The Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario (ICCO) has named Tafelmusik Music Director Elisa Citterio as the winner of the 2019 Leonardo Award for Arts, Science & Culture. The Leonardo Awards are given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the Canadian cultural and intellectual landscape.
This year’s award ceremony gala on May 23 will coincide with the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, and the award will be one of several handed out under the 2019 ICCO Air Canada Business Excellence Awards banner to other recipients from the fields of business, science, academia, and culture. The gala event will be held at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex, and this year will mark the 17th year that the Business Excellence Awards have been handed out in Toronto.
The Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario, by definition, focuses its activities and services on promotion business and trade connections between Canada and Italy. The awards are a reminder of the organization’s strong commitment to promoting the exchange of arts and culture as part of that mission. “I am proud that Canada has embraced this outstanding artist with open arms. Elisa Citterio has contributed greatly to strengthening the relationships between the two countries,” Corrado Paina, Executive Director of the ICCO, says in a media release.
The search for the replacement for Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik’s Artistic Director for 33 years, was a long and arduous process that began a year before Lamon retired in 2013. The search committee looked at candidates who excelled both as musicians and conductors, and it wasn’t until 2017 that they announced that Citterio had won the post.
Each potential candidate had to guest conduct with Tafelmusik at least twice. Citterio impressed the committee with her virtuosic playing. Oboist John Abberger was on the search committee. He told the Globe and Mail on the occasion of the 2017 announcement, “We’ve seen some great violinists over the years at Tafelmusik, but she really breaks the mould in that department. She is one of the most stunning players I’ve ever heard in my entire career.”
Citterio was previously based in Milan, and she moved her young family to Toronto to take on the opportunity. Citterio grew up in a musical family in Brescia, Italy, where her mother was a composer, and siblings were also professional musicians. She began playing violin as a toddler, and began formal studies at the age of 11. In 2000, Elisa was selected as concertmaster and soloist with the orchestra of the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, where she honed her repertoire and technique.
She began studying baroque violin shortly after graduating, taking a series of master classes with Enrico Onofri, among others. Her discography includes more than 35 recordings with various ensembles, including Accademia I Filarmonici (Vivaldi), Europa Galante (Vivaldi and Bach), Zefiro (Handel), Accordone (Storie di Napoli), Accademia Bizantina (Handel and Corelli), La Venexiana (Monteverdi), Helianthus Ensemble (C.P.E. Bach trios), among others, and a series of opera recordings with the Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scalati.
Before the move to Toronto, Citterio was a busy chamber musician, playing in a number of ensembles that include Dolce & Tempesta, Accademia Bizantina, la Venexiana, La Risonanza, Concerto Italiano, Orquestra del Monsalvat, Il Giardino Armonico, and Orchestra Academia 1750, among others. Since 2004, she has been a regular member of the famed Orchestra del Teatro della Scala di Milano.
Since joining Tafelmusik as Music Director in the 2017/18season, Citterio has helmed the organization with a distinctly Italian flavour, introducing the orchestra — and Toronto audiences — to a number of Italian baroque composers that are not well known on this side of the Atlantic. They include Giovanni Battista Fontana, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, Dario Castello, and Biagio Marini. Citterio’s first recording with Tafelmusik will be released on September 19. Vivaldi con amore will be released worldwide on the Tafelmusik Media label.
Her connections from back home have brought many Italian period musicians to the city to perform with Tafelmusik, including harpsichordist and frequent musical collaborator Stefano Demicheli, noted soprano Roberta Invernizzi, violinist Enrico Onofri, and viola da gamba virtuoso Vittorio Ghielmi.
While drawing on her roots, the organization noted that Citterio had also easily settled into Toronto’s culturally diverse landscape. Through a series of multimedia performances created by double bass player Alison Mackay, Citterio has collaborated with a diverse range of artists, from Iranian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand, to Egyptian vocalist/instrumentalist Maryem Tollar, and Malian kora master Diely Mori Tounkara.
Tafelmusik’s Executive Director Carol Kehoe spoke in support of Citterio’s award in a release. “In September 2017, Tafelmusik heralded the start of a new era under Elisa Citterio. Renowned for her stunning virtuoso performances on baroque violin and her innovative approach to period performance, Elisa has made a significant contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada in just two years.”
As Music Director, Citterio has brought some new ideas to Tafelmusik, including the addition of a piece by Tchaikovsky — the first time the orchestra has ever performed the Romantic composer’s work. She is working on a new arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations for the 2020 season. The 2019/2020 programming will include six new pieces in one season — another first for the organization — by four Canadian and two Italian contemporary composers.
After successful tours through North America, Australia, and France with Opera Atelier, Citterio will take Tafelmusik to Belgium and the UK for the Love & Betrayal Tour with Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin in November 2019.
Citterio is quoted in a media release. “It is an incredible honour to receive the 2019 Leonardo da Vinci Award. I would like to thank the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario for this generous recognition. Since beginning my journey as Music Director of Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, it has been a source of great pride and joy to share the creative ingenuity, virtuosity, and artistry of Italian composers and musicians with my new family here in Toronto and with audiences across Canada. At the same time, I have drawn so much inspiration from the incredibly rich, diverse cultural landscape of this city. I’m fascinated by the possibility of exchange between Canada and Italy, which are geographically distant, but which music unites through a shared language.”