Music

Jeanne Lamon, violinist and former Tafelmusik director, dead at 71

Under more than 3 decades of her musical leadership, Tafelmusik became 'one of the world’s top baroque orchestras.'

Under more than 3 decades of her leadership, Tafelmusik became 'one of the world’s top baroque orchestras'

Jeanne Lamon received the Canada Council for the Arts' Molson Prize in 1999 and the Toronto Arts Council's Muriel Sherrin Award in 1997. (Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra/Facebook)

Violinist Jeanne Lamon, who led Toronto's famed Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra for more than three decades and served as its music director emerita since 2014, died from cancer in Victoria, B.C., on June 20 at the age of 71.

"Lamon's inspired leadership, passionate dedication to artist training, and commitment to the values of collaboration, inclusion, and artistic excellence shaped Tafelmusik over the course of her remarkable 33-year tenure from 1981 to 2014," read a statement issued by Tafelmusik, announcing Lamon's death. "Under Lamon's guidance, Tafelmusik built an enviable reputation as 'one of the world's top baroque orchestras' (Gramophone), growing from its modest beginnings to the cutting-edge period ensemble it is today under her successor, music director Elisa Citterio."

Patrick Jordan, a violist with Tafelmusik since 1993, told CBC Music that "Jeanne's devotion to Tafelmusik and 'all-in' commitment is rightly legendary. She was one of the best leaders I have had the pleasure of knowing. She had an incredible set of skills to keep disparate groups and individuals all on one side of a rock, pushing in the same direction. That balancing act was also evident in her musicianship, as she certainly had her strong ideas and commitments, and she knew how and when to end a discussion, but she left enough room for others in the orchestra to feel that they were making a real contribution."

Longtime Tafelmusik oboist John Abberger reflects fondly on Tafelmusik's 19-year tenure as ensemble in residence at the Klang und Raum Festival in Irsee, Germany. "Klang und Raum became a kind of magical retreat for us as an ensemble, and played, I think, a pivotal role in our development," he told CBC Music. "In late August, fresh from our summer vacation, we would gather at the cloister in Irsee, built at the turn of the 18th century. For an exhilarating week, freed from the distractions of our daily lives, we played the most glorious music, mostly of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, in a building that was already nearly 100 years old when much of it was written. Many factors came together to make this formative experience a reality for Tafelmusik, but the largest by far was Jeanne's devotion to our musical development as an orchestra. And she was pleased to share the leadership in partnership with Bruno Weil as we explored the riches of late 18th-century music, and expanded our musical horizons as an orchestra."

'Passionate, joyful, strong and full of life'

Those close to Lamon and the Tafelmusik organization had been prepared for the news of her death by an email statement from Tafelmusik violinist Julia Wedman on June 17, which was later shared publicly on social media.

"As many of you may have heard, our dear Tafelmusik music director emeritus, Jeanne Lamon, was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and we just received news that she is now in her last days," Wedman wrote. "It is so difficult for us to believe that someone so passionate, joyful, strong and full of life could be leaving us too soon."

Tributes poured in on social media.

In 2000, Jeanne Lamon became a member of the Order of Canada, and in 2014, a member of the Order of Ontario. (Sian Richards)

"Jeanne was my first partner in concert and recording for many of Bach's great works," wrote countertenor Daniel Taylor, head of early music at the University of Toronto, on Facebook. "I love her so much. May the flights of angels sing her to her rest."

Tricia Baldwin, managing director of Tafelmusik from 2000 to 2014, also took to Facebook to express her gratitude for Lamon's many gifts: "Always sincere, always direct, always bold, always with deep-seated integrity on and off the stage, and always big-hearted. Jeanne has been an astonishing leader and musician who was always shooting for the stars with such conviction and energy and had this wonderful drive to get us all fearlessly leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop with the eye to the next substantial adventure."

Under Lamon's directorship, Tafelmusik achieved international acclaim, largely due to its dynamic performances of music from the 17th and 18th centuries, which have been preserved in a catalogue of more than 70 albums, as well as its ambitious multimedia projects (House of Dreams, the Galileo Project) with which it toured the world extensively.

"I think it's important that we, the performers, the creators of the concert experience, experiment with new formats and new ways of performing concerts, and new ways of having the audience participate, rather than always be the passive listener," Lamon reflected during a 2014 interview. "And I think the Galileo Project is a very good example of how we can change, as performers, the concert experience without compromising the quality of the music-making."

With Lamon, Tafelmusik won nine Juno Awards — 10 if you count their 2006 recording of  Beethoven's Symphonies No. 5 and six under the direction of Bruno Weil.

"I had been in awe of her for a long time, as were many of the conductors in Europe with whom I was singing baroque operas at the time, who, upon finding out I was from Toronto, immediately expressed immense respect for her and Tafelmusik," soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian told CBC Music. Over the years, Bayrakdarian collaborated numerous times with Lamon and Tafelmusik, most notably on the Juno Award-winning Cleopatra. "So, understandably, I was a bit nervous to be working with her. What I remember most was the strong, serene, smiling and flexible way she led the first rehearsal: she listened with a keen ear, quickly adapted when it was a good idea, or firmly — yet gently — suggested another idea, always beautifully demonstrating on her violin for added conviction."

Lamon's silvery violin tone adorns the famous Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 on Tafelmusik's Juno Award-winning recording from 2003.

In 2004, Tafelmusik was nominated for a Grammy Award for best small ensemble performance (with or without conductor) for Rameau: Dardanus, Le Temple de la Gloire. "The music's greatness might not be so obvious but for Tafelmusik's fine period style, with robust yet disciplined strings, focused brasses and mellifluous woodwinds," wrote the New York Times'  David Mermelstein at the time.

Tafelmusik and Lamon performed music from Rameau's Dardanus and Handel's Water Music when they made their Carnegie Hall debut in February 2009.

Lamon was born on Aug. 14, 1949, in New York. She earned her bachelor of music degree from Brandeis University, where she studied with Robert Koff, before heading to the Netherlands to immerse herself in the then burgeoning field of period baroque performance practice, working closely with Sigiswald Kuijken.

She returned to the U.S. in the mid-1970s and established herself as a leading specialist in baroque music, winning the Erwin Bodky Award for Excellence in the Performance of Early Music in 1974 — the first violinist to do so.

Lamon's association with Tafelmusik began in 1979, when she was invited by Tafelmusik founders Kenneth Solway and Susan Graves to perform as a soloist with the group. A return engagement to play a concerto by J.S. Bach the following season confirmed the synergy and in 1981, Lamon was appointed concertmaster and music director, leading performances from her first violin chair.

'110 per cent energy'

"I will miss her laugh. I'll miss her killer instinct at the bridge table; we used to joke that if you could play a rubber of bridge with a prospective hire, it might be more useful than the interview process," said violist Jordan.

Abberger added, "No matter how gruelling the travel on tour might have been, no matter how many rehearsals and meetings she might have worked through, she always stepped onstage for a concert with 110 per cent energy and devotion to the music. She inspired and demanded this devotion from all of us, and we responded in kind."

Jeanne Lamon and members of Tafelmusik perform on a boat for the CBC program Adrienne Clarkson Presents in 1995. (CBC Still Photo Collection/Fred Phipps)

A major achievement under Lamon's tenure was the renovation of Trinity St. Paul's Church on Bloor Street West in Toronto, Tafelmusik's home venue. That was accomplished in 2013, when Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity St. Paul's Centre, was reopened for business.

After 33 years at its helm, Lamon became Tafelmusik's music director emerita in 2014 when Citterio (also a violinist) was selected as her successor. "She remains and will always be an integral part of our wonderful organization because we are the fruit of her tireless passion and tenacity," Citterio said in a statement.

In this new role, Lamon helped create the Tafelmusik International Baroque Academy, a training initiative for young musicians.

Also at that time, Lamon was named principal baroque leader of Symphony Nova Scotia, cementing a decades-long association with that organization and appearing with the orchestra several times per season. "[She] advised on our baroque programming and messaging," explained Heidi MacPhee, Symphony Nova Scotia's director of marketing and communications, to CBC Music. "She was also a key point of communication for audiences who enjoy attending those concerts."

Two years ago, Lamon and her partner, cellist Christina Mahler, moved to Victoria, B.C., where they continued to be involved in music and aimed to "spend more time outdoors in the fresh ocean air," according to Lamon's Tafelmusik bio.

"Jeanne and Christina are both cherished members of my chosen family," wrote baroque violinist Chloe Kim, artistic director of Victoria's online Music for the Pause series, to CBC Music. "These past months have been shocking and devastating for all of us who love Jeanne. It is difficult, impossible, to imagine our lives as whole without her wit, the warmth of her heart, her radiant smile, and the incredible sincerity of her music.

"Though at the time we didn't know it, I was very fortunate to have played what would be Jeanne's final concerts with her," Kim continued. "Those sunny days of chatting, laughing, sharing food and stories and insights together are memories I will always carry forward with me. Jeanne has truly changed the lives of so many people, mine included, and she leaves behind a brilliant legacy with Tafelmusik. She was a net positive force in this world — her friendship and joie de vivre will be sorely missed by all who had the privilege of knowing her."

Lamon received honorary doctorates from York University, Mount Saint Vincent University and the University of Toronto. She became a member of the Order of Canada in 2000 and in 2014, a member of the Order of Ontario.

"If the mission of humanity is to lift each other, then Jeanne Lamon has lifted innumerable souls with her legacy of transformative music-making, which continues to enrich our lives today through her many recordings," Bayrakdarian concluded.

Tafelmusik will announce plans for a special tribute to Lamon in the coming weeks.

CBC Music's In Concert will devote its entire show on Sunday, June 27, to a tribute to Lamon.

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