The inventive Canadian Tafelmusik baroque orchestra returns to the Lobero with a German-Arabic program, “Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House,” joined by Trio Arabica.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
When: 8 p.m., Saturday
Where: Lobero Theater, 33 E. Canon Perdido
Tickets are $39 and $49
Tafelmusik, the prized and ever-creative, Toronto-based Baroque orchestra, has built a stellar reputation for proudly hurtling back to other times and places. With the program the group is bringing to the Lobero Theatre on Saturday, the “time” is right in line with the Tafelmusik aesthetic, but the “place” factor may initially seem unexpected.
In fact, though, “Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House” has logic on its side, despite the double take. Leipzig, Germany, of course, was a high-profile locale in the lineage of western music, as the home of J.S. Bach (and later, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, Mahler and others). Musical performances and cultural discourse bubbled up and was duly caffeinated in such famed coffee houses as Leipzig’s Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum (The Arabian Coffee Tree), Germany’s oldest coffee house, dating back to 1720, and still open to visitors. Meandering around that multi-story, much-storied coffee house can tend to instill spinal shivers for Bach/Leipzig fans. Take it from me.
Concurrently, Damascus, Syria was another central hub with a thriving coffee house culture in the 18th century. Put it all together and add the classical group Trio Arabica to lend authentic Arabic musical elements to the program, and another Tafelmusik special has been added to the group’s expanding repertoire.
Premiered in 2016 and recorded for an album in 2017, the “Tale of Two Cities” program is yet another coup for Tafelmusik, and manages to offer a touch of peaceable, culture-respectful Syrian news in a currently tormented period for that nation.
Founded forty years ago, timed with a general upsurge of interest in early music and period instrument practices the classical music cosmos, Tafelmusik has cemented its place in the upper echelon of the modern early music subculture. “Tale of Two Cities” is the first major new project for the ensemble in the still-new tenure of Music Director Eliza Citterio, only the second director in the group’s history.
Tafelmusik’s earlier performances at the Lobero Theatre—all presented under the aegis of CAMA’s “Masterseries—” demonstrated their inventive approach to bring “musical antiquity” to life. In 2010, the group brought “The Galileo: Music of the Spheres,” the group’s initial foray into a multi-media, audio-visual project, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo and the Year of Astronomy. A narrator and actor were part of the mix on that specific project, which brought together music, science and history in a unique way.
At the time, then-director Jean Leamon insisted that “we stay true to our core mandate. We’re about Baroque music. We’re not about everything. We’re not a theater company and a music company and an orchestra and whatever. We’re focused on the music, but by adding these other dimensions, for a lot of people, putting the music in a context helps them to appreciate the music more. People keep telling us that.
“It was also very interesting for a lot of scientists. It put their world in a different perspective, to have the music reinforce it.”
Back in 2013, Baroque art and music took to the stage and screens with “House of Dreams.” Two years ago, the ensemble’s point of focus returned to a highly centralized musical subject—the life, times and musical majesty of J.S. Bach, with the multi-media project “J.S., Bach: The Circle of Creation.”
Much of the extra-musical and media experimentation aspects of Tafelmusik’s work can be traced to the active creative role played by double bassist Alison Mackay, responsible for previous conceptual projects as well as the core idea for the current “Tale of Two Cities” effort.
Tracing the roots of her dedication to Baroque music and period instruments, she explains that “there were pieces by Bach and Handel that I loved from childhood, but it was in university that I was introduced to recordings and performances on original instruments. I remember wearing out an LP of Gustav Leonhardt’s performances of the Brandenburg Concertos. I didn’t dream that I’d be lucky enough to play them with a wonderful orchestra some day myself.”
She adds that, in recent times, “early music has certainly become more mainstream. In the early days in Toronto we were thought of as crazy experimenters. In a way, many of the things we strive for–such as playing orchestral music as if it’s chamber music–are becoming goals of all sorts of performers. I hope we don’t get too comfortable.”
On Saturday, the Bach-Leipzig connection so vital to Tafelmusik’s operations continues at the Lobero, with a Syrian subplot.