

Tafelmusik fans who’ve caught any of Alison Mackay’s multimedia concerts like House of Dreams, The Galileo Project, or most recently, Visions & Voyages, may have caught a glimpse of me at some point, sitting at the back of the audience, operating the lights and projections which I design for those shows. But they might be surprised to learn that I’ve been playing violin since I was four years old, and that I now play fiddle in a Western swing band, electric violin in an Afro-funk Persian band, bass and lead vocals in a blues/R&B band, and fiddle and vocals in a jazz/swing/blues/rockabilly band called Voodoo Raha & Speedy Wax (fact: Speedy Wax is none other than Tafelmusik’s own oboist, Marco Cera, disguised as a rip-roaring electric guitar player!)

So how did I get from afro-funk-blues-jazz-swing-rockabilly to Tom’s kitchen? Good question. The truth is that I grew up with very strict and disciplined classical violin training. Clearly, a little rebellion (or creative exploration, if you will!) led me down some other musical roads, but at the bottom of my heart and in the depths of my soul lies a tremendous love for classical music, and more specifically: baroque.

After almost a decade of watching the masterful members of Tafelmusik play their instruments effortlessly and hearing the beautiful pieces that they bring such gorgeous interpretations to, I finally couldn’t stand it anymore! I was dying to try my hand at a period violin, and aching to play some Telemann, Vivaldi, Purcell, and Bach. And, not just like I’d secretly been doing on my modern violin in the safe privacy of my apartment, but in ensembles with other people. Heck, maybe even on a stage!

So TBSI was the obvious answer. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to attend that marvelous program, and for two weeks, I delved into it like a kid in a candy store. I practised and practised, took notes, paid attention, got corrected, practised some more. It was incredible. I felt so fulfilled … surrounded by other keen students, desperately holding on to their violins for fear of losing them during a shift. We played in orchestras and ensembles, squeezed in extracurricular duets, had private lessons, masterclasses … it was wonderful.

But as the final days of the Institute approached, I felt a doom coming over me. All this time and practising for what!? Only to say goodbye to this period instrument until next year’s TBSI? That didn’t seem quite right. And that’s where Tom Georgi stepped in and saved the day. His bi-weekly boot camp is an opportunity for some of us to keep a foot in that baroque world and gently keep up the practice that we took on so intensely during TBSI. I’ll be honest, having returned to regular life, finding time to practise as often as I’d like it a huge challenge, but the deadline of the next boot camp approaching is a perfect kick in the butt to take the baroque violin (one of Tom’s that he’s kindly lent me!) out of the case, at least a few times between sessions.

One great thing is that the pieces we play range in difficulty. The morning usually starts with everyone reading through one of Telemann’s Concertos for 4 violins (I think this is the first thing that happens? I’m ashamed to confess I’ve been late almost every time! The early start time is the only thing remotely boot camp-ish for me…maybe Tom should be stricter and take away my quiche rights next time I’m late!). If there are more than four people, we just double up on parts (another nice thing about the casual nature of it all … people don’t ever have to ‘sit out’). Then we sometimes practise this monster piece by Reincken that I don’t think too many people know very well. Tom gets very excited about some of the rarer and obscure pieces that he discovers, and it’s a real treat witnessing his joy when something he hasn’t heard before sounds good live! After that, more casual playing of some Leclair duets or Corelli sonatas happen while Tom prepares lunch. And, of course, Boot Camp is not complete until we’ve all enjoyed a lovely quiche and salad lunch.

For me, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to meet people in a musical circle that’s quite different from the one I putter in regularly. I’ve made new friends who I could perhaps continue to play music with even after Tom’s Boot Camp comes to an end (noooo!). Speaking of the end, we are putting on a little pay-what-you-can Boot Camp concert on August 23 at 7 pm at Heliconian Hall! I’m certainly looking forward to that.

All in all, Tom Georgi’s “Summer Baroque Kitchen Boot Camp” is one of the highlights of my summer so far. I’m so grateful to Tom, and I just hope I can practice enough this week and show up on time to the next one!

Kailey Richards

By Kailey Richards

It seems to me that the purpose of Baroque Boot Camp is to explore repertoire and playing with people who are equally as excited about historical performance as I am.

In some ways it is similar to an orchestra rehearsal, but it’s all violins (and viola d’amores and maybe a harpsichord if we’re lucky) so it feels much more like a jam session (meaning many of us on the same parts). Last class, we had both Tom Georgi and Julia Wedman there, and that really made it feel like a jam session with the professionals.

Tom seems to find all sorts of music, some that Tafelmusik has played often and some that no one has ever heard of. We looked at a piece by Reincken and at Bach’s harpsichord transcription of it as well, which I think was new to all of us and really fun to explore. We have also been playing some of Tom’s own arrangements, and it is really interesting to see how he approaches and works with the music.

One of the things I have been thinking about lately is just enjoying seeing how Tom and Julia approach baroque music, especially music they have not heard before. I love watching how they delve into the harmonies and structure and then explore how composers of the time examined the music as well. With the Reincken for example, it was so interesting to see how Bach transcribed the piece and then how Tom and Julia explored it with Bach’s interpretation in mind. I think this approach to studying the music offers not only a new and interesting way to think about it, but also very creative performance possibilities, which would not have been obvious at first glance.

I want to send out a HUGE thank you to Tom for spending the time to organize this!! I feel as a music student in Toronto that I am so lucky to be surrounded by professionals who are not only excited to play themselves, but also willing to share their knowledge with us. I am incredibly grateful.

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Personal Reflections: Tales of Two Cities

by Patrick Jordan, viola

Tafelmusik’s performance of Alison Mackay’s latest creation, Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, at the Aga Khan Museum last week on Friday, December 9 was many things. It was on the one hand the culmination of the production of the video component of our upcoming DVD of the program. It was also and all of a sudden, one of the most moving and intense performances I have experienced in quite some time.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Trio Arabica on stage at the Aga Khan Museum
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Trio Arabica rehearsing at the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Mara Brown
Recording the audio tracks at Grace Church-on-the-hill. Photo: William Norris
Recording the audio tracks from September 30-October 1 at Grace Church-on-the-hill. Photo: William Norris

Most of the video being shot on Friday was of the audience, not the orchestra — that was done on Thursday. Also, the audio portion of the program had already been completed before this show. So it was in some ways a regular concert with the slightly disconcerting elements of cameramen on the stage and the house lights up to full. Those are distractions to be sure, although being able to see the public so clearly revealed an audience that was a mix of extraordinarily familiar faces and some very new ones. Among the new ones I particularly noticed a couple which I guessed to be of Middle Eastern descent, maybe in their 40s, seated six to seven rows back, in the centre; the man of the couple seemed particularly engaged by the entire program: the actor Alon Nashman, Trio Arabica, the images, and Tafelmusik.

For whatever reason, I allowed the distractions of my day to get the better of me (this happens to all of us on stage in some moment or another). I don’t know if it was the extraordinary circumstance or one of my own all-too-reliable demons, but I didn’t achieve my personal best in the most exposed bit I have in this program (which happens in the first half). I came offstage feeling less than great about myself.

We went out for the second half, and when we reached the very powerful sequence of images that tie the history of Leipzig and Damascus to the current plight of Syrian refugees living in Germany and continuing to celebrate their culture, I again noticed the couple in row 6–7. The woman was gently stroking the arm of her partner, who was becoming visibly more upset as the sequence unfolded. He began to weep. I almost couldn’t stay on stage, I so wanted to go out to offer additional comfort to this fellow. A poem relating and embracing the cultures of various European cities and Damascus follows that sequence, and the man was continuing to weep, his partner continuing to offer solace. I felt almost helpless on stage.

The show ends with a popular song in Arabic, during which the phenomenal singer Maryem Toller encourages the audience to join in. And there before me was the fellow in row 6–7, now beaming and joyously singing this obviously very familiar tune.

One of the perks of being a musician who performs in public routinely is that I get thanked a lot. People clap for me, people tell me “Great concert!” after a show (or even approach me on the street), people ask for an autograph — the variety of thank-you’s is large. And I’m genuinely grateful for the support, I really am. However, it is not often that I want to fall on my knees and thank an audience member like the fellow in row 6–7. But thank him for what exactly? For allowing himself to be so moved? For cleansing me of my preoccupations with my own performance? Because whatever I did today, it obviously didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to blunt the bigger message for him. To thank him for the bigger gift of grace? And where does that grace begin and end? I am certainly eternally grateful to my colleagues on stage and behind the scenes at Tafelmusik. And grateful to the Aga Khan Museum for probably putting me in the path of someone new. But it also reaches very far back, to gratitude to my mother, who came to every concert I played as a kid, and whose support probably made it possible for me to be on that stage today. And to my childhood viola teacher who saved my life at key moments.

For a certainty, I left the concert knowing that today was a good day for art, and a good day for the meeting of souls.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Trio Arabica and Alon Nashman at the world premiere at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performaning Arts. Photo: Bruce Zinger
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Trio Arabica and Alon Nashman at the world premiere of Tales of Two Cities at the Isabel Bader Centre for Performaning Arts, May 17, 2016. Photo: Bruce Zinger

Asia Tour 2016: South Korea

By John Abberger, oboe

After two days of rehearsal we performed our first concert on the tour on Sunday, November 12 at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center. The two days of rehearsal in China were grueling but necessary for several reasons.  In the first place, we have not performed Bach: The Circle of Creation since we first mounted it in April 2015, or more than eighteen months ago, and there is general agreement that Circle of Creation is the most difficult memorization feat that we have tackled to date, owing to the complexity of Bach’s music.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir Published by Andrew Eusebio Page Liked · 14 November · On the bus heading towards Daegu, South Korea.This is how we Tetris the orchestra into a minibus. Nobody moves until the bass gets off. Photo: Beth Anderson
On the bus heading towards Daegu, South Korea. This is how we Tetris the orchestra into a minibus. Nobody moves until the bass gets off. Photo: Beth Anderson

Secondly, we had to work with the new narrator, who would be reading the script in Mandarin.  This presents several challenges of its own. The narrator must famaliarize himself with the music and the flow of the show back and forth between music and words, and we must get a feel for the narrator’s body language, since we cannot rely on understanding cues from the text itself as we normally do. All of this gave us a bit of extra adrenaline on opening night of the tour.  We were fortunate to have an excellent narrator in David Zhang, however, and the performance went well. It was warmly received by an audience of about 800, a respectable crowd, but, sadly, scattered about in a 1,600 seat concert, giving the impression of a smaller number.

On to Korea.  Monday, November 14 was a long travel day: 9:30am departure from the hotel, 10:45 arrival at the Shanghai Pudong Airport for a 2:00pm flight, which was delayed on the ground for 1 hr. and 40 minutes.  Add to this a one-hour time change, and we were on the ground at the Incheon airport in Seoul at about 8:00pm local time with still another 50-minute bus ride to the hotel in the Gangnam district of Seoul.

L-R: Marco Cera, Dominic Teresi, Hyun Chul Lim, John Abberger, and Patrick Jordan
L-R: Marco Cera, Dominic Teresi, Hyun Chul Lim, John Abberger, and Patrick Jordan

We are fortunate to have a wonderful friend in Seoul, a bassoonist named Hyun Chul Lim who was a university classmate of Dominic Teresi, and we count him as a member of an exclusive club of friends that we have in various cities around the world. We look forward to seeing them again when we return, and in addition to enjoying a wonderful friendship built upon repeated visits to their home cities, they provide invaluable guidance to local sights and dining spots. Hyun in particular never disappoints. On Wednesday he took a few of us to a beautiful spot just outside of the city where we visited a Buddhist monastery located near the top of Un-Gil-San mountain, one of the hills that surround Seoul.

Photo: Dominic Teresi
Photo: Dominic Teresi

After driving up a steep one-lane road, we park and walk the last 500 meters or so to the small monastery compound.  While listening to the monks chant in the background, we stand near a 500-year-old gingko tree, and enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding hills. Below us we can see the point at which the North and South Han rivers join to form the Han river that runs through Seoul. There is also a commanding view from a small teahouse in the compound, and we take a moment to savour a cup of hot green tea before taking our leave of this beautiful spot. Back at the bottom of the mountain we stop for a fantastic lunch of grilled river eel, cooked at the table over charcoal embers. Once grilled and sauced, the slices of eel are rolled up in a lettuce leaf with chili sauce, slivers of fresh ginger, and slices of raw garlic. They are indescribably delicious, and we gobble as many of these morsels as we can to prepare us for the next round of rehearsals, this time with a Korean actor/narrator.


Asia Tour 2016: South Korea

Fri Nov 18, 7:30pm
Grand Concert Hall
Daegu, South Korea

Sat Nov 19, 5pm
Tongyeong Concert Hall
Tongyeong, South Korea

Sun Nov 20, 7pm
LG Centre
Seoul, South Korea

A Chat with violinist Cristina Zacharias

Our upcoming concert series A Grand Tour of Italy, which features the Tafelmusik solo concerto debut of our own Cristina Zacharias, transports you to seventeenth century Italy, highlighting Italian composers and the violin. The Italians really embraced the violin — instrument makers, violinists, and composers: some would say this really is where the violin was born.  Cristina took some time to chat with our Marketing Associate, Andrew Eusebio.

Cristina holds a Master of Music degree from McGill University. A core member of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra since 2004, she has performed across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and can be heard on over 25 recordings for the ATMA, Analekta, CBC, BIS, Naxos, and Tafelmusik Media labels. Cristina appears annually at the Carmel Bach Festival, where she is the Assistant Principal Second Violin. Cristina is a frequent collaborator, guest soloist, and director with a diverse group of ensembles, and is equally passionate about baroque, classical, and modern repertoire.

cristina_zacharias_sianrichards_2104
Cristina Zacharias, violin. Photo: Sian Richards

Andrew Eusebio: How did you and the violin cross paths and what is it about the violin that audiences love?

Cristinia Zacharias: I started playing violin when I was five. My father had played violin as a child, and it was because of his and my mother’s interest in music that they signed both my three-year-old sister and me up for lessons in a Suzuki violin program. My sister later switched to cello, but I always loved the violin. I think audiences love the same things that that violinists love – the huge variety in sounds. The violin can sing like the voice, or can thrill with speed and virtuosity.

AE: We’ll talk soon about your solo concerto of Vivaldi’s “Le Cetra” but could you shed some light on the other pieces in the program? Are there any you’re particularly looking forward to performing?

CZ: I had the chance to play the Valentini 4-violin concerto many many years ago in Vancouver, and really loved the piece for its originality. I’ve tried a few times to find a way to play it in various concerts but it hasn’t ever happened. I’m very much looking forward to hearing it played by my talented colleagues!

AE: We’re very excited for your Tafelmusik solo concerto debut of Vivaldi’s “La Cetra,” op. 9: Violin Concerto in C Major. Can you talk about this piece and how you prepare for a concerto performance?

CZ: This concerto is the first of a set of twelve in Op. 9 that are all for the violin. You often hear jokes about there being too much similarity between Vivaldi’s many concertos, and I really think these are unwarranted! The more I study Vivaldi’s huge output the more amazed I am by his inventiveness and his wide range of ideas. When I study a Vivaldi concerto closely, I  love to discover how he weaves together his musical ideas. He had the gift of making very complicated structures sound simple. When preparing a concerto performance like this, the process is very similar to how I prepare most music: start with the score and get to know how all the parts interact, then focus on my own part.

AE: What can our audiences expect and discover from this concert and its repertoire?

CZ: I think everyone who hears this concert will come away with a new appreciation for the incredible inventiveness of this period in Italy. All of the composers are so different, and their unique voices offer a vast array of ideas, soundscapes, and originality.

Hear Cristina perform in her Tafelmusik solo concerto debut and join us for A Grand Tour of Italy December 1–4 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, and December 6 at George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Handel’s Water Music: next time, we’ll do it on a boat

By Tim Crouch, Marketing Manager

With the (still-humid) September air, the words ‘Season Opener’ seem to be everywhere in Toronto’s cultural scene.

We’re adding an extra word – ‘Festive Season Opener,’ because there’s no better description for Handel’s perennial favourite, Water Music. This classic was so popular at the time of its original performance, it was reportedly requested by King George that the musicians play it three times – all in the same night!

Canaletto, 1697–1768. Westminster Bridge, With the Lord Mayor's Procession On the Thames. 1747.
Canaletto, 1697–1768. Westminster Bridge, With the Lord Mayor’s Procession On the Thames. 1747.

It  would have truly been a sight to see all the musicians on a royal barge, partying on the River Thames in 1717. Fortunately, the Academy of Ancient Music recreated just such an event, as part of Her Majesty The Queen’s Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in 2012. Take a look in the video below!

Next time, we’re going to need to do this along Toronto’s waterfront on Lake Ontario. What do you think?

Join us this year at Handel Water Music from Sept 22-25th at Koerner Hall (KH) or on Sept 27th at Toronto Centre for the Arts (TCA) – click here for tickets.
Tickets starting from $49 (KH), $38 (TCA); Tafelscene (35 & Under) from $26 (KH), $15 (TCA)