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Tafelmusik’s managing director leaves a rich legacy

Tricia Baldwin, photographed at Trinity St Paul’s United Church in Toronto, is leaving Tafelmusik in December to become head of a new performing arts centre at Queen’s University in Kingston.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

We do go on in this city about our world-class pretensions. Our need for self-justification is long-standing and historic, all-consuming. But often, our hopes for world-class status go awry. It seems, for example, that having Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart and the news anchor in Manilla know our name doesn't really cut it for a lot of us.

So, Toronto, do you want to see world-class quality in action in our town? Come with me to the basement of Trinity-St. Paul's Church, at Bloor and Spadina streets, and meet Tricia Baldwin. She is the managing director of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir who announced in September that she is leaving the organization after 14 years to become director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts at Queen's University in Kingston.

In her tiny office, currently even more spartan than usual as Tafelmusik's performing and administrative space is in the midst of its second stage of renovations, Baldwin seems modest, a bit shy, passionate to be sure, but down to earth. An unassuming Canadian, one might be tempted to say.

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And then you survey this woman's accomplishments. Since she joined the baroque orchestra in 2000, Tafelmusik's operating revenue has doubled and it has eliminated its deficit, enjoyed 14 consecutive financial surpluses, increased its endowments from $314,000 to $5-million and sits on a current balance sheet of $800,000.

Baldwin also managed a superb renovation of the organization's performing space that came in on time and under budget, launched a new record label, expanded the organization's touring, developed a world-renowned baroque training facility, helped it launch brand-new performance practices, and generally provided the stability and vision that allows Tafelmusik to be at the top of its field internationally. You want world-class, Tricia Baldwin is world-class.

What's the secret of her success? Ask her colleagues, and they give you a consistent, but unexpected answer. "Her humanity and integrity," Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik's former music director, replies instantly. "Trish has a big brain, the biggest I've ever worked with, but, more importantly, she is a caring, humane person."

Patricia Barretto, a colleague who is the executive director of Opera Atelier, with whom Tafelmusik works regularly, says, "Trish is completely selfless. She constantly encourages other people to do their best and so has earned tremendous loyalty from the people around her. She has a wonderful ability to prioritize – to separate the urgent from the important, and not let the chaos of the day-to-day deflect her from her vision. She's a truly great leader."

Baldwin joined Lamon and Tafelmusik after stints with the Kingston Symphony and Ballet BC, with a music degree from the University of Toronto in one hand and a master of business administration from York University's Schulich School of Business in the other. To her, the two degrees fit extremely well. "I've never seen my work here as divided into left brain and right brain activity. Musicians are great problem-solvers. Often, when I've got an administrative or financial problem, I call in the musicians to help me. Musicians are naturally analytic."

Baldwin is excited about her new opportunity at Queen's, where she will create a season on her own, as well as collaborate with academics, students and colleagues from other media as she directs the new Bader Centre. But she knows she's leaving behind a special bond with Lamon, her colleague for 15 years. "It's been such a beautiful team," she says, "in that we just get each other. I've always been able to trust her so much. And it's funny that this incredibly exuberant ensemble that is Tafelmusik is run by two introverts. But Jeanne and I are both third-born, so we've grown up with lots of people around. It's just natural for us to talk things through, and be collaborative."

But there's more to the team than simple birth order. "We both have a sense of adventure," Baldwin notes. "We get bored just doing A-B-C. And Tafelmusik's always been crystal clear as to why it's here. Often when an organization's finances go off, it's because its vision is off."

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And that vision? "If you walk away from the excellence piece, you're dead," says Baldwin. "We learned that everything we do has to be at the highest level, from the record label to the training institute. When we first got into education, I realized that our teaching had to be at the same level as our playing. We couldn't start with a wimpy artists' training program. The excellence has to be maintained at every single level of the organization."

It is a measure of Tafelmusik's confidence that it is relatively sanguine about losing both its long-serving music director and long-serving managing director at the same time. Others might not be so calm.

But Lamon is still on board as an adviser and artistic presence as the organization selects her successor, a process that is lengthy but well under way. Nonetheless, within a year or so, Tafelmusik will have a new leadership team on board, only the second music director and third managing director the organization has had since 1981. A world-class organization will begin its next chapter. And as well as we know Jeanne Lamon's name in association with that reputation, that international status was surely built as much by Tricia Baldwin as anyone else in Tafelmusik's history. Even if she did it from a church basement.

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