Bach, Food, and the East Coast

By Brandon Chui, viola, guest 2017/18
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Charlottetown, PEI

Brandon Chui, violaFood – for me, it is that upon which the entire day is built; the day’s support pillars that are so important that a day’s simple routine (nevermind a complex routine!) just isn’t possible if this architecture has not been properly installed. I always worry about meals, often days in advance, especially when rehearsals and concerts are involved, and being on tour highlights how neurotic I am when it comes to feeding time. We’ve been on the road for four days so far, and while I’ve had a couple too many meals at a world-dominating fast-food chain which shall remain nameless (let’s just say that an Old Farmer with the same name has a song named after him), I’ve also had my fair share of smoked meat sandwiches and shawarma in Montreal to keep the days from turning into a raging dumpster fire.

If food provides my day’s architecture, it’s music that fills it with meaning. I’ve been looking forward to playing Tafelmusik’s innovative memorized program J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation since being booked for it back in January. Everyone’s learning curve is different, so I speak purely from a personal perspective — memorizing of this nature (viola parts, ie. the inner voices that are harder to memorize) takes months to prepare. There is the initial “installation,” and the constant updates and re-fortification to make sure there are no leaks. I started chiselling away in June while I was in Asia, and have been rechecking things right up until before the two concerts that we’ve played so far.

As prepared and confident as I was at our first concert in Montreal, I won’t lie, folks — I was terrified. Yes, rehearsals were incredibly fun, and it goes without saying the music is extraordinary in every way, but to have in the back of your mind, “Months of preparation and it comes down to now,” does not instill calm. There is something valuable that I learned from playing another Tafelmusik memorized program, The Galileo Project: little blips will occur here and there. These moments count for nothing; we are human and it happens. What does count is how you recover. It reminds me of something that conductor Jaap van Zweden said when I worked with him: “Nobody plays perfectly, but if you make a correction the fastest, you are the best.”

Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre of the Arts
Tafelmusik at the end of their performance at Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre of the Arts, Charlottetown, PEI. Photo: Lysiane Boulva

I’m writing this while en route to Charlottetown PEI after playing in Sackville NS last night, the second of six concerts on this Maritimes + Montreal tour. The two concerts so far have been those, “This is why I do this,” moments. While playing goodness-knows-how-many Imperial March(es) from The Empire Strikes Back has brought the house down every single time, it in no way compares to seeing, feeling, and hearing the uplifting spirit of Bach overwhelming the audience to elation and tears – I will take that any day over Darth. It’s simple, really: I ride for Bach, everyday. I can’t wait to get back at it at tonight’s concert at the Homburg Theatre in Charlottetown. But first thing’s first: pass over that lobster roll!


The orchestra has now performed in Charlottetown, PEI, at Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre of the Arts and Antigonish, NS, at Immaculata Auditorium, St Francis Xavier University, with thanks to the Antigonish Performing Arts Series. The tour continues tonight in Wolfville, NS, at Festival Theatre with the Acadia Performing Arts Series. The tour concludes on November 26 in Halifax, NS, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. More info at tafelmusik.org/Tours

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

Asia Tour 2016: Tafelmusik visits Shanghai

By Michelle Odorico, violin
Michelle Odorico joins the orchestra on her first Tafelmusik tour – and what a way to begin, travelling to China and South Korea and playing a fully memorized Bach program! We’re proud to say that Michelle is an alumna of Tafelmusik’s artist training programs: she was first introduced to baroque violin at the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in 2012, inspiring her to pursue a Master’s degree with Jeanne Lamon at the University of Toronto. She attended TBSI twice, and the Tafelmusik Winter Institute four times, last year featuring as concerto soloist. It’s been thrilling to see her playing with the orchestra this fall: in Opera Atelier’s production of Dido & Aeneas, and in our mainstage concerts celebrating the choir’s 35th anniversary. We asked her to submit a few blog entries while in Asia so that we could travel along with her on her first Tafelmusik tour.
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Welcome screenWe landed in Shanghai late afternoon on Wednesday. It was my first fourteen-hour flight, and as much as I enjoyed watching three movies back-to-back, I have a new-found respect for those who travel overseas on a regular basis. We were warmly greeted at the hotel with hot tea, flowers for Jeanne, and a “Welcome Tafelmusik” page on their lobby screen.

Thursday was our free day to recover from the long flight and adjust to the new time zone. I tagged along with violinist Julia Wedman and guest harpsichordist James Johnstone, who is here from London, England.

We planned to go to the Yu Gardens but we missed the entrance and ended up walking around the western wall of the gardens, where we absorbed the authentic feeling of the old city with its tiny streets and street vendors making food in front of their homes. There we nearly met our demise by Shanghai’s silent killer – the electric motorbike. They can come from any direction at any moment without warning and poor unsuspecting tourists would benefit greatly if they would use their bell.

We finally found the entrance to the gardens. Created in 1569, the Yù Yuán means the Garden of Happiness and was the largest and most prestigious garden in all of Shanghai. Our favourite part was the dragon and the beautiful tiled roofs. We stopped for a refreshment at the “local coffee shop” (aka Starbucks), and then walked through the main tourist area, which we immediately dubbed “Selfie Square”. Selfie sticks were in abundance and so we decided to join in ourselves.

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L-R: Julia Wedman, violin, James Johnstone, harpsichord, Michelle Odorico, violin

Many of us from the orchestra visited the South Bund Fabric Market on our free day. It is a three-story building filled with suits, coats, dresses, scarves, etc. There you can have the outfit of your choice in any material, colour, or size that you need — delivered to your hotel a few days later!

Friday was a full rehearsal day at the Shanghai Mass Arts Centre. We rehearsed in a dance studio and had a productive day, despite it feeling like the middle of the night.

Later that evening, a group of six of us wanted to go on a boat tour see the stunning architecture along the Huangpu River, which runs through the centre of the city. I took a taxi with violinists Jeanne Lamon and Patricia Ahern. In a second taxi were Alison MacKay (double bass), Allen Whear (cellist) and Raha Javanfar (projections designer). We ended up being dropped off at two different boarding stations and got on two different boats. Jeanne spotted them on the other boat as they passed us.

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Shanghai architecture

On Saturday we had a rehearsal with David Zhang — (our narrator for the Chinese performance), who learned the show remarkable quickly and whose beautiful English helped the rehearsal process tremendously. In the afternoon we had a small but appreciative audience of patrons from the Shanghai Mass Arts Center.

That evening, we went to a really cool area — the French Concession — and had dinner at the fantastic “Green and Safe” restaurant. It is right across from the Shanghai Conservatory where cellist Allen Whear taught and performed earlier this year and has a bright and warm atmosphere — both the food and company were wonderful!

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L-R: Allen Whear, cello; Patricia Ahern, violin; Christopher Verrette, violin; Julia Wedman, violin; James Johnstone, harpsichord; Allison Mackay, double bass.