Tafelmusik in the Canberra Times

Focusing on heavenly bodies
Canberra Times
March 5, 2012

Tafelmusik over the moon to be touring, Janet Wilson writes.

The phrase “music of the spheres” conjures up something mystical, beyond the comprehension of earthbound creatures. But, in fact, musica universalis is an old philosophical concept concerning proportions in the movements of celestial bodies, not something actually audible, but a harmonic or mathematical concept. From the time of the Greek mathematician Pythagoras and the philosopher Plato, theories about the movement of heavenly bodies have been propounded.

Before 1514, Copernicus developed his theory that the sun was the centre of our solar system and that the planets revolved around it, a heretical idea, according to the Catholic Church, but one that Galileo Galilei later embraced. In 1627, the German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler had published his Rudolphine Tables, containing calculations of planetary orbits, and in 1632 Galileo published his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.

The Galileo Project Set

The consequences of this event form the story told in a fascinating program to be presented by the Canadian baroque ensemble Tafelmusik at Llewellyn Hall on March 8 as part of Musica Viva‘s 2012 series of concerts.

Tafelmusik violinist Cristina Zacharias spoke to me about this exciting piece of theatre.

“One of our wonderful subscribers, John Percy, is an astronomer and he approached our bassist, Alison Mackay, to float the idea for us to do a concert in honour of Galileo because some of the music in our repertoire – Monteverdi and Merula – comes from the time of Galileo,” she says. “Percy thought it was a natural connection to make and it got Alison’s wheels turning.”

Mackay then created the program in co-production with the Banff Centre, with stage direction by Marshall Pynkoski and production design by Glenn Davidson, to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy in 2009.

Since then the production has toured to China, Malaysia, Mexico, US and Canada. Now Tafelmusik is making its first tour to Australia, bringing The Galileo Project to Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Canberra.

Not only will the audience hear the wonderful music of baroque composers played on authentic instruments by the ensemble, but the performance will take place in front of a specially built set onto which spellbinding images, mainly from the Hubble Space Station telescope, will be projected. The engaging story will be narrated by actor Shaun Smyth.

“It’s a beautiful set,” Zacharias says. “You almost feel as though you’re actually looking through a telescope.

“The images used are almost all photos. There are a few animated images but most of them are from the Hubble telescope, although there are some very beautiful images taken from the ground.”

As well as music by Merula and Monteverdi, there will be works by Rameau, Handel, Zelenka and Bach, “and actually one small movement by Telemann and a little bit of Vivaldi,” Zacharias says, “altogether about 15 short pieces that Alison Mackay has pulled from different times and different European countries during the baroque period and that suited the program perfectly.

“In the case of the strings, most of us play original instruments. Violins tend to last a long time but the wind players are all playing modern day creations based on instruments that did exist. My violin is from 1776. It’s a Kloz, an original German violin from a town near the Italian border.”

The core ensemble, including violins, violas, cellos, a bass, a harpsichord and two oboes, consists of 17 musicians, “and we’ll all be there,” Zacharias says enthusiastically.

Tafelmusik’s busy performing calendar includes about 50 concerts a year in Toronto as part of a home subscription series and anything from five to 10 weeks a year touring. There are education and artist training activities (which will be part of the Australian tour as well) and a longstanding partnership with a baroque opera company in Toronto, Opera Atelier. “We perform two baroque operas every year with them,” Zacharias says.

Recording is also a big part of the ensemble’s musical life.

“I believe the most recent recording we did was our 76th,” Zacharias says. “That’s been a very important part of our artistic output and creating Tafelmusik as who we are today, because when you’re in recording sessions it really distils what you’re trying to do so clearly when you have the mikes on and you really want to get it just right. Just a few weeks ago we launched our own record label, Tafelmusik Media. We’ll have both CDs and DVDs, including one of The Galileo Project, for sale at our Australian concerts.”

This unique concert comes to Canberra just at the time when the outstanding exhibition, Handwritten, from the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, in which sections of original manuscripts by Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo can be viewed at the National Library.


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One response to “Tafelmusik in the Canberra Times”

  1. Sheila Jimenez says :

    Hi There Musicavivaaustralia,
    Neat Post, [I live in Toronto, so those are my default orchestras.]
    But would you rather play in a smaller group that played early, more chamber-ish music on period instruments, or in a gigantic group that played grand symphonic works?
    Keep up the posts!

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