8 years ago

Volume 20 Issue 2 - October 2014

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  • October
  • Toronto
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Includes the 2014 Blue Pages Member Directory

Waving the Musical

Waving the Musical FlagWILLIAM LITTLERGERT MOTHESTafelmusik in LeipzigThe year was 1951, the month November and the Toronto SymphonyOrchestra was about to venture beyond the borders of Canada(indeed, of Ontario) for the first time. Destination? Detroit.Only this was the period when the junior senator fromWisconsin was looking for suspected communists beneath every bedand the orchestra happened to include players being denied entranceto “the land of the free and the home of the brave” through the pinkishhue of their political complexion.Torontonians felt a sense of outrage. Our orchestra should go intactor not at all, some voices argued. The conductor, Sir Ernest MacMillan,Canada’s first and only musical knight, felt differently. He wanted theengagement. So he dumped the so-called Symphony Seven and theorchestra wound up making its American debut without them.Although Sir Ernest may not have behaved honourably, he did understandan important fact of musical life. Nomatter how good an orchestra may be, itcannot claim to be international withoutappearing internationally.Just over a year later the TSO was back inDetroit. By 1959 its foreign reach extendedto Buffalo. By 1963 it was playing in Carnegie Hall.The first time I heard the orchestra live, at the Commonwealth ArtsFestival in London in 1965, it was rewarded with a review by Felix Aprahamianin the prestigious Sunday Times praising “orchestral playing ofthe great international class.”So where did it go from there? To Japan in 1969, back to Europe in1974, to Japan and China in 1978 and to Europe again in 1983, withvarious American stops in between. Not exactly a busy foreign touringschedule but active enough to show the flag.This year, from August 13 to 25, the orchestra embarked on anotherEuropean tour. And this time presenters found the flag barely recognizable;it had been all of 14 years since Toronto’s finest had last appearedon the continent. Hoped-for invitations to the Edinburgh Festival andLondon Proms, features of previous tours, simply did not appear. Theeventual 12-day, five-city, five-nation itinerary began in Vienna (actuallythe outdoor Grafenegg Festival near the Austrian capital) and continuedin Amsterdam, Wiesbaden, Helsinki and Reykjavik.By comparison, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s tour earlier inthe year visited Zurich, Bern, Geneva, Vienna, Madrid, Oviedo, Cologne,Essen and Munich. Thanks largely to its recorded legacy, most of it underthe direction of Charles Dutoit, Montreal’s orchestra has long been thebetter-known ensemble internationally, which makes it a more saleableenterprise.On the other hand, had the TSO not undertaken this summer’s tour itsmusic director, Peter Oundjian, feared that it would no longer be saleablein Europe at all. The reason is that a proposed larger European tour oftwo years ago wound up being cancelled for fear of red ink in the books.A second cancellaton – which appeared to be looming – might well havepermanently compromised the orchestra’s credibility.So Oundjian decided to act, offering to surrender his entire conductingfee for this year’s adventure if his board would rise to the challenge.Veteran board member Bob Corcoran promptly put up 0,000. Renetteand David Berman agreed to be lead patrons. And within relatively shortorder enough money had been pledged, supplemented by fees, governmentgrants and corporate support, to guarantee that the ink in the bookswould be black.Touring a full-scale symphony orchestra is not, under normal circumstances,a profit-making undertaking. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s12-day plane and train ride cost a substantial .15 million.So is the effort worthwhile? Peter Oundjian contends that it is,pointing out that as costly as touring may be, such smaller Americancities as Boston and Cleveland regularly raise the sums necessary topreserve their orchestras’ profile.That profile pays dividends at home, not only in orchestral morale –players thrive on foreign applauseand the TSO received plenty of itthis summer – but in local support.The Maple Leafs notwithstanding,cities love to back a winning team.Perhaps less tangible is the valueof such tours to cultural diplomacy. In both Helsinki and ReykjavikCanada’s ambassadors turned up at receptions in the orchestra’s honour.“You are the real ambassadors,” declared Stewart Wheeler, ambassador toIceland. And Andrée Noëlle Cooligan, Canada’s ambassador to Finland,made a direct link between Canada’s reputation for cultural excellenceand its ability to sell products abroad.While our diplomats see obvious advantages to the reputation ourcultural ambassadors give Canada as a source of excellence, governmentsupport for cultural diplomacy has greatly diminished in recentyears. The TSO recognizes that if it is to show the flag in the future, itssupporters will have to do much of the carrying.A number of board members and other supporters accompanied theorchestra on its summer journey, witnessing at first hand evidence tosupport Oundjian’s claim that the TSO really is accepted as a worldclassorchestra and can perform valuable service on Toronto’s, andCanada’s, behalf.No less a personality than Prince Metternich entertained these patronsin his historic castle prior to the Grafenegg Festival concert. No less apresenter than Frankfurt’s Alte Oper issued the orchestra an open invitationfollowing its Wiesbaden concert.The German clarinetist-composer Jörg Widmann was soloist inGrafenegg and Wiesbaden, the Canadian violinist James Ehnes inthe other tour cities. Although Canadian music was included on theprograms, represented by Claude Vivier’s Orion, the late Montrealer’sopus appeared only in Helsinki and Reykjavik, a gesture at best.But as Oundjian points out, little more than a gesture will have beenaccomplished by the tour as a whole if another 14 years passes beforehis players once again cross the Atlantic. As cellist David Hetheringtonadds, “calling yourself world-class doesn’t mean much if you don’t tourthe world.”The Maple Leafs notwithstanding,cities love to back a winning team8 | October 1 - November 7, 2014

JOSH CLAVIRTSO principal timpanist David Kent & double bassist Tim Dawson;Football with the FinnsToronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra does, of course, tour theworld and has done so for most of its 36 years. Now widely recognized asone of the pre-eminent period instrument ensembles, it added a featherto its already well-plumed cap in June by following Germany’s celebratedFreiburg Baroque as only the second orchestra invited to be ensemblein-residenceby the International Bach Festival in Leipzig.Touring has been basic to Tafelmusik’s existence since almost before ithad an existence, thanks to oboist co-founder Kenneth Solway’s signingof a contract to bring the barely born orchestra to Carnegie Hall with thefamous oboist Heinz Holliger as bait.Today Tafelmusik typically performs its Toronto concerts five times inorder to accommodate its loyal audience, a record unmatched by sisterensembles in the New World and the Old. Even so, it would be unable toprovide its players with a full season of work without hitting the road.With seldom many more and sometimes fewer than 20 players tohouse and transport, Tafelmusik costs much less to put on tour than afull symphony orchestra or even Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra,set for its own English tour this fall. In fact, with its lower cost structure,touring actually helps keep Tafelmusik solvent.Granted, the Leipzig adventure did leave a deficit of about ,000 –the orchestra could not apply for a government tour grant since it wasgoing to only one city – but the loss represents a small sum relative tothe prestige gained through the undertaking. “Of course we knew aboutTafelmusik through its reputation and recordings,” acknowledged festivaldirector Dettloff Schwerdtfager (the orchestra has recorded more than50 CDs for Sony Classical alone). “And they exceeded our expectations.”Tafelmusik joined Bach’s own choir for the gala opening concert inSt.Thomas Church, performing magnificats by both J.S. Bach and his sonCarl Philipp Emanuel. At Bach’s other principal church, St. Nicholas, theorchestra performed a program of music by the two Bachs, Telemann andHandel. And again at St. Nicholas, Paul Goodwin, director of California’sCarmel Bach Festival, led the players in their first performance anywhereof Handel’s monumental (eight soloists) Brockes Passion, replacing theindisposed Christopher Hogwood (who died September 24).Following the performance the players returned to their hotel to toastretiring music director Jeanne Lamon, the musical architect of theirsuccess for more than three decades. Summing up the feelings in theroom, principal oboist John Abberger declared “I refuse to say goodbye.”Tafelmusik must find a new managing director as well, now that TriciaBaldwin has accepted the directorship of Queen’s University’s handsomenew Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Baldwin has seengovernment support for touring diminish over the course of her Tafelmusiktenure and yet has managed to sustain her orchestra’s profile as themost travelled in the country.A believer in the benefits of touring as an agent of cultural diplomacy,she argues, “How are we going to get along (as peoples) if we don’t speakto each other? And is there a better way than through music?”But she also sees practical benefits to her players: “As Jeanne (Lamon)says, we bring Canada to the world and the world back to Canada. Playingin different halls before different audiences is what has kept everybodystimulated at Tafelmusik.“So when External Affairs cutbacks took place we decided to use ourown resources to cover losses because being on the international stageis part of our mandate.”Whether it can be part of the mandate of a full symphony orchestra inthese economically tight times is the question facing its sister orchestrain Toronto. After this year’s European tour, the optimists at Roy ThomsonHall now appear to be in the ascendancy.William Littler is a Toronto-based writer focusing on October 1 - November 7, 2014 | 9

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