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Author: Becca Vaclavik

Travel through time and space with Tafelmusik’s ‘Tales of Two Cities’


Leipzig, Germany. Damascus, Syria. Two urban hubs, worlds apart in terms of their culture—architecture, cuisine, musical influences. Or so you’d think.

According to Alison Mackay, double bassist for Tafelmusik, these cities have historic connections that might surprise most audiences. Leipzig, for example, was a key study center for Arabic and Syrian culture during the baroque era.

“I’m always interested in turning a new lens on Bach’s repertoire or seeing it in the context of what else was happening in the world at the time baroque music was being played, just to put in a richer historical—and perhaps more global—context.

“And, well, sometimes one thing leads to another,” she says with a smile in her voice.

Mackay is the creator of Tafelmusik’s March 4 Boulder program “Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House.” It’s a piece she developed over the course of several years, regularly traveling from Toronto to Leipzig to uncover new pieces of knowledge.

Her research was extensive. In addition to countless hours spent in libraries, Mackay was in touch with experts all over the world for inspiration. An art historian weighed in on the architecture of coffee houses during the baroque era. It had a direct impact. “Tales of Two Cities” has a theatrical set inspired by an actual room from 18th century Damascus the historian restored for a state museum in Dresden, Germany.

When Mackay conceives a program like this one, everything works hand in hand to tell the story, authentically tying the music to a greater narrative. The end result, as Boulder audiences will see, is a striking performance that has been hailed as a “phenomenon that was unexpected and powerful,” (The Globe and Mail) and a “flawless affair, musically as well as aesthetically” (Musical Toronto).

It’s wholly different from a typical baroque concert—because it’s something more. In addition to the set, the performance will feature projections with images and film, as well as scripted text. A narrator acts as a tour guide throughout the program. The members of Tafelmusik will perform the piece from memory to allow for more movement and staging. They’ll play on original instruments from the baroque period. The orchestra will be joined onstage by Trio Arabica—Maryem Tollar, voice and qanun; Demetri Petsalakis, oud; and Naghmeh Farahmand, percussion—who will play classical Arabic music as part of the program.

“What we’re trying to do is recreate the feeling of being an audience member in a coffee house in 18th century Germany and in 18th century Syria.”

The effect is a night that is sometimes concert, sometimes history lesson, sometimes adventure. It’s a musical feat that is sure to be a treat for the eyes as well as the ears.

See Tafelmusik in Macky Auditorium on March 4. Tickets start at $15.