24 April 2014

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14/03/2012 10:55:00 a.m.

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Jeanne Lamon’s baroque orchestra celebrates Galileo.

Jeanne Lamon’s baroque orchestra celebrates Galileo.

It’s been years since Jeanne Lamon moved from New York to Canada to take on the directorship of world-renowned baroque orchestra Tafelmusik. Lamon, made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2000 in recognition of her work with the orchestra, is celebrating her 31st year with the company.
The orchestra doesn’t have a conductor; Lamon directs by playing the violin, and she’s well qualified to do so. She began playing the instrument at age seven and after school went on to study music at Brandeis University in Boston. Next she went to Amsterdam to study, this time specialising in baroque performance. Though Lamon now has an active career guest directing other orchestras, Tafelmusik is the only orchestra she has been a fulltime director of.
The orchestra comprises 18 people and the name Tafelmusik comes from a publication by German baroque composer Telemann of ‘music for banquets’. The group, primarily Canadians but including a musician from Italy and another from Holland,  typically performs baroque music from the period 1600 to 1750. They play on ‘original’ instruments – instruments that the composers had at that time.
“They’re different to the instruments you see today. They have different kinds of strings, different bows. In the orchestra we also have a harpsichord and a lute,” says Lamon.
Now Wellington audiences can see Tafelmusik in action as they bring their show The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres to town as part of the International Festival of the Arts. It’s a celebration of baroque music and astronomy. First performed in 2009, the orchestra has taken the show around the world, beginning in Canada and the United States, then to China, Kuala Lumpur and Mexico, and now to Australia and New Zealand.
“2009 was the International Year of Astronomy. A Toronto astronomer approached us telling us about the 400th anniversary of the invention of Galileo’s telescope, and wanting people from the arts scene to get involved to raise awareness of the celebrations,” says Lamon, “Our double bass player Alison Mackay, who has an amazing creative brain, worked on the idea with the astronomers to create a programme that combines astronomy, science and music.”
In the show, the musicians play what Lamon describes as “short, positive, fun” pieces from baroque composers including Handel, Bach and Vivaldi.
“It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that, all woven together,” she says.
Magnificent astronomical scenes, many from the Hubble spacecraft, are shown to the audience on a large round screen behind the musicians.
“We show many slides and mini videos, including some of Galileo’s own drawings, so you really get the sense you’re in a planetarium. As we play from memory, we’re not encumbered by music and music stands, so we go out into the space and move around,” says Lamon, “It’s a very different concert experience from what people might be used to.”
There is also narration “sprinkled” throughout the show and helping to tell stories about Galileo, also Newton and Kepler, two other astronomers of the baroque period.
“I want the audience to take away a love of science, a love of music and a good experience,” says Lamon, “So far it’s going well. We’ve had consistently positive response from all over the world.”
What’s next for the orchestra? Another programme they’ve just started to tour with. Lamon says it’s “somewhat similar” to the Galileo concept, this time combining art with music. The orchestra has also just launched its own recording label and has so far produced 80 CDs.
Lamon is very happy where she is “It’s a great group of people to work with and they’ve got huge talent. Many of the people who were there at the beginning are still there,” she says, “we’ve had so much success – so why leave? It’s too much fun.”
The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres, Town Hall, 8pm, March 16.
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