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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

REMOTE | Elisa Citterio: ‘I’m Looking For Ways To Live This Moment As Calmly As Possible’

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on April 23, 2020

Elisa Citterio (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of Tafelmusik)
Elisa Citterio (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of Tafelmusik)

We’re almost at the two-month mark into this lockdown, and if there’s a moment for organizations to amplify their planning efforts for what their fall season will look like, this is it. That’s what Elisa Citterio, Tafelmusik’s Music Director, is focused on at this moment of uncertainty. She joins us to discuss the necessary adjustment to digital initiatives that companies in the performing arts, large and small, will need to make in the coming months.

Anticipating some kind of return to normal, however, does not distract her from what it’s going to take for all of us to get through this: remaining in the moment, insisting on a bright side to this unprecedented hiatus in social activity. For her that means spending more time with her three-year-old daughter and waking up without an alarm clock, among other things.

How are you doing during this pandemic?

My days are as intense as they were before the pandemic; my three-year-old is at home while I continue practising violin and working with Tafelmusik through digital meetings, phone calls, and emails.

For the first time in more than 20 years, my schedule is marked by a pleasant routine. Rather than being awakened by an alarm clock, it’s the sunshine that announces the day’s arrival. We gather around the table for regular meals, I participate in my daughter Olivia’s games and educational activities, and I also manage to carve out some time for my own violin practice.

The life of a musician can be a whirlwind between impossibly hectic travel, a succession of concerts, and random sleep/wake cycles. So the regularity of the rhythms imposed by this pandemic reminds me of times past, when daily life was much more consistent and it was pleasant to be lulled by that rhythm.

Elisa Citterio (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Elisa Citterio (Photo courtesy of the artist)

What are some of the ways you are keeping busy artistically?

As Music Director of Tafelmusik, I’m responsible for all of the artistic choices that we make as an organization. During this period of absence from the stage, we’re working on developing new digital content, sharing ideas, and imagining future projects for these platforms. Every bit of musical content we produce is the result of a process of choices, virtual meetings, and implementation.

We’re also preparing ourselves for every possible scenario this fall and looking for ways to continue to offer beauty and art to our new and existing audiences and followers.

We’ve been working on a video recording of the orchestra members (in isolation) playing two excerpts from my new orchestral arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. We had originally been scheduled to premiere the entire work in a series of live concerts from April 22 to 28, so the musicians wanted to come together to offer a little taste of our preparations for the preempted premiere. We look forward to a public performance of the complete work some time in the future.

I also oversee my daughter’s violin practice and I’m looking for ways to live this moment as calmly as possible.

Any specific books, films, or TV on the go?

I haven’t owned a TV in 25 years and haven’t had time to watch a film since my daughter was born! But bedtime stories are a daily ritual, and when she’s asleep I start working on my iPad. Normally I shut everything down when I get sleepy.

I also like reading articles and newspapers, and when I have the chance, I study treatises on period performance practice.

Any words of wisdom to get through this?

If I’m able to get past my own worry about my family in Italy and the very sad news about the poverty and pain resulting from the pandemic, I would encourage those who aren’t living through dramatic moments right now to note the positive aspects of what we’re going through.

We’re surrounded by anxiety and fear, so I think it’s fundamentally important to highlight the other aspects that are characterizing these days. Many families are reunited for the first time; some are able to fully enjoy the arrival of newborn children, for example, while other parents are participating in their children’s education. Many are learning to cook and look after their daily nutrition. Time passes more slowly, in a less frenetic way. We are producing less pollution, we have more time for ourselves and to talk with loved ones. We’re rediscovering lost friendships, and we understand how essential social and physical contact is to our existence, as well as self-contemplation. My motto these days is to avoid dwelling on the deprivations that we are experiencing and focus instead on every silver lining.

What do you think are some of the ways arts communities can better prepare for adjusting to a crisis such as this?

I think the key word is flexibility. We have to be prepared for a recovery that will be simultaneously slow and fast; know how to organize events for smaller audiences or even remote audiences; align with other organizations that offer similar content while maintaining our own unique signature; continue to support our mission and our musicians, who represent our artform and who pass their knowledge on to future generations; strongly support our presence in the community while trying to reach those without easy access to concert halls; and to offer comfort. In this particular moment, we must also develop a strong media presence across all digital platforms and maintain the high quality that is our trademark.

What are some of the ways Tafelmusik is preparing for returning to regular performances once restrictions are lifted?

In addition to what I mentioned above, we’ve been having meetings aimed at outlining three possible scenarios for the 2020/21 season. In order for this to happen, we need more information and a better understanding of how the situation will continue to unfold, especially within the city of Toronto.

Any special projects in the meantime?

Stay tuned for the Goldberg Variations orchestral excerpts video online this week. Since my teenage years, the Goldberg Variations is music that has been present at all the crucial moments of my life, so it’s been especially comforting to return to it during the unprecedented situation that we are all experiencing. The enduring, timeless nature of Bach’s music grounds us, reminding us of our shared humanity. I hope that our digital orchestral version will bring joy and help people feel a little less isolated.

The video is part of #TafelmusikTogether, a digital initiative we launched on March 17 on Tafelmusik’s Instagram, Facebook and YouTube channels. Music lovers are invited to join us virtually for short performances and other artistic content being shared from our musicians’ living rooms and kitchens, including a violin-building series with Tom Georgi. Our musicians’ own new arrangements of music will also be performed in isolation, and the occasional cameo by Olivia as she practises violin!

For more chats with artists in social isolation, read on HERE.

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Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael is a student at the University of Toronto, a music writer and general arts critic on briband.com He has been published in The Wholenote Magazine, Opera Canada, The Dance Current, Schmopera and more.
Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael Zarathus-Cook

Michael is a student at the University of Toronto, a music writer and general arts critic on briband.com He has been published in The Wholenote Magazine, Opera Canada, The Dance Current, Schmopera and more.
Michael Zarathus-Cook
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