A Celebration of Jeanne Lamon

At the end they handed her a bouquet, and she immediately separated it into discreet flowers, walking among her colleagues handing one to each.  It was a moment that was so typical.

Jeanne Lamon with her colleagues

Tafelmusik Music Director Jeanne Lamon (Photographer: Sian Richards)

Jeanne Lamon has been in the process of stepping down from an over 30 year tenure as music director and principal violinist with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.  As she told us tonight, in the first of a series of celebratory concerts in her honour, she’s not precisely going away.   There are future projects on her horizon, such as an academy of period performance, and a couple of years of transition for Tafelmusik, when she’ll serve as an artistic advisor.

One can’t measure the contribution of such an individual, but suppose we look at what she leaves behind.  Tafelmusik have not had a deficit in many years (I forget the figure quoted tonight, but it’s a number any arts organization could envy). They’re doing many things right, and I look first at the leadership model.  It’s not based on testosterone or male ego, because of course Lamon shares the podium, a distinctly different leadership model than what‘s traditional for symphony orchestras.

This is a culture of humility.  I saw a sample walking in, when I bumped into Alison MacKay, who has contributed more than just her abilities as Double Bass player, but also as a gifted programmer.  She walks up to me and compliments me, but that is the Tafelmusik style, one of generosity, humility, and dare I say it: love.  Lamon joked somewhere recently that her role as leader is one where she can avoid the limelight, because she’s shy.  And so she shares and in the process, the orchestra gains.

In addition to MacKay’s contribution from within, there are others.  There’s Ivars Taurins, who used to play in the orchestra, and who leads the Tafelmusik Baroque choir, the man who portrays Handel for us in the annual singalong Messiah.  There’s David Fallis, of Toronto Consort and the Musical Director of Opera Atelier, challenging the orchestra with everything from Lully to Weber, from Monteverdi to Mozart.  And then there’s Bruno Weil, who has led the orchestra through their Beethoven cycle.

Tonight’s concert will be repeated.  Normally i’d wonder if the magic can be replicated from something that felt so much like a “happening” (a concept that probably dates me) but the source of this chemistry is the relationship between the orchestra and their devoted audience, who will come out each night.  The first part of the concert gave us a little music heavily laced with thank yous, moments that Lamon took to express her thanks to the various parts of the organization.  Just as she’d given a rose to each player, she seemed to thank everyone in the organization.

The program came in three big chunks:
1) “Audience choice” (meaning a few pieces chosen by responses on a website somewhere, perhaps via social media? )
2) “Inspired by Purcell”, three sets of variations on themes by the English composer
3) “Jeanne’s choice”: music chosen by Lamon herself

In a concert with so much emotion, I would still like to call attention to a few spectacular highlights.  The item #2 hints at something unique in my experience.  To honour Lamon, sets of variations were composed that received their premiere tonight.    I know of one precedent in musical history, when a group of composers (including Schubert & Beethoven) were approached to compose a variation on a theme by Anton Diabelli, Beethoven deciding to write a full set of 33 in response.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this has been done other times as well, but I don‘t know for sure.

This time? nineteen different individuals from the extended Tafelmusik community participated, including the partner conductors (Fallis, Weil and Taurins), as well as many of the orchestra’s players: including Lamon herself in a final variation.  It seemed very much like a kind of communion, whereby they not only played together but created the piece as well, christened in performance tonight.

The variations were mostly well within the baroque sensibility of the three Purcell tunes.  Some were overtly comical, quoting recognizable melodies both as part of the playful exercise and as part of the celebration.  Some were more serious.  At times most of the ensemble stood watching a few players, while at other times everyone was engaged.  I sincerely hope the compositions are recorded, not just to commemorate this moment in honour of Jeanne Lamon, but because I believe the music is worthwhile.

The third section was a highly personal set of performances that Lamon chose and arranged, a disparate series of pieces played without interruption or applause.   The sinfonia that begins Monteverdi’s Orfeo –and as I had believed at one time, seemed to begin the form of opera once and for all– began the second half, a procession that grew in its repetition.  We heard an arrangement of the duet “pur ti miro” set for oboes instead of human  voices.  While these may have been Lamon’s favourites, it looked and sounded as though she’d chosen pieces loved by the ensemble.   We heard Vivaldi, Handel, Rameau, JS Bach, including a breakneck reading of the closing Allegro from Brandenburg Concerto no 3.

As Lamon told us in her introductory words, it’s not something you can capture in video, but something you get from live performance.  The electricity between the players and the audience, and in the delightful glances between the players must be seen to be understood.  I’d go again and again if I could.

A Celebration of Jeanne Lamon continues: May 9-11 & 14 at Trinity st Paul’s Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall and May 13 at George Weston Recital Hall. 

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