By Julia Wedman, violin
One cloudy October morning in 2012, the orchestra met for our monthly meeting to catch up on any news from our staff, review marketing and finance reports, offer advice on new projects in the works, etc. The meeting was business as usual until Jeanne Lamon, our long-time Music Director, requested the orchestra's presence a little longer. Without much ado, she announced big news – she was retiring from her position as Music Director of Tafelmusik. For the first time ever in an orchestra meeting, the room was completely silent. I saw tears running down one of the other orchestra members’ faces, and felt them hot on my own cheeks. Finally someone, I think it was John Abberger, articulated "This news has left us speechless." We knew in the backs of our minds that this day was coming, but on that October day, we felt the news was shocking and sudden. We weren't ready. I think Jeanne was a little surprised by our reaction, but luckily she knew us well enough that she had brought prosecco to the meeting! We did our best to enthusiastically toast her leadership and new life, even though it was only 11:00 in the morning.
Over the next little while, we began the search for a new Music Director. The organization gathered together to choose an eleven-member "search committee" to oversee the whole process, which included musicians, staff, board members, and trusted advisors. Based on input from the whole organization, the search committee put together a job listing which encompassed Tafelmusik's core values, "deal-breakers," and hopes for the future. The orchestra mobilized and pored over recordings, YouTube videos, and websites of hundreds of baroque musicians to choose a small number of the most beloved to recommend that the search committee invite to perform with us as potential candidates for the MD position. The search committee painstakingly read and listened to many applications from talented musicians living all over the world.
Over the next two years, I had the opportunity, as one of the musicians on the search committee, to have a first-hand view of the search process. I saw how the orchestra grew and changed as we worked with each wonderful guest director. I saw how our feelings of despair over the news of Jeanne's retirement changed to acceptance and support for her new lifestyle and our new relationship with her. For us it was wonderful to have such a long process. We needed it. We became more flexible as a group, we became more open to new ideas, we became less reliant on Jeanne and more self-sufficient as a group. And as time passed, as a member of the search committee, I became less mystified by the orchestra's evaluations and audience comments after our weeks with guest directors, and more able to see what were the needs of this unique group of musicians and its dedicated staff members, board members, volunteers, and audience members.
One of the last guest musicians to be invited to be part of the search for a new Music Director came about due to a hole in our schedule. We had a concert in November 2015 with no director. We also happened to have just hired a new violist from Italy, Stefano Marcocchi. I remember talking to him one day backstage before a performance at Koerner Hall, describing all of the things I thought Tafelmusik was looking for in a new Music Director. The name that came first and foremost to his mind was a name we hadn't heard before – Elisa Citterio. He sent us an incredibly beautiful live recording of Elisa directing Corelli concerti grossi, and we were excited to discover an amazing new violinist!
Elisa came from Milan that November to play with us, and I was immediately struck by her incredible violin playing, her warm and vibrant personality, her confidence, her super-efficient rehearsal style, and her high level of attention to detail. Her style is a little different than ours – she uses a very sharp articulation (great for the new acoustics in Jeanne Lamon Hall at Trinity St. Paul's), and she loves the extreme dynamics typical of both historical and contemporary Italian musicians playing baroque music. That first week, it took the orchestra a few days to gel with her musically, but by the end of the week, everyone was having a wonderful time playing together. We loved her positive energy, her flawless technique, her creative ideas, and the way the music grew and changed every day, coming to life in different ways in each concert. The moment I will never forget that week was about three minutes into the first concert. The orchestra was feeling stressed (first-concert jitters) and I looked up at Elisa – she had a big beautiful smile on her face that said to me, "This is exactly the place I am supposed to be right now. I love this!" It was inspiring.
The second time we met Elisa (September 2016) was a much different experience, especially for Elisa! This time she and her partner Mirko brought their two-month-old daughter Olivia. Elisa was playing the very first concerts after her first child was born! We were stunned that in the face of utter exhaustion, Elisa still brought the same boundless energy and joy for the music with her. The rehearsals were organized and efficient, her ideas and cues were clear, creative, and easy to follow, and I don't think I heard one out-of-tune note from her during the entire rehearsal period and concerts! No matter how tired she seemed offstage, the minute she stepped in front of the orchestra, she had all of the energy in the world for us. We had a lot of fun playing those concerts with her, and many of us remarked how fresh Handel's Water Music (a piece we have played many times) felt under her direction. For an orchestra that plays as many concerts as we do (we have performed The Galileo Project over 70 times), the ability to keep music fresh and alive is essential.
At the beginning of the process, violinist Tom Georgi said to the orchestra at one of our many meetings, "We are going to see lots of people, and in the end, we are all going to agree." To my complete surprise, he was right. We saw a lot of people, and in the end were in complete agreement that Elisa was the person with whom we saw ourselves building a wonderful musical life. We were thrilled when we found out that the rest of the search committee agreed with us. They too saw the special qualities, both personal and musical, that make Elisa an ideal person for this position. We were even more thrilled when Elisa accepted our offer to become the new music director of Tafelmusik!!!
This process has been long but fruitful. We have had the luxury of time to find new ways of doing things, and forge new friendships with some of the baroque world's brightest stars. We all love Jeanne Lamon, and she continues to be such a valued part of this organization. We needed time to get used to her having a different role in Tafelmusik, and time to open our minds to change. Finally I feel like now we are ready to begin a new era, which will be different in countless ways, but similar in the ways that we hold so dear – Tafelmusik will continue to make great music together to the highest level with boundless energy and joy. I feel so lucky to be part of a group like this and I look forward to all of us developing a close new relationship with our wonderful new Music Director, Elisa Citterio.
Get to know Elisa - Read her biography, discography and more at tafelmusik.org/ElisaCitterio