Tafelmusik © Sian Richards
Tafelmusik
© Sian Richards

As part of Baroque Month, Bachtrack has been quizzing leading Baroque ensembles around the globe about the challenges of running a period instrument ensemble and how to build new audiences for their work. We also ask for some Baroque recommendations to introduce new listeners and which lesser-known composer they think deserves greater notice. 

Christopher Verrette has been a member of Canadian ensemble Tafelmusik since 1993. He plays in the violin section and is a frequent soloist and leader with the orchestra. He has kindly offered us the following responses to our questions.

 

1. What is one of the main challenges of running a period ensemble today?

For the performer, the challenge of attaining and maintaining a high technical standard on period instruments is already a great – and ongoing – one. Especially for a group with the demonstrated success and longevity of Tafelmusik, I think it is important to guard against falling into a comfort zone in which we fail to make big enough distinctions between different types of Baroque music, whether according to nationality, genre, generation, or the individual personality of the composer; a generic style that sounds consistently good, but makes things sound too much the same. This is part of our responsibility as specialists, which should also lead to performances that are more varied and exciting for both audience and performer, as a lot of great performances happen at the fringes of the comfort zone. I believe our teaching activities can help us in this regard, both by keeping us in touch with the original sources about period playing, but also by observing our students being challenged.

2. How do you bring in new audiences?

We have been blessed with a large and loyal audience here in Toronto for many years, but like other classical music organizations we need to work hard to expand it at the younger end of the spectrum. Our principal initiative in this arena is called "Tafelscene", for people 35 and under. Membership is free, there are discount tickets and special events like parties at intermission, film showings, dinners etc..  It's going well enough that some of us who are more than a little over 35 like to crash the parties. We have also experimented with alternative venues and formats for concerts. We recently played in a local bar (that often has live music, but not classical), and paired the music with beer tastings from one of Canada's best small breweries. Like many of our concerts, this also featured speaking and visual projections on a screen. Of course, we hope that all our educational initiatives will help build audience over the long term.

3. What piece would you recommend to introduce listeners to Baroque music?

To truly "introduce" Baroque music, I would prefer to use a variety of (short) examples to capture its range of styles and emotional content. If I were trying to "hook" someone, though, with a single piece, it would probably be Bach's Brandenburg Concerto no. 4: it combines such joyous, "infectious" melodic material, concerto form, and underlying elements of dance. I would look forward to telling the prospective target at the end, before the smile faded from their lips, that they had just been listening to something called "counterpoint."  

Tafelmusik © Sian Richards
Tafelmusik
© Sian Richards

4. Which lesser-known Baroque composer would you like to hear performed more often and why?

I personally am interested in Johann Georg Pisendel, the leading violinist at Dresden during Bach's lifetime and closely tied to Vivaldi and Telemann, among others. He was simply one of the most influential musicians in Europe during the first half of the 18th century, and we owe it to ourselves as Baroque "lifers" to find out as much as possible about his musical personality. We recently played a fabulous Telemann concerto that was written for him. There are not that many of his own pieces, but they are well worth the effort – and they are quite hard. Similarly, I think Georg Muffat and Francesco Geminiani, whose treatises are so often quoted, deserve to be heard more often as composers.

Christopher Verrette © Sian Richards
Christopher Verrette
© Sian Richards

5. What is your musical guilty pleasure? (For example, “when I’m not performing/listening to Heinrich Biber, I’m actually listening to Justin Bieber…”)

Our musicians listen to and perform a wide variety of music other than Baroque. I stick mostly with classical and jazz, but I do have a love for parody and musical humour of any kind, whether classic stuff like Spike Jones and Hoffnung or the latest from Weird Al. I guess I don't really feel "guilty"; for me, being able to laugh at what you do is part of being serious about it.

6. After a concert, which section of the ensemble is first to the bar?

Traditionally, the violas have had this reputation in our band, but, in reality, these days I think it's more of a representative cross-section of the group. Sometimes the brass players win, but we don't have them all the time. Our choir should get honourable mention here, too, especially during the hockey playoffs. We often have "bubbly" events post-concert on-site, in our equivalent to a green room, so the correct answer may be "whoever is closest to the door." A great memory from touring is from the Philharmonie in Cologne, where we were offered local beer as we left the stage, instruments still in hand.

7. What are your top five Baroque works?

Monteverdi: Orfeo

Corelli: Concerti grossi Op.6 (here Concerto Grosso in D major, Op.6 no. 4)

Bach: Brandenburg Concerti (here, the opening movement of Concerto no. 4 in G major): 

Purcell: Fantasia upon a ground for three violins: 

Vivaldi: L'estro armonico Op.3 (here the Largo from Concerto no. 5 in A major):

 

Christopher Verrette holds a Bachelor of Music and a Performer's Certificate from Indiana University and has contributed to the development of early music in the American Midwest as a founding member of the Chicago Baroque Ensemble and Ensemble Voltaire (Indianapolis), and as a guest director with the Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra. He collaborates with numerous ensembles around North America, performing music from seven centuries on violins, viola, rebec, vielle and viola d'amore. He was concertmaster of the Bloomington Early Music Festival Orchestra for the CD accompanying The Symphonic Repertoire- Vol. 1: The 18th-Century Symphony from Indiana University Press, and collaborated with Sylvia Tyson on the companion recording to her novel, Joyner's Dream.

About Tafelmusik:

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, founded in 1979, is one of the world’s leading period performance ensembles, and is under the outstanding leadership of Chief Artistic Advisor, Jeanne Lamon, C.M.. The Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, under the direction of Ivars Taurins, was formed in 1981 to complement the Orchestra. The orchestra performs more than 50 concerts each year at home in Toronto, and travels extensively around the world to such places as last season's tour destinations: Japan and South Korea, Carnegie Hall in New York City, BachFest Leipzig in Germany, cities across Ontario, and a tour with Opera Atelier to Versailles, France. The choir and orchestra’s multi-platform recording label Tafelmusik Media was launched in January 2012, along with the Watch and Listen site, Tafelmusik‘s digital concert hall. Tafelmusik has a rich discography of more than 80 CDs recorded on the Sony Classical, CBC Records, Analekta and Tafelmusik Media labels. Since 1991, Tafelmusik has received nine JUNO Awards and a Grammy Award nomination. Tafelmusik is the Baroque Orchestra-in-Residence at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and operates its annual artist training programmes, Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute and Tafelmusik Winter Institute.