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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

JOHN TERAUDS | Jeanne Lamon, the woman who led Tafelmusik to the house of dreams

By John Terauds on May 1, 2014

Jeanne Lamon leading Tafelmusik in House of Dreams
Jeanne Lamon leading Tafelmusik in House of Dreams

As is the case with so many things we hold most dear, there is a gap between the noble ideals of the music world and the harsh reality of making a living and coping with the politics of the art form.

Every once in a while, though, come along people like Jeanne Lamon, who are able to show that dreams and reality, ideals and pragmatism can, in fact, intersect.

A series of Tafelmusik concerts starting May 8 celebrate this remarkable woman. And, yes, even in a world saturated and soaked in superlatives, the very modest and very hard-working Jeanne Lamon is truly extraordinary.

Even in the bucolic hills of southwestern Vermont, far from Toronto and any real awareness of the vast country to the north, I have turned on public radio and heard Tafelmusik.

Toronto’s great art music ensemble from a global point-of-view is not the symphony; it is not the Canadian Opera Company and its fine orchestra; and it is not the Gryphon Trio or the Esprit Orchestra. All of these performers are excellent, by any standard. But it is Tafelmusik that made the leap from excellent local band to a group loved and respected in all of North America, in Europe and in Asia.

It wouldn’t have happened without Lamon, who arrived in Toronto in 1981, filled with the zeal of the still-marginal but growing period-performance movement to lead an ad hoc band of enthusiasts assembled by Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves just two years earlier.

They had no money, and no concrete artistic plan. But they knew they wanted to play Bach and Avison and Handel and Corelli in a style attuned to the Baroque ethos on instruments more typical of what listeners would have heard at the time.

Lamon somehow managed to tap that enthusiasm and grow the orchestra with enough vigour and verve to capture the attention of a small group of Toronto music lovers who had an inking of what was happening at Trinity-St Paul’s Church in the Annex.

Although nominally the group’s leader, Lamon championed a collegial style that every music student wishes would extend from the creaky floorboards of the conservatory into the real world. Tafelmusik’s musicians really were friends and, in some cases, substitute family for each other.

Orchestra members have always been invited to perform solos in concerts, they have shared their programming ideas and, in the case of bassist Alison Mackay, devising new ideas of how to translate the traditional concert narrative of music into something new.

Just as importantly, I think, Lamon has been a permanent fixture in her adopted city. She has lived with her ensemble full-time since her arrival. Tafelmusik didn’t grow its audience and its recording library or its international prestige with marquee guest conductors who visited and then disappeared, in the style of most modern symphony orchestras. It built itself with the help of a steady artistic hand.

So many people would think that having the same musical leadership for 33 years would be a recipe for staleness. Well, not with Jeanne Lamon. Yes, there were many fine guests, but it was always a pleasure to see the violinist back in the concertmaster’s seat.

For all the glories of the last three decades, though, it actually is time for Lamon to pass Tafelmusik on to someone new – and it is wonderful that she recognized that this time had come, well before anyone had to come along and suggest it.

I became a Tafelmusik regular within weeks of moving to Toronto in 1988, enchanted by the life force present in their music-making. As music critic, I may have missed but one or two programmes over the past 14 years, and I always looked forward to what was in store.

Chatting with Lamon about the orchestra, its programming and her outlook on the challenging job of keeping the organization’s many balls in the air always left me smiling at how work really could be a pleasure when approached with the right attitude.

I won’t be physically present at the celebration concerts, but I know I’ll be reminded of all these wonderful years Jeanne Lamon gave us on Vermont Public Radio, and through the many Tafelmusik albums in my library.

Best of all, this is hardly the last we’ve seen of this truly remarkable individual. She hopefully has many years left of showing the world that niceness, artistic excellence, collegiality and material success are not mutually exclusive.

Details of the concerts are available here.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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