Tafelmusik | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Tafelmusik derives its name from Telemann's three volumes of table (banquet) music. The period instrument ensemble comprises the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra
(Photo Sian Richards, courtesy Tafelmusik).
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir
(Photo Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy Tafelmusik).


Tafelmusik derives its name from Telemann's three volumes of table (banquet) music. The period instrument ensemble comprises the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir.

The orchestra, founded in the spring of 1979 in Toronto, performs Baroque and Classical music on period instruments or modern replicas, and uses techniques appropriate to those instruments and styles. From its modest origins as a four-member chamber music collective with a six-concert season and an $11,000 budget, Tafelmusik has grown into an internationally acclaimed Baroque orchestra with full-time players a chamber choir, world- wide tours, recording contracts, and a season of more than 50 concerts (in 2013).

The Baroque Orchestra - Early Years

Tafelmusik's history is in many ways that of the international period instrument movement, which during the 1970s and 1980s progressed through experimental stages to increased technical and musical assurance, and from the fringe to a central position in the music scene.

It originated as a Baroque chamber ensemble in 1978, called The Toronto Chamber Music Collective, established by oboist and recorder player Kenneth Solway (1954-2010) and bassoonist Susan Graves (1954-2005) on their return from studies in Baroque performance practice in the Netherlands. In its early years the group also performed some Renaissance works, and contemporary compositions written for early instruments.

The ensemble's composition was fluid during its initial two years, with a stable core of four players (oboe/recorder, bassoon, cello, harpsichord), supplemented as needed. Since at that time Toronto had very few period instrument performers, Tafelmusik hired modern instrumentalists and brought in guest soloists and directors who gave master classes and on-the-job training. These guest artists included violinists Jeanne Lamon, Stanley Ritchie (USA), and Lucy van Dael (Netherlands); recorder players Marion Verbruggen and Frans Bruggen (Netherlands); and harpsichordists Scott Ross and Elizabeth Wright (USA). The emphasis in these initial seasons was on chamber rather than orchestral music.

By the 1980-1 season Tafelmusik's budget was $183,000 and the orchestra had moved from Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity to its permanent home at Trinity-St Paul's United Church on Bloor St. In December 1980 Tafelmusik gave the first Toronto performance on period instruments of Handel's Messiah.

Significant Changes

Tafelmusik's 1981-2 season saw several crucial developments with the appointment of Jeanne Lamon as concertmaster and music director, and Ottie Lockey as its first general manager. For thirty-three years Lamon (who announced that she would retire in 2014) led Tafelmusik performances from the concertmaster's chair. Lamon developed a strong string core of 11 full time members, and made the Baroque concerto grosso the foundation of the orchestra's repertoire. Her efficient and energetic leadership soon produced results. On 31 Oct 1981 Tafelmusik embarked on a North American tour that included a New York debut (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 21 Nov). Later that season the orchestra performed in Alice Tully Hall with guest soloist Frans Bruggen (25 Apr 1982).

Renovations made Trinity-St Paul's a more suitable concert venue. In 1982 the group's first recording, Popular Masterpieces of the Baroque, was released.

Meanwhile friction had developed between Tafelmusik's founders and the board of directors, and in March 1983 Solway resigned as general director and Graves stepped down as assistant general director; both resigned as full-time orchestra members.


In 1984 Tafelmusik became the first North American Baroque orchestra to be invited to tour Europe. It subsequently performed worldwide, and was acclaimed as the equal of major European Baroque orchestras. Over the years, the ensemble has visited Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. The ensemble travelled to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan in November 1990 (the first of its Asian tours). Tours in 2010 have included Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, China and Korea. There is also a strong commitment to touring in Canada, with regular visits to major centres and small communities, as well as to the USA.

Tafelmusik made its Carnegie Hall debut 13 Feb 2009, and returned again in 2011.

In 2013 the orchestra consisted of 17 core members, all trained period instrument specialists. Some perform as soloists with Tafelmusik, and several also hold senior positions in other period instrument groups, namely Aisslinn Nosky (violin), Allen Whear (cello), and Marco Cera (oboe).


In 1990, Ottie Lockey negotiated an exclusive contract with Sony Classical for 40 CDs, allowing Tafelmusik to continue a relationship forged earlier while recording four CDs at BMG with Wolf Erichson, one of Europe's leading producers. Tafelmusik was the first group signed to Sony Classical's new Vivarte label.

Erichson also initiated Tafelmusik's collaboration with German conductor Bruno Weil, who participated in the orchestra's first project for Vivarte that year - a recording of Giuseppe Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni. Weil conducted many of their Sony recordings over the next 10 years, including Haydn symphonies and sacred choral works, Mozart's horn concertos, serenades, and Requiem, and the Beethoven piano concertos.

Tafelmusik has recorded for Analekta, and has had a long relationship with CBC Records.

In 2012 Tafelmusik Media was launched, giving Tafelmusik full control through their own label of their recordings, and allowing for expansion into the various forms of new media. By 2013, Tafelmusik had approximately 80 CDs and DVDs to its credit and had re- released several earlier recordings.

Repertoire from Later Periods

In 1993 Weil founded the annual "Klang und Raum" (Sound and Space) Festival in Irsee, in southern Germany; Tafelmusik was its orchestra-in-residence for the next 19 years. The festival has been instrumental in Tafelmusik's confident expansion into Classical repertoire - not only Mozart and Haydn, but also Beethoven and Schubert.

Tafelmusik has also on occasion commissioned new works for anniversary events, for example by José Evangelista and Marjan Mozetich.

Special Projects

In 1985 Tafelmusik appeared in the Rhombus Media film Magnificat. In 2002 it performed in the documentary Le Mozart Noir: Reviving a Legend, based on the 18th-century violinist and composer Joseph Boulogne. It has been broadcast in Canada, USA, and abroad, and received five Gemini nominations, a Rose d'Or nomination (Switzerland), and a Banff Rocky Award. The orchestra appeared in a second documentary, The Four Seasons Mosaic, exploring Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Chinese pipa, Indian veena, and Inuit throat-singing.

The Galileo Project initiated by bassist Alison Mackay and inspired by the 400th anniversary of the telescope and the International Year of Astronomy (2009) presents a kaleidoscope of music, narration, dance and photography.

House of Dreams is a multimedia project in partnership with organizations in Paris, Delft, London, Venice and Leipzig. Audiences are transported to these European cities through music, paintings, narration and staging.

Tafelmusik's Music- museum initiative with Lord Cultural Resources has promoted the relationship between science and music with the Beijing Natural History Museum, and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. (2007)

Projects in Education

Under the management of Tricia Baldwin, who replaced Ottie Lockey at the end of the 1999-2000 season, Tafelmusik's educational initiatives have played an increasingly important role. They are geared to very broad audiences: primary grade students, teens, adults, music teachers and professional musicians. The most significant was the establishment of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute in 2002, an intensive course for advanced students and professional musicians. Originally a partnership with the Royal Conservatory of Music, it became a collaboration with the University of Toronto. The orchestra launched the Baroque Learning Centre on-line during its 2002-3 season.

Baroque Mentors, launched in 2010, for emerging artists offers master classes and residencies to students at Canadian universities.


The orchestra's artistic achievements have been recognized by a host of international awards. Tafelmusik has been the University of Toronto's Baroque orchestra-in-residence for many years. Its recording Virtuoso Chamber Music of 17th-Century Italy won the Canadian Music Council's Grand prix du disque in 1985. In 1988 it was named ensemble of the year by the Canadian Music Council, and it received the Echo Klassik Award for best orchestra of the year from the German Phonographic Academy in 1996. The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir won the 1991 Healey Willan Prize in choral music.

Its other recording awards include a Diapason d'Or for Bach Orchestral Suites, the Cannes Classical Music Award for Haydn's Paris Symphonies, and numerous Juno awards (1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2003, 2005, 2006) to name only a few. The orchestra received four Lieutenant Governor's awards. Jeanne Lamon has also been honoured with individual awards. Trish Baldwin who continued to hold the position of Managing Director was awarded a 2012 John Hobday Arts Management Award from the Canada Council for the Arts.

In 2013, Tafelmusik announced plans for major renovations to Trinity- Saint Paul's Church to make it more comfortable, safe, accessible, and to improve the acoustics.

Suggested Readings

White, Chappell, A History of the Early Classical Violin Concerto (1992); Borgerding, Todd. Gender Sexuality and Early Music (2002); Keillor, Elaine. Music in Canada; Capturing Landscapes and Diversity (2006)

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir

In 1981 the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir was founded under the co-direction of David Fallis and Ivars Taurins. This enabled the orchestra to perform choral works with a choir that specialized in 18th-century technique and style (eg, Bach's St John Passion, 1984, and Mass in B Minor, 1990, and the Mozart Requiem, 2013).

By the 1982-3 season Ivars Taurins had assumed sole directorship of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, a position he retained in 2013. That year there were 22 singers: 7 sopranos; 5 altos (including 2 countertenors); 5 tenors; 5 basses, and Andrei Streliaev was the rehearsal accompanist.

The choir has also performed and recorded a cappella and included 20th and 21st century literature in its repertoire. Canadian compositions by Imant Raminsh, R. Murray Schafer, Chan Ka Nin, Paul Frehner, Ruth Watson Henderson, Christos Hatzis and others have been premiered.

Its 30th anniversary season (2011-2012) proved a banner one for the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir. A work was commissioned by James Rolfe for their thirtieth anniversary choral concert, and the choir performed with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) at the inauguration of the new Maison symphonique hall, joining forces with the OSM choir under Kent Nagano in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

That same year (2011) Taurins received a Gemini nomination for his role in the Messiah as presented on Bravo! TV.

The Tafelmusik Sing -Along Messiah (with guest conductor G.F. Handel a.k.a. Ivars Taurins) with the choir and orchestra has been an annual Toronto event for over 25 years. The CD (recorded live at Koerner Hall in 2011) with soloists Karina Gauvin soprano, Robin Blaze countertenor, Rufus Müller tenor, and Brett Polegato bass earned rave reviews. A DVD was made in 2012 with soloists Suzie Leblanc, Daniel Taylor, Rufus Müller and Lockey Chung.

Musical Collaborations

The 1985-6 season marked the beginning of an ongoing collaboration with Toronto's Baroque opera company, Opera Atelier, with whom Tafelmusik has since participated in period productions by Mozart, Monteverdi, Lully, Charpentier, and Gluck, under the batons of such conductors as Andrew Parrott, Hervé Niquet, and Marc Minkowski. A highlight of this collaboration was the 2012 tour to Versailles, where they performed Lully's Armide to acclaim.

Tafelmusik has collaborated with the internationally recognized German a cappella ensemble Amarcord, the Early Music Guild (USA), and the Vesuvius Ensemble (Italy) among others.

External Links