Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra on Monday Night at the Symphony
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra on Monday Night at the Symphony
(Photo credit: Dahlia Katz)
Tonight, Monday Night at the Symphony features the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, an orchestra that performs historically-inspired classical performances spanning the Classical, Baroque, and Romantic periods. Dedicated to furthering knowledge of musicology, the orchestra’s members are well-trained in historical performance and their website offers multiple articles on the music they play, performance practice, and the way the past and the present intersect. Here, we present an interview with Dominic Teresi, Artistic Co-Director of Tafelmusik.
What do you appreciate about performing with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra?
Playing with this group is an extraordinary opportunity. All of the core musicians of our orchestra are also scholars. I have discovered that the research is always demanding. We care about the details. The depth of exploration and understanding that we collectively bring to this music is exciting and enriching for performers and audience alike. We shine a light on a treasure trove of brilliant music from many centuries, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic, as well as new music for our instruments. Our approach follows historical models – for example, when we play Baroque repertoire, we are led by a playing leader rather than a conductor. Conductors for later repertoire have told us that they love working with such a skilled and dedicated ensemble.
It is gratifying for our work to be appreciated so intensely by audiences around the world.
How has the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra fostered a wider appreciation for Early Music?
As a radio station, you will appreciate that I came to be intrigued by period performances through the radio! I remember hearing Bach, Zelenka, Mozart, Beethoven, and numerous others on period instruments for the very first time on the radio, and it was eye- and ear-opening. Radio has been complemented by streaming services these days, and the impact is similar. It’s been important and rewarding to hear more music by trailblazing composers Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Louise Farrenc online, for example.
Tafelmusik has exciting recording releases planned for the future. The distribution of our albums worldwide via radio and streaming platforms allows us to reach many listeners, and we are very grateful for that. Our education initiatives also foster a wide appreciation for Early Music. The Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI) attracts participants from all over the world, offering intensive study for advanced amateurs and pre-professionals. TBSI also offers free concerts with students and faculty for our community. We also offer, free to the public, in-depth Listening Guides devoted to specific composers.
Over the years, numerous audience members have told me that they first heard Tafelmusik in their communities – on a series at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Botanical Garden, or at Toronto’s Harbourfront, for example. Thanks to partnerships with local and national organizations including hospitals and seniors’ homes, we have been able to make our historically informed digital performances available to an even wider audience. We’re also very committed to direct outreach in our schools.
During the pandemic, we became more active online, producing concert films and digital content including a continuing series of informal panel discussions called Tafel Talks. We are thrilled to resume live concerts and are also continuing to offer some of our season online.
What kind of difficulties do you come across while performing with historically-informed instruments? What makes this different from performing in a modern orchestra?
As a historical wind player, for each musical period, there is at least one distinct instrument to play. For 17th-century music (early Baroque), I play the dulcian, a precursor to the bassoon. I have dulcians at two different pitches depending on musical needs. For later Baroque music, I have three Baroque bassoons at different pitches. For Classical music, I have a Classical bassoon. And for certain Romantic music I have a Romantic bassoon. Each instrument requires its own reeds that I make, and reeds regularly need to be replaced as they often wear out. There is a lot of patient craftsmanship involved before I even get to practicing, rehearsal, and performance. I am lucky that my colleagues are equally committed and hard-working, so we can offer music-making at the highest level.
What do you think draws musicians and the public alike to historically informed performances?
There is nothing like exposure. We have built a strong following at home and abroad by making it easy for people to hear us in person, on the radio, or online, and once they listen they tend to come back. Our busy mainstage series, school programs, concerts in the community, and TBSI are all critically important.
Tafelmusik has influenced listeners to discover how our instruments and approaches allow this music to come alive in accessible and communicative ways. Rhetorical devices that can be lost with modern instruments are easily audible and incredibly captivating with the best period ensembles. It is not surprising that the work of ensembles such as Tafelmusik have influenced the creation of strong programs in higher education, including a thriving Historical Performance department at The Juilliard School, which would have been unthinkable decades ago.
A year ago, your ‘Yorkville Meets Baroque: Cafe Counterculture’ program explored the relationship between the Baroque era and the burgeoning countercultural movement in the 60s. Where did the idea of exploring this come from? What other historical relationships is Tafelmusik interested in exploring in the future?
Café Counterculture was a fun project that came about through conversations between our oboist Marco Cera and local jazz bassist and composer Andrew Downing. They discovered some fascinating similarities between the musical scenes of 18th-century Leipzig and the Toronto neighborhood of Yorkville during the 1960s. In both cases, cafés were meeting places where one could listen to exciting music while sipping coffee and hanging out with friends. Telemann and Bach led hugely popular music series in a local café in Leipzig, and centuries later, fantastic artists such as Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot drew crowds in Yorkville cafes. As Marco and Andrew explored further, it turned out there were some direct musical connections; for example, Paul Simon wrote a piece based on a Bach work. Café Counterculture juxtaposed original music from 18th-century Leipzig with music by Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, and others in fresh arrangements by Andrew Downing. He is working on a new program for us called British Invasion, which also sounds fantastic – stay tuned!
Tell me about an experience you had recording a new piece of music.
Tafelmusik has commissioned a significant amount of new music for our instruments over the years, always an enriching opportunity. We had a very special recent recording opportunity. Several years ago, Tafelmusik premiered a piece by our cellist Allen Whear called Short Story. The piece is based on a tune by Purcell, and it showcases Allen’s creativity and love of film music.
Allen sadly passed away early in 2022, and we programmed Short Story on our opening season concert in September in a performance that was dedicated to him. We recorded the live performances and captured a performance that we were proud to share more broadly. The performance audio of Short Story was used in a tribute video sharing wonderful photos of Allen and the orchestra, as well as live concert footage – you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfhL50zy3PU
Listen to Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra during Monday Night at the Symphony at 8 p.m. eastern tonight on The Classical Station. You can listen online at TheClassicalStation.org, on 89.7 FM, or on the App.