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On Center: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

by on September 26, 2014 8:50 AM

Art, science, and culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries come together when Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra performs an imaginative concert commemorating Galileo’s first public demonstration of the telescope.

The Wednesday, November 5, performance at Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium features the artists playing timeless music before a backdrop of high-definition images from the Hubble telescope and other sources.

Conceived, scripted, and programmed by Tafelmusik double bassist Alison Mackay, creator of the House of Dreams program performed at Schwab in 2013, The Galileo Project features poetic narration, choreography, and music by Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, and others.

Jeanne Lamon, music director of the early-music ensemble for 33 years, says The Galileo Project has toured more than any other program in Tafelmusik’s history.

“It’s taken us literally around the world,” says Lamon, who with the orchestra has performed the work across North America and in China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia. “We love doing it so much. It’s the first program we ever learned entirely by heart as an orchestra.”

Lamon, who is retiring from full-time duty with Tafelmusik to become the ensemble’s part-time artistic advisor, is a violinist, and will perform at Penn State.

“I would say that it’s a concert, but it is equally a visual treat. The images are astronomical images, for example from the Hubble spacecraft or images from Galileo’s books that he wrote on astronomy,” she says. “... So it’s all just visually rich. And musically, wonderful music. There’s an actor who sort of ties it all together. The actor moves amongst the musicians and the images and just basically makes the whole thing hold together in a very beautiful way.”

The experience is unique, Lamon insists, because the musicians perform from memory.

“It only works because we know every- thing by heart. ... Because we know it by heart, we can move around on the stage,” she says. “We even move around in the audience sometimes. We go out into the audience and perform from there. It gives a sort of very real surround-sound kind of impression.”

When the notion of remembering a concert’s worth of music was suggested to Lamon, she initially opposed the idea.

“At first I thought, ‘Oh, you got to be crazy’ when Allison Mackay, who is the creator of the program, said, ‘We’ve got to do this by heart, or it won’t be the same.’ And I said, ‘You’re insane. You can’t ask orchestra players to memorize that,’ ” Lamon recalls. “And then she convinced me. And now I think it’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened to Tafelmusik.”

Plenty of critics agree that the project, like Galileo’s invention four centuries ago, is a marvelous creation.

“The narration incorporated texts by and about Galileo and Newton, poetry by Ovid and Shakespeare, and modern commentary; and a stream of colorful astronomical images were projected onto a round screen, as if viewed through a giant telescope,” recounts a New York Times reviewer. “... That the musical performance, through it all, was of the highest order hardly needs saying. ... The bursts of virtuosity were too widespread and numerous to list.”


John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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