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Alison Mackay’s Safe Haven: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra with guests Diely Mori Tounkara (kora) and Maryem Tollar (narrator); Photo credit: Jeff Higgins

Safe Haven is a not-to-be-missed production. Visuals, narration, and music all contributed to a relevant story with a poignant message. It will be repeated tonight and tomorrow, January 20 and 21 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and January 23 at George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Remaining tickets are available at

Tafelmusik hits the mark with its inspirational stories of refugees in Safe Haven!​

Alison Mackay, Creator of Safe Haven
​Photo credit: Sian Richards

Diely Mori Tounkara (kora)

2017/18 Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra; Photo credit: Sian Richards

Naghmeh Farahmand (percussion)

Maryem Tollar (narrator and vocalist)

From the first chords of Vivaldi’s “Winter” from The Four Seasons, the shivering, chattering teeth, running and foot-stomping in the music reflected the image of refugees clawing their way across frozen lands and frigid water to escape their former world. It didn’t hurt that Music Director and violinist Elisa Cittario performed the virtuosic solos with breathtaking energy.

Narrator Maryem Tollar told the dramatic story of thousands of Huguenots escaping France at the end of the 17th century. The danger-filled journeys were followed by settlement across Europe, Africa and North America where the refugees contributed to the economy and culture of their new homelands. 

Bach’s interest in the oboe came about as a result of the instrument’s arrival with the refugees. The music of Lully, Corelli, Albinoni and Vivaldi was disseminated across Europe by the re-settled refugee-musicians and entrepreneur printers such as Amsterdam’s Éstienne Roger. The music of these composers became the backdrop for much of the drama with various members of Tafelmusik displaying their magnificent musicality.

The story of the arrival of Tamil refugees in Newfoundland, and Haitian refugees arriving from the US gave a contemporary Canadian context to the drama. Alison Mackay, in her pre-concert talk, told the story about meeting Syrian refugees who settled in Antigonish, NS and began selling home-made chocolates. The enterprise has grown in two years from an in-home family effort to a business with international distribution.  

It was Mali born Dieli Mori Tounkara on his kora, a cross between a harp and a lute, and Iranian percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand whose performances demonstrated most vividly the enriching result of bringing different cultures together. They both performed with exacting skill and improvised along with the orchestra in the concert's finale. The culmination of the evening came when the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra combined Corelli’s Allegro from Concerto grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 4 with the kora, percussion and eventually an African song, sung by vocalist Maryem Tollar along with Dieli Mori Tounkara and Naghmeh Farahmand. When the members of the orchestra joined in the singing, the message of the evening was punctuated with joyful expression. 

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON January 20th 2018

Who among us does not enjoy a well-told story? A story that is born in reality and has contemporary relevance carries the promise of emotional truth. Such was the story of Safe Haven, performed last night by Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity St. Paul Centre. The audio-visual journey into the lives of refugees from Europe, Africa and Asia demonstrated their profound influences on the cultural lives of their new homelands. Alison Mackay has once again come up with a compelling piece of theatre that seamlessly integrates the music of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe into broader world issues.