On Wednesday, September 16, following a long period of silence imposed by the global pandemic, Tafelmusik musicians gathered to rehearse together at the orchestra’s home base for the first time in more than six months. Despite the implementation of unprecedented safety protocols —masks, mylar screens, and a two metre distance between musicians — the musicians' emotions were stronger than ever as their first notes filled Jeanne Lamon Hall.
As Tafelmusik prepares for Mozart Together, the opening virtual concert of the season, we asked three musicians — Music Director Elisa Citterio, Patricia Ahern, violin, and Keiran Campbell, cello — to share their experiences of that first rehearsal.
Q: Describe your feelings when the first notes were played in rehearsal last week.
A: Patricia Ahern
This week we are playing chamber music, and I’m playing in two different quintets. The first piece we rehearsed was the oboe quintet by Družeckŷ. None of us have ever played this piece before, so everything is new and fresh. I love playing pieces that are brand new to me, because the musicians can make musical decisions on the spot, instead of relying on past performances. In a way, it’s like playing contemporary music, where musicians have the opportunity to form a musical interpretation about mood, tempo, etc., from their own reactions to the composition rather than previous concerts or recordings. I’m reminded of Toscanini’s quote, “Tradition is last night’s bad performance.”
A: Keiran Campbell
I was very excited to start playing with everyone again. I was really lucky to spend most of this COVID year quarantining with my partner, who is a fantastic violinist based in New York, so I wasn’t starved of chamber music over the summer! However, something about being back in Jeanne Lamon Hall and rehearsing with everyone felt like coming home, even after only having played half of my first season! I’m looking forward to upcoming projects when we have everyone playing together again.
A: Elisa Citterio:
I have been playing music with other people since I was a toddler and I only stopped because of the pandemic. Coming back to work and playing with my colleagues has been heartwarming. I was really looking forward to that moment and I enjoyed it a lot. Each musician was so engaged, and we had a great time playing and chatting about the music. It seemed more like a casual meeting of musicians who want to have fun playing together than a working rehearsal. It felt a little bit like the first day of school, when you don’t know what to expect but you are also very excited.
Q: What surprised you most about this first rehearsal together? What, if anything, has changed?
The safety protocols! We have specific instructions about what door to enter from, which way to walk, having our temperature taken, filling out a form asking whether we have a headache, sore throat, etc. The distanced set up is also quite different: we each have our own music stand and we keep two metres apart and wear masks. The wind players have plastic shields around them.
Elisa decided to have us seated in a circle, which is so much fun for interacting and playing together. It is odd that because of the masks, we can’t tell if people are smiling! But there are tons of smiles, I’m sure, because we are having a great time!
Being socially distanced did make everything a lot harder to hear, much more than I expected. It forces me to look and listen much more closely, and I have to really make sure I know what’s going on in my part (as in, having larger chunks of it more or less memorized) because I have to spend almost all of my time watching Elisa’s bow!
We rehearse wearing masks and respecting all social distancing rules. I can’t say that this is the easiest way for us to catch all the nuances of the sound, or to hear each other very well, but I was truly surprised that our motivation was so strong that we found ways to connect differently. Of course, eye contact is amplified, which is great, and in order to facilitate that, we were able to change our regular set-up to face each other. Anyway, I have to say that after a few minutes, we felt like we were back home.
Q: What have you missed the most about playing together with your colleagues?
I have really missed my colleagues. We are like a family, and I know many people have had the feeling lately of not being able to spend time with family members they love because of the isolation caused by COVID. Our Tafel family has been in touch over Zoom meetings since last March, but it’s just not the same as being there in-person. In a typical season, the opening September rehearsal is like a reunion where we tell each other all about the exciting things we’ve done all summer. Of course, the mood is different this year because most of us haven’t travelled anywhere, haven’t seen relatives, and haven’t had wonderful concerts.
I think I missed the challenge of playing in a larger group and carefully listening to everyone. There’s something about the bath of sound created by string instruments playing together that can sometimes feel pretty therapeutic!
The first time I played in an orchestra it was such an overwhelming experience that I almost cried. I was 11 years old and decided that was what I wanted to do with my life. The exchange with the other musicians emphasizes our feelings and creates a unique experience which cannot be repeated. I really missed being part of that synergy.