March 22, 23 & 24

Directed by Julia Wedman, violin
Created by Alison Mackay
Narrated by Jonathan Woody, singer & composer

It’s no wonder so many of Mackay’s creations have been performed for audiences around the world—there’s really nothing like them.” — The Globe and Mail

February 15, 2024 … A pinnacle of Tafelmusik’s 45th anniversary season is the world premiere of Staircases by former Tafelmusik double bassist Alison Mackay, whose award-winning multimedia programs have enhanced the orchestra’s reputation for artistic innovation. Designed in collaboration with the acclaimed American bass-baritone and composer Jonathan Woody, and with music direction by Julia Wedman, this program explores the remarkable cultural symbolism of staircases through words, images, and music. Staircases takes place on March 22 and 23 at 8 PM, and March 24 at 3 PM at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available at

So much more than architectural conveniences, staircases became theatres of power, markers of status, settings for musical performances, and avenues for slavery and freedom. Whether they were climbed by the richest or the least powerful in baroque society, staircases made a rich setting for both the music and the human dramas that unfolded on them.

Staircases includes works by Lully, Purcell, Handel, Corelli, Fux, Platti, Bach, and Vivaldi. It culminates with the premiere of a new work by Jonathan Woody, whose artistic practice is informed by his deep understanding of historical issues and his commitment to social equity and justice. Scoredfor bass-baritone and orchestra, the final movement of the new work includes a setting of a passage from the poem “On Imagination” by the influential 18th-century African-American poet, Phyllis Wheatly. As “the most celebrated enslaved person in the British Empire” (The New Yorker), Wheatly gave voice to the growing antislavery movement.

Mackay’s idea for Staircases emerged from her research for two previous Tafelmusik multimedia programs that touched on the subject of the transatlantic slave trade.

“I had wanted to go deeper in examining the debt which some of our most beloved works of art and music owed to the proceeds from slavery,” says Mackay. “The focus on staircases was a quirky choice of theme, but it allowed for a lot of gorgeous music, as well as an opportunity to gradually build a case about complex connections between the arts and economic issues.”

“Working with Alison on her creations is always a career highlight for me,” says Juila Wedman.  “She has an amazing gift for taking something that seems simple and finding deep meaning and surprising associations. Alison connects the dots in unusual and wonderful ways, and many of the concepts from her research will remain percolating in my brain for many years after these concerts have ended.”

“Alison Mackay’s genius for connecting the music we love with the world from which it came has been enchanting and enriching us for many years now,” says Artistic Co-Director Cristina Zacharias. “Staircases offers us another opportunity to deepen our understanding of issues that are more relevant than ever. We’re so glad to welcome back Jonathan Woody, whose artistic voice is an integral part of this program. Jonathan has been a friend of Tafelmusik since he first appeared with us in 2016 as one of the winners of our vocal competition. Staircases is sure to be a profound and fascinating journey for musicians and audience alike.”


Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra presents the world premiere of
Directed by Julia Wedman, violin
Created by Alison Mackay
Narrated by Jonathan Woody, singer & composer

Mar 22 & 23 at 8 PM
Mar 24 at 3 PM                                  
Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
Tickets start at $26.50. Available at

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Tafelmusik gratefully acknowledges the support of BMO, Presenting Sponsor of the 2023/24 concert season. We are also grateful to our government partners Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Trillium Foundation.


Alison Mackay played violone and double bass with Tafelmusik from 1979–2019, and has remained active in the creation of multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural programming for the orchestra. A number of her projects, which include The Four Seasons, a Cycle of the Sun; The Galileo Project; House of Dreams; and Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House have been made into feature documentary films and have toured extensively around the world. In 2006, her children’s adventure, The Quest for Arundo Donax, was awarded the JUNO Award for Children’s Recording of the Year. Under her leadership, Tafelmusik has sponsored two city-wide arts festivals: the 2005 Metamorphosis Festival was a presentation of music, art, dance, film, and theatre inspired by the stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the 2008 Sacred Spaces, Sacred Circles Festival was a celebration of architecture and arts in the worship spaces of many cultures in the city of Toronto.  She is the recipient of the 2013 Betty Webster Award for her contribution to orchestral life in Canada. 


American bass-baritone Jonathan Woody is a versatile and dynamic musician who maintains an active schedule as a performer and composer across North America. Cited for singing “with resonance and clarity” (Washington Post), he appears regularly as soloist with historically informed orchestras. In the 2021/22 season, he served as Artistic Advisor for the Portland Baroque Orchestra. An accomplished chamber musician, Woody often performs as a member of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, and has recently performed in collaboration with Kaleidoscope Ensemble and TENET Vocal Artists, among others. Jonathan has participated in premiere performances of works by leading composers.

Woody’s compositional voice blends 17th- and 18th-century inspiration with the minimalism and socially conscious subject matter of today. 

Jonathan is committed to racial equity in the field of the performing arts, and currently serves on Early Music America’s Task Force for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access.

Presently living on traditional Lenape lands now known as Brooklyn, NY, he holds degrees from McGill University and the University of Maryland, College Park, and is an alumnus of the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute.


Every now and then a group of musicians comes along and changes the way we think about music. For over four decades, Tafelmusik has been synonymous worldwide with dynamic, engaging, and soulful performances informed by scholarship, passion, and artistic excellence. Performed on instruments and in styles appropriate to the era, 17th- to 19th-century instrumental and choral music share the stage with exciting multimedia programs, bold new commissions, and intriguing cross-cultural collaborations. From a vibrant home season in Toronto, to international tours, award-winning recordings, and inspiring education programs, Tafelmusik is a musical powerhouse with a reputation for thrilling and delighting audiences.

Media contact:
Luisa Trisi, Big Picture Communications | 427 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON M5S 1X7