An intermission conversation at a concert–Christophe Coin playing “The Eloquent Cello”– made a natural lead-in to Thanksgiving weekend, a reminder of the things I love about Tafelmusik baroque orchestra, for which I should be grateful. We were discussing things of which we weren’t sure, politely exchanging opinions on everything from the church, their repertoire choices to the instruments themselves.
It’s no contradiction that Tafelmusik regularly manage to show us something new even while delving deeper and deeper into the past, always addressing an audience who politely listen to things of which we aren’t sure, exploring the unfamiliar more often than more standard choices. At times as I listen to the conversations in the lobby it’s less like an orchestra and its public than a kind of ongoing colloquium, where the mutual support emboldens the band to experiment. That’s the Tafelmusik she knows and loves in the warmth of their home, a beautiful church. I whined a bit about my preference, that Tafelmusik should finally lay claim to the romantic period (Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Berlioz); while we have just seen the completion of their Beethoven cycle, there are still so many others still to explore. My friend’s admonitions –that the band stick to baroque rather than those popular composers Mozart & Beethoven—came on the right weekend, when we count our blessings, especially as some orchestras on either side of the border struggle to stay afloat. Tafelmusik don’t just survive, they prosper, and it’s because they clearly know themselves & their limits. And more importantly, they understand their audience, who are not just their community but dare I say it, family.
Last night’s concert was an apt time to ponder the instruments themselves, as we watched and listened to Christophe Coin playing baroque cello.
Yes I am again speaking of things of which we aren’t sure: something that I don’t fully understand. I saw that Coin plays without the characteristic endpin we usually expect, instead holding his instrument between his knees. The sound coming out of his instrument was remarkable. I wonder – after briefly consulting a page about the baroque cello found via the oracle according to google—whether this is a true “baroque cello” we’re hearing played? It’s hard to tell from a front-on view, and of course I only realized what I should be looking for long after the fact.
Listening to the way Coin plays, I have to wonder if it’s fair to compare, given the differences:
- Metal strings vs gut
- More vibrato vs a more direct attack
The tone is surprising, deep and soulful, to fully justify that “eloquent cello” slogan Tafelmusik used to promote this concert. I can’t help thinking that the way the modern cello is played, with much vibrato, is a way to compensate for what’s missing, to make the instrument seem more accurate than it really is. I wondered too whether the endpin actually deadens the sound, given the remarkable resonance coming from Coin’s cello. If you imagine the instrument resonating, then picture it touching the stage (through the endpin) that this might kill some of the overtones that are otherwise coming out.
Coin has a glorious flood of tone at his disposal when he wanted to seize the moment. Speaking of eloquent cello, what words can capture his celloquence? Perhaps if you imagine the contours of a wave of caramel or single malt scotch gushing from a big barrel? Words fail. At times Coin vanished into the ensemble sound, as though incognito. Each half of the concert asked him to take those dual roles, first as leader from the cello section, then as soloist. The first half gave us von Dittersdorf’s Symphony after Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a colourful piece, even if I felt no real connection to Ovid; we then heard Boccherini’s D Major cello concerto. The second half compositions – a symphony from CPE Bach and Haydn’s C major cello concerto were a bit of a love-fest, both from a rapturous audience, and onstage, between the artists. Half the fun of a concert like this is watching the eye-contact, the nods of heads (particularly in the big exchanges between sections in the Bach, including wonderful unison moments when the band played as though they were all of one mind), and that dreamy look from the players during Coin’s inspiring cadenzas. There were times that the music making swept me away so totally that I did wonder if maybe Tafelmusik might want Coin as their leader.
Ah but election fever from south of the border is influencing the way I watch concerts lately. I can’t deny I am already looking at Peter Oundjian, wondering about the TSO’s future, and recently it was Elisa Citterio as a possible candidate to lead Tafelmusik. I see echoes of the election in the selection, the politics and larger than life personalities. Whether Coin is a candidate or not, the concert was as much a study in leadership as it was an opportunity to enjoy those being led. As agile and nuanced as Coin was as a soloist, maybe it’s just that Tafelmusik manage to inspire every soloist who visits. I suspect Coin sounds better and plays better in the presence of a wonderful ensemble like this one.
I’m sorry I couldn’t write this sooner (car trouble last night meant I went to bed without publishing this), as this likely will be published too late to promote Christophe Coin’s baroque/classical cello masterclass from 1-3 pm today. As I type this, it’s less than an hour from now. The concert repeats tonight @ 8 and tomorrow at 3:30, Jeanne Lamon Hall in Trinity St Paul’s Centre.