By Colin Eatock
TORONTO – It was fitting that the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra chose to present a tribute to Jeanne Lamon, the Toronto orchestra’s long-serving artistic director and concertmaster, at the end of her final season leading the ensemble.
But rather than show Lamon as a soloist playing her favorite concertos – which would have been the obvious thing to do – Tafelmusik took a more imaginative approach to putting a spotlight on the violinist who made Canada’s leading “period” orchestra known around the world.
“A Celebration of Jeanne Lamon,” presented by Tafelmusik from May 8 to 14 at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church (in the newly refurbished Jeanne Lamon Hall), delved into the musical relationships Tafelmusik has built up during her 33-year tenure. The concert was about the orchestra’s relationship with its audience, the orchestra’s relationships with the wider early music community, and Lamon’s own relationship with the music she has championed all her life. At the May 10 performance, the orchestra was in fine form, committed to honoring its outgoing artistic director.
The program opened with a selection of audience favorites, chosen by an online balloting process: excerpts from Book Three of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Tafelmusik (the suite of dinner music that inspired the orchestra’s name), the Vivace movement from J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, and the Passacaille from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s opera Armide. Right from the start, the orchestra displayed the brisk, transparent, and dynamically layered approach that is Tafelmusik’s style. In the Bach, Lamon and violinist Aisslinn Nosky were a well-balanced pair of soloists.
Next up was a set of new variations on pieces by Henry Purcell. To create this unusual suite, Lamon asked certain orchestra members and musicians associated with her orchestra to each compose a movement. The result was a postmodern melange: some people aligned themselves with Baroque style, writing the sort of thing Purcell might have done, while others experimented with entirely different approaches. Most impressive, for boldness of imagination, was a variation on “Fairest Isle” from King Arthur by David Fallis, music director of Toronto’s Opera Atelier and artistic director of the Toronto Consort. In his short piece, sustained notes were gradually built up to create a radiant wall of sound.
The last portion of the program was dubbed “Jeanne’s Choice.” This medley, cobbled together by Lamon, consisted of movements by composers from Monteverdi to J.S. Bach, performed as an unbroken stream-of-Baroque-consciousness. It wasn’t exactly a showcase for Lamon as a violinist, but a few selections – such as Biagio Marini’s Sonata “Sopra fuggi dolente” and the Allegro from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 – featured her prominently. When she rose to the fore, it was apparent that her agile, clearly articulated and vibrato-less playing was the model for the strings in her orchestra.
Lamon’s retirement as Tafelmusik’s artistic director won’t be a complete withdrawal from the organization. She’ll stay on as chief artistic adviser until a new music director is appointed, and she’ll be devoting her energies to the launch of a new Tafelmusik International Baroque Academy. (Announced in early May as a highly selective program for active professional performers in the early career stages, it is to be funded through a newly created $3 million endowment in Lamon’s honor.)
She didn’t quite found Tafelmusik – it was already two years old when she moved from Boston to Toronto to take charge, in 1981. But Lamon placed her stamp on the organization. It’s hard to imagine how anyone with less energy and dedication could have accomplished everything that Tafelmusik has done – the tours, the dozens of recordings, the hundreds of concerts in Toronto and more. For all this, Lamon has earned the admiration and gratitude of Baroque music fans in Canada and around the world.
[Jeanne Lamon reflects on her time with Tafelmusik in an interview with The Globe and Mail.]
Colin Eatock is a Toronto-based composer and critic. He is the author of two books: Mendelssohn and Victorian England, and Remembering Glenn Gould.