"The phenomenal success of Tafelmusik's playing lies in its unique sound, praised for its orthodoxy, polish and exuberance—a sound which has achieved world-class status for this orchestra, regarded by many as one of the best Baroque ensembles on the international stage," wrote Marilyn Emerson in The Strad. One of Canada's most successful orchestras—both financially and musically—Tafelmusik performs period music on period instruments, endeavouring to cover the music from around 1600 to 1830 in its repertoire.
When Tafelmusik—the name is German for "Music for the Table"—was formed, such a lofty future could not have been predicted. Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves, who had studied the art of performing Baroque-era (1600-1750) orchestral music on original instruments in Europe, founded the orchestra in Toronto in 1979 after performing in a quartet under the same name in The Hague. Originally, Tafelmusik was a part of the Toronto Chamber Music Collective, and after becoming its own entity, it struggled for a few years.
As Emerson explained in The Strad, "In the early 1980s the small group began bringing together early music specialists. An original member recalls these beginnings as characterised by exploration, excitement and original research. In those days Baroque performance on original instruments was new to Toronto."
A Unique Approach to Directing
When Jeanne Lamon was hired in 1981 as musical director, Tafelmusik began to come into its own musically. Since 1972, this New York native has performed and studied Baroque and Classical-era music on period instruments. Lamon's approach to conducting has been key to Tafelmusik's success. She is a first-chair violin and doesn't direct in the traditional way—she leads from her chair and draws the other musicians along in her direction by virtue of her playing style. This technique reflects how the music was often originally played: without a conductor. When she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from York University in 1994, Emerson noted, "she was praised for seeking 'the best in herself and others and believing in her listeners,' by never simplifying or playing down to them."
Lamon's directing approach is matched by the way the orchestra is managed. Members have a say in what is performed and how Tafelmusik—the entity—is run. As Emerson reported, "Members were, and still are, asked to be totally involved." Lamon explained in The Strad that "At the centre is the democratic ideology of 'the collective good.' This philosophy guides its administration … a horizontal governance within which decisions are made in a consensus-building environment." There is no hierarchy in Tafelmusik's management, which has created an unusual relationship between Tafelmusik and its players. As Lamon commented further, "People have been committed and loyal to the group and that is the great strength of Tafelmusik."
By the 1990s, Tafelmusik's form and substance had been clearly defined. With about 19 permanent members, many of whom are historical performance practice specialists, the orchestra can expand to 45 or so, as necessary for the piece or the performance. Emerson wrote that "Tafelmusik's approach to its music has been, from the outset, to be as historically informed and accurate as possible but not to be blinkered as to forget that the group consists of contemporary musicians playing for a contemporary audience. The music has to be brought to life, yet still be able to stand up to the demanding scrutiny of the musicologist."
Tafelmusik has used Trinity-St. Paul Church in Toronto as its home base since 1980. The administrative offices are there, as well as a performance space with a seating capacity of nearly 800. Tafelmusik has grown into a 40-plus concert season in Toronto and has expanded beyond orchestral works. Their associated choir was founded in 1981. Like its orchestral counterpart, The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir specializes in Baroque performance practice and vocal technique. Under the direction of Ivars Taurins, the choir was awarded the Healey Willan Prize "for its consistently high level of artistic achievement and for its unique contribution to choral art in Canada." Tafelmusik has also done joint concerts and recordings with other Baroque groups, including operas with Opera Atelier.
Worldwide Promotion Increased Popularity
Heavy worldwide promotion has helped increase Tafelmusik's popularity. They tour about 12 weeks per year and have been touring Europe since 1984 and regular tours of Asia since 1990. Tafelmusik also has a special relationship with a festival in Irsee, Bavaria in Germany—the Klang und Raum Festival—where they have often held the title of orchestra in residence.
With more than 80 albums to its credit, Tafelmusik's prominence on the recording front is indisputable. In 1988, Tafelmusik signed their first prestigious recording contract with Germany's BMG/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi for six records. The success of this relationship led to the group signing with the Sony Classical Vivarte label—an exclusive deal that solidified Tafelmusik's international reputation. Sony has released the last 35 Tafelmusik recordings.
Much of the orchestra's success has hinged on Tafelmusik's successful administrative management. Key personnel—Ottie Lockie as general manager and marketing director Heather Clark—have ensured the orchestra's slow rise to prominence and financial stability. Because the orchestra depends on grants from such entities as the Canada Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council, precise planning, aggressive fund raising, and careful selection of its employees (partners) and board members have been important factors in Tafelmusik's continued success.
William Littler praised Tafelmusik in the Toronto Star when reviewing the state of Canadian orchestras: "[Tafelmusik] tours more than any other Canadian orchestra while constantly expanding its audience base back home. Operating in an audience-friendly environment, superbly managed and performing on a front-rank international level, it has developed an interest in 17th- and 18th-century music beyond anything that previously existed in Canada. Tafelmusik knows its public, knows its business and knows its limitations."
Stephen Pederson reflected on Tafelmusik's appeal in the Halifax Mail-Star: "It's no wonder that Toronto's baroque orchestra Tafelmusik is both popular and internationally renowned. Not only do they play with an ensemble style the equal of the world's best string quartets for unanimity of tone, shading, articulation, accent and harmonic balance, but they design an evening's concert program from the first note to the last to give the listener the kind of experience you get at a play—a rising action, a climax and a denouement."
Kept Pace with Musical Developments
Baroque music became more and more popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, even as the mainstream orchestral repertory of 19th-century Europe saw its audiences shrink, and Tafelmusik remained alertly on top of new trends that were snaring listeners' interest. They performed music by previously little-heard composers, such as the eccentric Czech master Jan Dismas Zelenka. They continued to collaborate with the Opera Atelier company on productions of Baroque operas, many of them almost forgotten today even though they stood at the center of Baroque musical life.
Like other leading modern classical musicians, Tafelmusik branched out beyond classical music. In a 2002 Toronto concert, they combined Vivaldi's well-known "Four Seasons" violin concertos with guest appearances from a Chinese pipa player, Inuit throat singers, and an Indian veena player for an evening devoted to musical interpretations of the seasons from around the world. Stressing the importance of improvisation in Baroque music, Lamon told the Toronto Globe & Mail that she hoped to explore connections with another improvisatory tradition: "I'm trying to come up with a program that combines some jazz musicians and Baroque musicians and explore what they have in common."
For the Record …
Members include Jeanne Lamon , leader and conductor.
Orchestra founded by Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves, 1979; moved into Trinity-St. Paul Church, early 1980s; Jeanne Lamon named musical director, 1981; orchestra in residence, Klang und Raum Festival, 1983-; signed record deal with BMG, 1988; signed exclusive record deal with Sony Music, 1991.
Awards: Juno Awards, Best Classical Album, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995; Cannes Classical Music Award, 1995; ECHO KLASSIC Award (Germany), Best Orchestra of the Year, 1996.
Addresses: Record company—Sony Music (Canada) Inc., 1121 Leslie St., North York, Ontario M3C 2J9, Canada. Website—Tafelmusik Official Website: http://www.tafelmusik.org.
Audiences, as measured by the continued growth in the group's concert season, continued to support Tafelmusik's concerts even after managing director Lockey left the group in the summer of 2000. The group founded the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute to pass along their skills to young North American musicians, and as they celebrated their 25th anniversary in the 2003-2004 season, their future looked bright. Tafelmusik was continuing to blaze new trails with a recording of works by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, an 18th-century Guadeloupean-French composer whom some dubbed "Le Mozart noir" or "the black Mozart."
Corelli's Concerti Grossi Op. 6, BMG/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 1989.
Mozart: Overtures, 1991.
Classical Flute Concertos, 1992.
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 41-43, 1992.
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 44, 51 and 52, 1992.
Vivaldi: The Four Seasons; Sinfonia "Al Santo Sepolcr;" Concerto op. 3, No. 10, 1992.
Gluck's Ballet Music from "Don Juan," Sony, 1993.
Music for Trumpet and Orchestra, 1993.
Handel: Concerti grossi op. 3, 1993.
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 65, 50 and 64, 1994.
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 45, 46 and 47, 1994.
Haydn: The Creation, 1994.
Biber Instrumental Works, Sony, 1994.
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 88, 89 and 90, 1995.
Purcell: The History of Dioclesian; King Arthur; The Fairy Queen; The Indian Queen, 1995.
J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-6, Sony, 1995.
Handel: The Water Music, HWV 348-50; Suite from "Il Pastor Fido" HWV 8c, 1996.
Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, 1996.
J.S. Bach's Violin Concertos, Sony, 1996.
Vivaldi: Eleven Concertos, 1997.
Build Your Baby's Brain—Through the Power of Music (compilation), Sony, 1998.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Sony, 1999.
Build Your Baby's Brain—Through the Power of Mozart (compilation), Sony, 1999.
Build Your Baby's Brain—Through the Power of Baroque (compilation), Sony, 2000.
Mozart: Requiem, Sony, 2000.
Mozart's Last Year, Sony, 2000.
Super Hits: Mozart, Sony, 2000.
A Baroque Feast, Analekta, 2002.
Chants Sacrés et Profanes, CBC, 2003.
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suites, Analekta, 2003.
Rameau: Dardanus, CBC, 2003.
Le Mozart Noir, CBC, 2003.
Continuo, October 1980; May 14, 1984; October 1988.
The Financial Post, June 5, 1996.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario), May 25, 1993; September 28, 1999; October 15, 1999; September 22, 2000; December 16, 2000; January 20, 2001; February 14, 2001; May 12, 2001; September 29, 2001; October 13, 2001; December 8, 2001; February 23, 2002; July 1, 2002, p. 1; September 19, 2003, p. R10; November 29, 2003, p. R19; January 12, 2004, p. R5.
Halifax Mail-Star, April 1996.
Opera Canada, Fall 2003, p. 32.
Orchestra Canada, November/December 1991.
Performing Arts & Entertainment in Canada, Summer 2000, p. 42; Summer 2002, p. 37.
The Strad, June 1997.
Toronto Life, November 2002, p. 30.
Toronto Star, November 5, 1994; July 7, 1996.
Washington Post, March 20, 1994.
"Tafelmusik," Sony Classical, http://www.sonyclassical.com/artists/tafelmusik/disc.html (April 26, 2004).
Tafelmusik Official Website, http://www.tafelmusik.org (April 26, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Tafelmusik publicity materials, 1997.
—James M. Manheim
"Tafelmusik." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/tafelmusik
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