Christopher Verrette, violin
Setting out on tour often reminds me of the opening chapter of La Lenteur, by Milan Kundera, in which a scene of fast-paced modern traffic leads to a reflection on a very different journey taken in an eighteenth-century tale and culminates in an encounter between two characters from different eras. I already had this book on my mind because Baroque London, the programme we are touring, begins with a similar time-bending twist: either the mostly forgotten eighteenth-century oboist, Mr. Richard Neale, has inexplicably arrived on a 21st-century stage, or Tafelmusik has been transported back in time to his London rooming house. Either way, we don't quite know what to make of each other at first, but find in the end that we have a lot in common. There is a time-bending paradox in all our touring, actually, in that we have chosen archaic instruments and repertoire as our medium but are heavily reliant on modern technologies as soon as we take it out of town.
In imagining an eighteenth-century trip from what is now Toronto to what is now Barrie, the first obstacle encountered would be the lack of any road - certainly not one that could accommodate vehicular travel, even the horse and carriage used by Kundera's characters. Only at the end of the century, well after Mr. Neale had pawned his oboes, would John Graves Simcoe build Yonge Street to connect York to the lake he renamed after his father. Barrie sits on a spot on the west bay of the lake and was unknown to Europeans at Neale's time. Around 1812, it came to the attention of the Hudson's Bay Company, a firm which would have been known to Neale. The First Nations people, of course, were already aware of the value of this site as a convenient place to rest before making the portage to waterways farther west that could carry them to Lake Huron. The Royal Navy would later use it on the supply route to Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay. We will be going to Lake Huron on Monday, but on roads, in a bus, unless there is something we are not being told...
Friday's snowstorm was a reminder that our Ontario touring sometimes takes place at the worst possible time of the year, and while we have rarely if ever had to cancel or postpone an event, we have frequently had to make adjustments due to the compromised health of the players. Such is the case today: harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger has just rejoined us, while still recovering from a series of nasty bugs, but oboist Marco Cera has just been stricken with his second flu of the season. I always find the resilience and resourcefulness of the players to regroup at times like this inspiring: Jeanne Lamon, Cristina Zacharias, and guest flautist Grégoire Jeay all take over parts of Marco's onstage work, while the demanding off-stage task of animating the struggles of the-music-student-that-lives-downstairs goes to Aisslinn Nosky. R. H. Thomson makes appropriate changes to the script: thus,"Robert" becomes "Roberta" and a violinist instead of an oboist. A Baroque opera musician like Mr. Neale would have been quite at home with the gender-bending aspect of this. It is also fun to be able to say to a colleague as a compliment, "You never sounded worse!"
In rehearsal at Hi-Way Pentacostal Church, Barrie
St. Jude's Anglican Church in Oakville is only a short block from a beautiful waterfront park from which you can see downtown Toronto in the distance, so this is not exactly being on tour, as such, but the room is acoustically flattering to the orchestra and we are able to do the show without microphones for the narrator. It is a narrower stage area than usual, however, so some impromptu re-blocking is necessary. It is an appropriate place to be presenting this show in another way, too. Those of you that heard Baroque London in Toronto may remember a section in which Mr. Neale describes the felling of great old oak trees for the building of ships, in this case naval vessels. (This is a theme I have used a couple times this year in membership talks as well.) Oakville takes its name from the trees that grew here and were used for barrel-making and shipbuilding. The name St. Jude's is no accident - a patron saint of sailors - and a sign on a house across the street, evidently one of the oldest, reads: "1834 Thomas and John Sweeney ship carpenters." We also hear in the script of Baroque London that Mr. Neale avoided service in the Royal Navy that may have sent him to the Canadian wilderness.
Having just reported that cancellations are uncommon, we have been informed en route to Goderich that our education concert this afternoon will not take place, as the buses that would bring the students have been cancelled. We will do our warmup rehearsal in the afternoon anyway, so that those students that can walk there can still attend. A characteristically Tafelmusik reaction to this state of affairs is to make an "emergency" stop in Stratford, at the Revel Caffe, which is run by David Campion and his wife, Anne. Many of you will know Dave as our timpani player and can look forward to hearing him pound out the final notes of Mozart's Requiem next week. A Tafelmusik contingent invaded the place at its former location across the street last August when we were playing at Stratford Summer Music, but this is the first time we have seen the new, larger space in a former feed and seed building, featuring wood counters recycled from an old bowling alley. Not surprisingly, actor R. H. Thomson runs into a colleague there; it is the first day of rehearsals for the next Stratford Festival.
Allen Whear at Revel Caffe, Stratford
Once on the road again, we pass through the town of Seaforth, birthplace of Charlotte Nediger, minutes after Edwin Huizinga has explained to me that he was born in Orangeville, which will be our final stop tomorrow. This is becoming a sort of homecoming trip!
Visiting David Campion (glasses) at his Revel Caffè