What’s cooking at TWI this year?

Ruth Denton. Photo: Emily Ding

By Ruth Denton, oboe and box office staff

T-What?
The Tafelmusik Winter Institute, affectionately called TWI (pronounced Tee-Wee, rhymes with kiwi), is a week-long intensive study program for experienced period musicians. This year we will be focussing on music performed in France during the baroque era.

Ingredients

  • 40 musicians
  • 10 Tafelmusik mentors
  • 27.5 hours of orchestra rehearsal
  • 3 baroque dance classes
  • masterclasses
  • 1 amazing admin team
  • 1 concert

    Ruth’s baroque oboe. Harry Vas Dias Oboe by THOMAS STANESBY, SR., c. 1700, after original in the Hamamatsu City Museum, Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, ex Rosenbaum Collection.

Musicians come from all over the world
TWI typically hosts young professional musicians from Canada and our neighbours in the US, but has also included students from France, South America, and even Australia! These musicians are attracted by the international reputation Tafelmusik has gained for their expertise in Historically Informed Performance* and their dynamic performances.

*Historically Informed Performance (HIP)
Historically Informed Performance is a practice and an approach to music that involves studying the manner and style of the era in which a work was originally conceived.

HIP can be compared to making an old bread recipe written in the seventeenth century. You research what ingredients and tools were used and do your best to find or reproduce them. You read historical books on bread-making, trying to uncover tips and tricks. This helps you interpret the scripted recipe. Finally you try it out. At TWI we have the opportunity to learn from people who have devoted their careers to the musical equivalent of historical bread-making. They not only share their expertise, but help guide us in our own research and explorations.

Because this is a French TWI, we have the luxury of countless treatises – the French loved to write these musical equivalents of cookbooks. Some treatises even include a legend to the markings in their scores; a literal guide on how to play their music.

Ornamentation “legend” from treatise – Hotteterre: Pièces pour la flûte traversiere, Op.2, second edition (1715)

We also have a chance to look at the early editions and manuscript copies of the scores of the music we are playing, and to discuss how to use these sources to create performing editions. The editions we are using at TWI were prepared by Tafelmusik librarian and keyboardist, Charlotte Nediger.

Manuscript – Rebel: Les Élémens: Le Chaos (1737)

Tafelmusik Mentors
Jeanne Lamon directs the orchestra from her violin in many hours of orchestral rehearsal, but also holds an expectation of leadership from the concertmaster and other section leaders in the orchestra. Tafelmusik mentors from each section of the orchestra spend time coaching sectionals, teaching masterclasses, offering fellowship, and a listening ear to any curious questions participants may have.

TWI-Tip: (I have learned) most questions are best received and answered when accompanied with a beverage …

Music now, questions later
Over the six days before the concert, we have 27.5 hours devoted to orchestral rehearsal. In rehearsal breaks we commune over cups of tea and snacks in the Tafelmusik office. The time between rehearsals is short, but gives us time to bond with fellow participants and to practise. The TWI schedule also includes an open discussion about careers and performing, pub nights, and a seminar focussed on French performance practice (*HIP in baroque France).

Dance (Feuillet) notation “menuet d’Exaudet, Principes de chorégraphie de Magny (París, 1765)”

Bring your dancing shoes!
During the week we will be (re-)introduced to the world of baroque dance by Jeannette Lajeunesse-Zingg, Co-Artistic Director and Choreographer of Opera Atelier. Participants: expect to be humbled, and/or amazed by your colleagues’ ability (or lack thereof) to remember dance steps and gracefully accomplish the minuet.

What happens in masterclass
Masterclasses offer participants the opportunity for individual performance and teaching. Each instrument has its own classes, and each participant has chosen a French solo sonata or suite to play for their colleagues, and to work on in detail with their class teacher. I am preparing a suite from Les goûts-réunis by François Couperin. I am especially glad to play another suite written for two oboes by Pierre Danican Philidor, oboist & great-great-nephew of the Philidor who designed the baroque oboe with Hotteterre.

The Dream Team
TWI is largely managed by the dream team: Charlotte Nediger, Caitlin Cross, and Mara Brown. These three have put countless hours into planning and thinking through logistics of this annual event, and that reflects in the many participants (like me, third time’s the charm!) who return or (I would highly) recommend the program to their colleagues.

As a lucky member of the Tafelmusik staff team, I cannot express what it means to me to be a member of the Tafel-family. My experience as a young artist and new Torontonian has been shaped by the attitude, mentoring, and example of the individuals in the orchestra, choir, and staff. These amazing people live and work for others, and sometimes short of a miracle, that teamwork (and some stubbornness) has been the cause of many enriching and successful events. I am particularly grateful knowing they will be the ones working behind the scenes to make TWI 2018 another one of those successes.

Lully, Rebel, Campra, Rameau, and more!
All the hard work and preparation finally culminates in a Pay-What-You-Can public performance on Wednesday January 10, 2018 at 7:30PM in Jeanne Lamon Hall. Including operatic music by Louis XIV’s composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, the king of French opera (doomed to die by his own baton); Lully’s student Jean-Féry Rebel; André Campra, who followed Lully’s footsteps writing tragédies en musique and opéra-ballets; and lastly the dramatic composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. This is the real test: come and taste what we’ve been cooking!

Baroque 101: “C’est L’anche Qui Donne La Vie!”

By Marco Cera, oboe

Marco Cera, oboe. Photo by Sian Richards
Marco Cera, oboe

As a double-reed player I often get asked questions about my reeds. Why is a reed made out of bamboo? How long does a reed last? Where do you buy them? Why is it called “double reed”? Well, the topic is very complex and it would take a week-long symposium just to scratch the surface. Here I offer some useful information to satisfy your curiosity!

The term “double reed” comes from the fact that there are two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. A single reed consists of one piece of cane that vibrates against a mouthpiece. Double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon; single-reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone.

The role of the reed on the oboe and bassoon has been compared to that of the bow on the violin. The reed is the tool that produces the sound, and that allows the player to control dynamics, intonation, tone quality, articulation, and expression. In other words, it is the reed that gives life to the music: “C’est l’anche qui donne la vie!”

As you can imagine, delicate and fragile reeds are very crucial tools for oboists and bassoonists, and the struggle to find the perfect reed never ends! The importance of finding a good reed was well known already in the baroque era. In his famous treatise of 1752, Quantz wrote: “As for the tone quality of these two instruments [oboe and bassoon] much depends on the quality of the reed, and specifically, whether it is made of good, well-seasoned cane, whether it has the appropriate diameter that is neither too wide, nor too short, and that it is scraped neither too thinly nor left too thick.”

Musicians as Craftsmen

Most oboists spend a large part of their time making reeds: more than they actually spend playing their instrument! By necessity, oboe and bassoon players are not only musicians, but also craftsmen. Buying a baroque reed in a music store is not a possibility: there are few options available in the market, and they are low quality. There is very little documentation describing reed-making before 1780, which presents another challenge for those players who, like me, are dedicated to the baroque oboe and early reeds. There must have been a rich oral tradition handed down from teacher to student in the baroque era, which is forever lost to us.

Even though the internet offers articles on a scientific approach to reed-making — studies on the physics and engineering of a reed — I find the subject to be very mysterious and controversial. This might explain the curious inclination of oboists to sit for hours discussing reed scrapes, staples dimensions (staples are the metal tubes that hold the reed), diamond stones for knifes sharpening … sometimes even blaming climate change or global warming for the poor quality of the cane they are using!

The Process

The making of a reed starts by choosing the right material. Oboe players have been using a specific species of cane called arundo donax (a plant similar to bamboo) for centuries. Musical sources from the early nineteenth century spoke of the superior qualities of the cane in Frejus, near Marseille. This is the area from which most reed players still get their cane today.

The lengthy and laborious process of making a reed includes gouging, soaking, shaping, tying, scraping, refining … I’m sure it sounds like fun, but I can guarantee that this never-ending task can become quite … boring! (I have met oboe players who tried to teach their wives to make reeds to avoid the job!)

Personally, I like to concentrate my reed-making work during the summer. I spend my summers in Italy and my theory is that the weather, landscape, good food, and social support from reed-geek friends help me to succeed in the often tedious duty.

The worst of it is that most of the reeds an oboist makes turn out to be unusable. Oboe reeds are notoriously unpredictable since they are made from cane, an organic material. A finished reed that starts by emitting a few perfect notes may die abruptly in the middle of a concert. Another reed can last for weeks, survive the dry winter in Toronto, and end the season in triumph!


Students in reed-making class at Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute


Our children’s album, Baroque Adventure : The Quest for Arundo Donax will entice the imagination of young listeners and their parents alike!

 


Hear Marco perform in Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation, Nov 29-Dec 3, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

 

Get to Know The Bernardinis, Father/Daughter duo

For our upcoming concert in April, Bach: Keeping it in the Family, we invited the father/daughter duo Alfredo and Cecilia Bernardini to co-guest direct this (almost) all-Bach program. Both have performed with Tafelmusik in the past but it’s been a while since our last catch-up.

How did you come to decide to be a musician?

Cecilia Bernardini: As I little girl I fell in love with the violin; the longer I played it the more I became sure I wanted to become a violinist. The musicians’ life of my father and his friends seemed attractive and exciting!

Alfredo Bernardini: I sang in a choir and played the recorder as a child. When I heard my first Bach cantata aged 14 I decided I wanted to become an oboist and play that wonderful music.

What was your first music gig?

CB: It was a Schubert sonatina and a Mozart sonata (I think…) in a beautiful Orangerie somewhere in the Dutch countryside, when I was about twelve.

AB: Playing Handel’s opera Ariodante with Tafelmusik  at the Scala in Milan in April 1982, with Jeanne Lamon leading, Alan Curtis conducting and my teacher Bruce Haynes playing principal oboe!

What is your ‘guilty pleasure’ music to listen to?

CB: Stéphane Grappelli, Jacques Brel, Björk.. Although I don’t feel particularly guilty  about that!

AB: Rossini ouvertures and Latin American rhythmic music.

What are the last three songs/pieces you’ve listened to (on your iPod or phonograph)?

CB: “Royal Consort” of William Lawes by Ensemble Phantasm, Bach violin unaccompanied sonatas by Lucy van Dael and “The Willow song” from Othello (anonymous)

AB: Schumann symphonies, Les voix bulgares, Gesualdo’s madrigals.

What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?

CB: Going for a bike ride in the countryside, visiting my relatives in Amsterdam, or simply enjoying a good book and a glass of wine.

AB: Go to the peak of a mountain and find silence

You often perform together. What is the experience like, to work together as father and daughter?

CB: It’s wonderful; because we know each other so well there is a deep and natural musical understanding between us. The fact that we play two different instruments means that we can look at the same piece from slightly different angles.

AB: It’s an incredible pleasure and fulfillment to combine my two favourite things together: family and music.

In these concerts you are co-directing. How does that work?

CB: I usually leave it to my father to give the big outline and try to help where possible. Obviously I take the lead when it’s strings only. It does help to discuss things in advance so that we don’t end up contradicting each other by accident!

AB: I suppose we try not to interfere with one another too much. For that, it’s important to establish in advance how to share the pieces and the tasks.

Join us for Bach: Keeping it in the Family at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre from April 5–9, 2017. Tickets are available here.