When we launched Tafelmusik’s 2019/20 season at Koerner Hall last September, none of us could have imagined that six months later, the stage would be dark, our offices would be shuttered, and that we would be announcing the cancellation of several concerts. In a matter of just a few days in mid-March, Tafelmusik musicians and staff were quick to pivot their collective energy towards this new reality by creating moments of joy for our followers to share online.
Amid the grief we are all feeling for what’s been lost, mingled with fear and uncertainty about the future, let’s not forget about our accomplishments over the past six months. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the wonderfully creative, transcendent moments we have shared through the power of music and the strength of our community.
During the first six months of the 2019/20 season—the second curated by Elisa Citterio—Tafelmusik blazed new trails while enhancing its status as a global leader in period performance. The orchestra’s artistic boundaries were stretched through the exploration of new repertoire including the world premieres of five of the six commissions from contemporary composers this season—Pyotr’s Dream by Andrew Balfour, Italian Soundscapes by Guido Morini, Kadosh/Sanctus/Holy by James Rolfe, Gone with the Winds by Cecilia Livingston, and Jupiter by Vittorio Ghielmi.
The Indigo Project with Suba and Trichy Sankaran, and Cynthia Smithers at Jeanne Lamon Hall
Other important highlights and artistic milestones since September include Tafelmusik meets Tchaikovsky, a performance that was “bursting with confidence” (Barcza Blog) — the orchestra’s first-ever foray into the music of late Romantic composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; the premiere of The Indigo Project, the “immensely engaging and enlightening” (Toronto Concert Reviews) multimedia program by Alison Mackay with master percussionist Trichy Sankaran, vocalist Suba Sankaran, and narrator and vocalist Cynthia Smithers; and O Come Shepherds with Ensemble Vesuvius and zampognaro Tommaso Sollazzo, a heartwarming program celebrating Italy’s pastoral Christmas music traditions which the Toronto Star declared “one of the finest concerts to be offered so far this season in Toronto.”
Acclaimed artists Vittorio Ghielmi and Suba and Trichy Sankaran made their Tafelmusik debuts this season, and we welcomed two new amazingly gifted core orchestra members, Keiran Campbell, cello, and Pippa Macmillan, double bass, who moved to Toronto to join our continuo section.
The Chamber Choir in Lotti Revealed at Jeanne Lamon Hall
Under the direction of Ivars Taurins, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir performed the music of the Venetian master Antonio Lotti for the first time, notably the Missa Sapientiae (Mass of Wisdom). “The sound was full, balanced and expertly shaped. Taurins seems to be increasing his demand for dramatic immediacy in the choir’s expression, and it works well.” (Toronto Star)
Café Counterculture with vocalist Alex Samaras and bassist Andrew Downing at the Burdock Music Hall
On October 10, our sold-out Haus Musik packed The Burdock Music Hall with Café Counterculture, a program that co-mingled café culture in 1730s Leipzig and 1960s Yorkville.Curated by Marco Cera with guest artists Andrew Downing, double bass, and Alex Samaras, vocals, Café Counterculture paired sonatas by Bach and friends with new arrangements of iconic songs by Buffy Saint-Marie, Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, and others.
On September 20, we were thrilled to release Vivaldi con amore, the orchestra’s first recording with Elisa Citterio. Gramophone praised our “attention-grabbing return to the recording studio recording,” showcasing Citterio and members of the orchestra in concertos for violin, oboe, bassoon, and lute, and underlining the level of virtuosity across the ensemble.“There’s a determined beauty to their sweetly rich, gently vibrating sound ... precision and poetry comes wonderfully together."
Quite coincidentally, Tafelmusik’s first digital-only release on March 20 couldn’t have been better timed as concert halls fell silent and our audiences turned increasingly to online platforms. Baroque for the Brain: Music to Study By is a playlist of invigorating music by Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven curated by Music Director Emerita Jeanne Lamon. The digital album was shared by the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Public Library on their learning platforms.
This season, the orchestra has reached millions of people through digital media including Stingray, a premium multiplatform provider with 20 million subscribers in 40 countries. In late 2019 and early 2020, three of Tafelmusik’s signature, award-winning multimedia programs created by Alison Mackay — Tales of Two Cities, House of Dreams, and The Galileo Project — were featured on Stingray Classica through its international cable network and Video on Demand (VOD) services.
Soprano Karina Gauvin with Tafelmusik at Concertgebouw, Bruges
Against the backdrop of Brexit, in November 2019 Tafelmusik returned to the UK for its Love & Betrayal Tour. The superb Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin joined the orchestra for concerts at The Anvil, Basingstoke; St George’s, Bristol; the Concertgebouw, Bruges; and Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican Centre, London. Several musicians were featured in a live studio mini-concert and interview for BBC Radio, which also recorded the Barbican Centre Love & Betrayal concert for broadcast. On January 12, Canadian audiences were able to tune into a rebroadcast of the performance on CBC Music’s “In Concert” hosted by Paolo Pietropaolo.
Tafelmusik’s local, national, and international profile was also enhanced this season by high-profile media coverage including an episode of CBC's This is My Music hosted by Elisa Citterio in September; a news feature dedicated to O Come Shepherds by Italy’s national public broadcaster, RAI TV; Elisa’s appearance on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin in December; an interview with Carol Kehoe for Early Music America Magazine; a Tafelmusik cover story for the February/March issue of La Scena Musicale; a January feature on Elisa’s work with Tafelmusik in the newspaper Il Giornale di Brescia, and a number of concert and CD reviews published in publications in the U.S., the U.K., Spain, Italy, and Norway. Several high-profile Canadians with thousands of followers including Margaret Atwood, John Ralston Saul, Julie Nesrallah, and Eleanor Wachtel gave enthusiastic social media shout-outs to Tafelmusik.
As part of its growing commitment to contributing to community life in a meaningful way, this season Tafelmusik undertook several community initiatives in different GTA neighbourhoods including North York, Etobicoke, Bloordale, and The Annex. Each event was designed to connect with audiences and encourage feedback.
East meets West with Alon Nashman at Cloverdale Mall
We were thrilled to partner with Arts Etobicoke for the first time to present our Neighbourhood Concert East meets West on September 24. This sold out one-hour, family-friendly concert at Cloverdale Mall was based on Alison Mackay’s Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House and featured narrator Alon Nashman, Trio Arabica, and members of Tafelmusik in a blend of European baroque music, traditional Arabic song and Klezmer.
Small groups of Tafelmusik musicians connected with new audiences in October thanks to Nuit Blanche performances in a Mongolian yurt at the Aga Khan Museum, and a one-hour chamber music concert for refugees at the Toronto Plaza Hotel, which is under contract with the City of Toronto to house some 500 homeless people and asylum seekers.
Family-friendly concerts included Tafelmusik's second annual Fall Social, a celebration for the Annex community, and performances of Messiah choruses at the Winter Village at Evergreen Brick Works. As part of our partnership with Evergreen, one dollar per each concert ticket sold for our regular Messiah performances went towards their Don River Valley revitalization efforts.
Education and community engagement was a key element of The Indigo Project, which featured student choirs from Earl Haig and Unionville Secondary Schools alongside members of Tafelmusik Chamber Choir.Grade 10 students at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute took part in a collaborative experiment in indigo dyeing. Under the mentorship of art teacher Hilary Masemann and textile designer Kate Austin, the students created blue squares embellished with their own personal tokens representing the bonds of friendship and family. The squares were combined to create a beautiful quilt, which was displayed at all of our Indigo performances.
O Come, Shepherds with Marco Cera and Tommaso Sollazzo at Jeanne Lamon Hall
Tafelmusik’s relationship with Toronto’s Italian community flourished this season through several partnerships and initiatives including a roundtable discussion with leaders and influencers in November; a performance by Tafelmusik musicians at IT@CA 2019, an international conference featuring such distinguished speakers as Oscar Farinetti, the founder of EATALY; a public Q&A with Elisa Citterio and Vittorio Ghielmi hosted by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura; an indoor/outdoor processional performed by Marco Cera and Tommaso Sollazzo to inaugurate the Italian Consulate’s Christmas party; and an Italian-infused CD launch party at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura to mark the release of Vivaldi con amore.
Fast forward several months to March 17 and the new reality of life under COVID-19: despite the considerable challenges from mandated social and physical distancing, Tafelmusik launched #TafelmusikTogether, a new digital initiative that has caught Gramophone’s eye and has garnered resounding public feedback. Short solo performances and other artistic content is being shared daily from musicians’ living rooms, allowing Tafelmusik’s followers to gather virtually on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to share moments of beauty and joy through music of the past. Major projects include 3 short creative video performances by the full orchestra and choir, a five-concert solo and duo concert series from Tafelmusik musicians’ homes, a gelato delivery partnership with Death in Venice gelato, and our first Tafel Talk panel discussion exploring the parallels between careers in music and medicine.
Each time Tafelmusik performs, whether it’s on tour in China or on Manitoulin Island, at home in Jeanne Lamon Hall, or in living rooms that have become our new virtual concert hall, we are reminded that the language of music is universal. While our stages may be dark for the time being, we see music as a way of building bridges and engaging audiences across a wide spectrum. Music and the arts are, after all, an expression of our collective humanity and play an important role in our well-being, especially now.
We have been busy exploring all possible options for our 2020/21 season and look forward to announcing an update soon. We have no doubt that thanks to the ingenuity and imagination of our musicians and staff, we will create something viable and joyous for this new reality. We are more committed than ever to creating an experience that celebrates beauty through music of the past.
In the meantime, before the summer matures, let’s take a moment to celebrate you, our audiences, for your support of all that was accomplished together and shared in the 2019/20 season.
Tafelmusik meets Tchaikovsky at Koerner Hall
Image credits: Heirloom IV (Adore), detail, by Dina Torrans • The Indigo Project, Lotti Revealed, and O Come, Shepherds by Dahlia Katz • Café Counterculture by Russel Druiven • East meets West by Jeremy Small • Tafelmusik meets Tchaikovsky by SK Photography