Music Director  Elisa Citterio, Susanna Foster and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Photo credit Dahlia Katz

Feet of Blue; Photo credit: Tim McLaughlan, MAIWA

The choirs of Earl Haig Secondary School and Unionville High School in The Indigo Project; Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

If you were ever to wonder about the blue in denim, or how “jeans” got to be called “jeans”, the answers are in Alison Mackay and Tafelmusik’s latest creation entitled The Indigo Project playing at the Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul Centre this weekend and at the George Weston Recital Hall on Tuesday March 3rd 2020.  Mackay, Suba Sankaran, a world/fusion vocalist, and Trichy Sankaran, a virtuoso percussionist,  have teamed up to present an immensely engaging and enlightening multi-media look at the world of indigo dye, its origins, its effects on European culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and its lasting legacy in today’s world. 

Attending The Indigo Project’s opening night, I was bowled over by the way it brought together the music and stories of Indian and European culture. Suba Sankaran’s intoxicating vocal sounds of traditional South Indian music along with those of Indian music scholar and composer Trichy Sankaran, Suba’s father and guru, created an immediate musical engagement with the audience. There was an incredible connection of emotional and musical synchronicity between the two musicians. Their opening work, Sri Gananada by the Carnatic composer Purandara Dasa (1484-1564) was a prayerful invocation. Their concluding piece entitled Chana, by the Indian composer T.A.S Mani and co-composed by Suba, was a playful interchange of imitation. Their virtuosity was unmistakable and their joy of music-making euphoric. 

The Indigo Project was called a “project” because it was more than a concert performance. As an example, it involved outreach to Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute that resulted in the making of a quilt by students using indigo dye. The quilt is on display at Trinity-St. Paul Centre. Next week, there will be free educational concerts bringing the stories of the project to elementary students.

Alison Mackay’s creations for Tafelmusik have been bringing relevance to Baroque Music for several years. Whether in the influence of the coffee trade, the contribution of refugees, or the artisans of Leipzig, her creations have been thoroughly researched and have in every instance found compelling human stories that have touched audiences and brought new meaning to the work of the orchestra. Indeed, Mackay has given a global context to the music of Tafelmusik.  

Review by David Richards
Toronto ON February 28th 2020

The Indigo Project: Yet another multimedia triumph for Alison Mackay and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra

The Indigo Project continues with performances tonight through March 1st 2020 at Trinity-St. Paul Centre. For best ticket availability, the program will be repeated at the George Weston Recital Hall, Meridian Arts Centre at 8pm on Tuesday, March 3rd 2020.

Narrator Cynthia Smithers and projected image, The Indigo Project
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

Creator of The Indigo Project Alison Mackay; Photo credit: Sian Richards

Suba Sankaran and Trichy Sankaran in The Indigo Project
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz

Narrator Cynthia Smithers gave life to a compelling human story with a combination of dramatic readings, song and dance. The story travelled from the origins of Indigo dye growing and processing in ancient India, to cities like London, Paris and Genoa in 17th and 18th century Europe via the ships that also supported the slave trade. The dye was used in textiles for the court of Louis XIV, for the abandoned children of the Foundling Hospital, and for the canvas cloths of Genoa. I found Smithers to be particularly effective in her delivery of the compelling song, Ballow my babe

The Tafelmusik Orchestra performed music by Lully, Handel, Stradella, Corelli and Fasch including a short history of the Concerto Grosso and an interesting sojourn to south India where European instruments were integrated into the artistic landscape. Each of the works presented represented a locale in which Indigo dye had made a societal impact. I was particularly impressed with the solo work of oboists John Abberger and Marco Cera along with bassoonist Dominic Teresi in the   Sonata for 2 Oboes, Bassoon & Continuo in B-flat Major by Johann Friedrich Fasch. Also notable were violinists Susannah Foster and Geneviève Gilardeau in Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major, op. 6, no. 1. The orchestra under the impeccable direction of its Artistic Director Elisa Citterio, performed exquisitely, as always.   


Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto and beyond!
- ​symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music​ -

A highlight of the program for me was the inclusion of choirs from Earl Haig Secondary School and Unionville High School (with the support of six men from the Tafelmusik Choir). The chorus “Sing, O ye heav’ns” from Handel’s Belshazzar was a stunning closing to the first half of the program. With the orchestra behind them, the choirs were conducted from the balcony by Tafelmusik Choir’s conductor, Ivars Taurens who elicited abundant energy from the youthful voices. In the second half of the program they sang from the side balconies in a beautiful a capella setting of Filippo Cioni’s  Lauda: Io mi sento liquefare. Thereafter, the choirs returned to the mainstage where Suba Sankaran led them in her own arrangement of Purandara Dasa’s Kamalajadhala.