Interview with members of Tafelmusik – part 1

Most of us know that Galileo was a seminal astronomer, a brilliant scientist, and a visionary. Less well-known is the fact that he played the lute. His father was an influential composer, and his circle of friends included Claudio Monteverdi.

The link between pioneering astronomy and Baroque music might have remained obscure if Canadian astronomer John Percy had not happened to be a subscriber and fan of the Toronto-based period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. From his post on the organising committee of the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, which was celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope, he approached the group. Would it not be good to put together an evening of music around this idea?

Alison Mackay, a double-bass player with Tafelmusik, had long been dreaming of creating an evening of music for which the musicians would all play from memory. In thastre Galileo idea, she saw an opportunity.

At first, music director Jeanne Lamon was sceptical. “I was one of the last people to think that there would be any point in learning a program by heart,” she remembers. “But in fact I found that it has given us a relationship to the music and an intimacy with each other as players which is deeper than anything we’ve ever experienced with music stands.”

Inspired by the idea of a program that linked astronomy and music, Tafelmusik teamed up with actor Shaun Smyth, stage director Marshall Pynkoski, and designer Glenn Davidson for a 7-day residency at Banff, Canada’s utopic Rocky Mountains arts centre.

That time of intensive rehearsal, which culminated in a presentation attended by both music-lovers and astronomers, with a chance to view the night sky through historic telescopes for all, was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the work invested in the Galileo Project.

“In my 30 years of directing Tafelmusik, this is the best-prepared music we’ve ever presented,” says Lamon. Anxious about their capacity to memorise the music, the players added extra “play dates” to their rehearsal schedule, meeting wherever and whenever they could – including, memorably, the abandoned ballroom of a Canadian railway hotel at midnight – to run through the music.

“We were joking the other day that if we had Alzheimer’s, the last thing we would forget would be the music from the Galileo Proect, because it’s so deeply embedded in our cells now,” Lamon observes. “All that painstaking work paid off.”

© Shirley Apthorp 2011


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