“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). 

A pinnacle of our 45th-anniversary season is Staircases, a new creation by Alison Mackay, whose award-winning multimedia programs have enhanced Tafelmusik’s reputation for artistic innovation. The concert is designed in collaboration with the acclaimed American bass-baritone and composer Jonathan Woody,who acts as narrator, singer, and creator of a new work. 

Through words, stunning images, and music by Lully, Purcell, Handel, Platti, Bach, Vivaldi, and Woody directed from the violin by Tafelmusik’s Julia Wedman, the program explores journeys on staircases and the concepts they represented. 

In the age of baroque music, staircases were scenes of dramatic ceremony, public piety, and colourful urban commerce. So much more than architectural conveniences, they became theatres of power, markers of status, settings for musical performances, and avenues for slavery and freedom. 

At the Palace of Versailles, the Ambassadors’ Staircase was designed to humble diplomats and dazzle visitors with the work of builders, painters, and the musicians who performed there on ceremonial occasions. 

Meanwhile, on Pickle Herring Stairs in London, Thames watermen unloaded cargo boats and met passengers to ferry them to parliament at Westminster or an evening at the Dorset Garden Theatre. Entering the theatre by water steps, the audience would have heard the tunes of river ballads and popular dances echoed in the music of Henry Purcell

The history of baroque culture is entwined with that of the Atlantic slave trade. Men, women, and children were forced to descend staircases to slave ships. Only a fraction of these escaped, ascending staircases to the promise of freedom. 

Join us for a powerful journey into the remarkable cultural symbolism of staircases. 


Staircases will be filmed for future digital broadcast. 


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


Image: Dean’s Staircase, St. Paul’s Cathedral by Steve Crawford

Box Office
Tafelmusik Box Office
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Running Time
2 hours
Style of Music
Baroque (orchestral)

Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

Alison MacKay


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 Canadian 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.  

Jonathan Woody

Narrator, singer & composer

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. 


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


Instrumental music by Lully, Purcell, Handel, Platti, Bach, Vivaldi

Premiere of a new work by Jonathan Woody