Click on a link below to read a review of Camerata Nova.

"… a first-class performance of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610…" (April, 2013)

By Gwenda Nemerofsky
If audience members attended Camerata Nova’s The Full Monte Sunday expecting a musical rendition of the 1997 British hit film about unemployed steel workers forming a male striptease act, they came away surprised – but likely not disappointed.
What they did get to witness was a first-class performance of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, Vespro della Beata Vergine, sung by 20 voices, including soloists, complete with a 13-piece orchestra of mostly period instruments.
In the second of two weekend performances, an eager crowd of close to 500 was riveted to every one of the 26 movements – a credit to Camerata Nova (CN) and conductor Ross Brownlee. The Vespers may be over 400 years old, but they can move! From tenor Michael Thompson’s glorious and powerful opening lines to the final triumphant cadence, the work hummed along with nary a hitch, thanks to solid solo work, gorgeous choral sections and richly textured orchestral playing.
Guest singers Marni Enns, soprano, Kirsten Schellenberg, mezzo-soprano, tenor Doug Pankratz and bass, Kris Kornelsen performed quite dependably throughout the program. Veteran Derek Morphy hasn’t lost a step, still commanding at 70-something, but many of the most impressive soloists stepped out of the choir itself.
Alto Dan Peasgood had the most prominent role, initially in the motet, Nigra Sum, a passionate and revealing “concerto,” the first of four based on love poetry from the Song of Solomon. Peasgood embodied the piece, aptly conveying a range of emotion, his unique timbre and expressiveness assured and convincing.
Another highlight was the solo duet in Pulchra es¸ sung with lovely eloquence by sopranos Melodie Langevin and Elle Salvalaggio. Their voices blended superbly, Langevin with feather-light phrasing and clarity of tone, Salavaggio a gentler, more delicate approach.
Young tenor Michael Schellenberg did an admirable job, often having to echo Peasgood’s passages in various movements. He offered good contrast in both tone and dynamics – and most importantly, spot-on pacing.
Maria Luz Alvarez travelled from Thompson, Manitoba to participate in this program, but her prodigious talent was sadly underused. In Sancta Maria, she was situated behind the orchestra, barely audible. Fortunately we had a better opportunity to hear the creamy heaviness of her voice in Avis maris stella. Alto Victoria Marshall also shone in this movement, singing with a truly gorgeous and wholesome rounded quality.
It was a treat to hear an orchestra with so many early instruments – not something Winnipeggers hear often. The cornettos are nothing short of extraordinary – a combination of several instruments yet sounding like no other. The sackbuts added resonance. The string players paid great attention to authentic detail and the portative organ and theorbo brought true 17th century flavour to the entire program.
This production was a massive undertaking, a labour of love and a great success.

Monteverdi masterpiece a challenging undertaking (March 2013)

By: Gwenda Nemerofsky

IF the possibility of time travel has ever appealed to you, you’re in luck. On Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7, at Westminster United Church, Camerata Nova will take a step back in history with a full-length production of Claudio Monteverdi’s 1610 magnum opus, Vespers for the Blessed Virgin.

The tongue-in-cheek concert name is The Full Monte, telling us something immediately about this musical organization. These are serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re having fun — and this is passed along to their loyal audience.

“We did portions of it a few seasons ago,” conductor Ross Brownlee says of the 90-minute work. “It is so powerful. Whenever I need a life reset, I listen to the Vespers. But it takes enormous resources. It is intricate, with passionate solo work.”

Rehearsals began just over a month ago. Brownlee, a music teacher at Westgate Collegiate, is holding 10 rehearsals with the singers, the last of which will be with the 14-piece orchestra. “This is the biggest undertaking I’ve ever done,” he says. “There is lots of rehearsal planning…”

He feels all the preparation will be worth it. “It’s extremely accessible,” he explains. “It’s tonal, very rhythmic and there is an enormous amount of excitement. There’s a vast amount of colour because of the instruments and some of the vocal solos and duets are the most passionate you’ll ever hear.”

Generally believed to have been composed for the wedding celebrations of the Duke of Mantua’s son, Prince Francesco, and his bride, Margherita of Savoy, Vespers is a revolutionary setting of the five psalms, hymns and Magnificat that make up a Roman Catholic Vespers service. Monteverdi also included four motets for various numbers of voices, based primarily on love poetry from the Song of Solomon.

Solo parts abound, with a number of Camerata Nova choir members performing substantial parts. There are six additional soloists: soprano Maria Luz Alvarez, bass Derek Morphy and the members of the Encore Quartet — soprano Marni Enns, mezzo Kirsten Schellenberg, tenor Doug Pankratz and bass Kris Kornelsen.

The orchestra is not your usual collection of standard instruments. The five-piece string section — violinists Claudine St-Arnauld and Rachel Moody, violist Anne Elise Lavallée, cellist Leanne Zacharias and bass Meredith Johnson — will all use gut strings to reproduce as authentic a sound as possible.

Camerata Nova singer Michael McKay will provide organ continuo on a portative organ and Phil Rukavina will play lute and theorbo, an oversized Italian-developed lute.

Alexandra Opsahl, Matthew Jennejohn and Douglas Kirk will play cornetti, curved wooden pipes prized for their ability to complement the human voice. “They do a magnificent tightrope walk,” said Brownlee. “It’s delicate and magical.”

On sackbut, a predecessor of the modern trombone, will be WSO principal trombonist Steve Dyer and Peter Christensen. Trevor Dix will play bass sackbut.

Brownlee says there will be “surround sound” effects, with musicians and singers situated throughout the church.

“There are duels between the strings and cornetti,” he said. “And live improvisation… One group will do a decoration and the other will try to top it.”

What gives a work written in 1610 the relevance to grab listeners in 2013? “Each movement is so different; there is no sense of boredom,” said Brownlee. “It goes from theatrical to driving to passionate… And it’s such a big enterprise that it won’t be back again soon. This is a landmark.”

There are 30-minute pre-show talks at 7:15 p.m. Saturday and 2:15 p.m. Sunday, with the concerts starting at 8 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively.

Tickets are $28/adults, $23/seniors and $12 for students, available at 204-918-4547, at, McNally Robinson and at the door.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2013 D3

"… this was a perfectly executed, excellent concert." (May 2012)

From the Middle Ages to Manitoba, Camerata Nova
Friday, May 11, 2012 at Convocation Hall, University of Winnipeg

Review by Monica Hultin, Winnipeg Early Music Society Newsletter, May 2012

We attended the concert on Friday, May 11.

Co-presented by Virtuosi Concerts, this performance did not take place in Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall as most Virtuosi concerts, but in the Convocation Hall of Wesley College at University of Winnipeg. For Camerata Nova, this was an excellent site, having both excellent acoustics and lovely ambience. It also allowed for ease in staging, with some pieces performed from the balcony, most from the front and the antiphonal encore performed with the choir arrayed along the two sides of the hall.

The concert presented pilgrim pieces from the Middles Ages to present day Manitoba. The medieval offerings included pieces from the Llibre Vermell, a collection of pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat in Spain. This included Stella Splendens, a piece familiar to WEMS members who sing with This Merrie Companie. In this case, it was sung to a lively dancelike tempo. Angela Neufeld began, lightly singing the chorus with Dan Peasgood do-dooing the second line, followed by the whole group joining in, accompanied by percussion, santur and harp. I marvel how well Angela Neufeld’s alto blends with Dan Peasgood’s countertenor; they may be singing in the same range but individually have different sounding voices. From the same collection, the round O Virgo Splendenswas sung from the balcony by the three sopranos, Maria Luz Alvarez, Melodie Langevin and Elle Salvaggio. Two simple pieces, Laudemus Virginum and Splendens ceptigera were presented, then sung as rounds, and eventually superimposed upon each other. Finishing off music from the collection, Cuncti simus concanentes was very lively and dancelike, (for a hint of how this piece sounds, check the pre-concert video on Many of the different singers were featured on separate lines, effectively using their different tones. Perhaps this was to represent the different pilgrims one may find on the journey? Interjected among the devotional pieces was a devotion to a decidedly secular version of love. Michael McKay sang Tempus est Jocundum from Carmina Burana with great expression, accompanying himself on harp.

The Renaissance pieces included music by Gombert. Of note was the Magnificat tertii et octavi toni, in which each section started with a chant sung by Andrew Balfour, then followed by the men’s voices and then ever larger ensembles from trios to the full group, terracing up to a glorious end.

Bridging between Renaissance and Baroque was Allegri’sMiserere mei, Deus, with the quartet solo in the balcony, all the better for the soaring soprano of Elle Salvaggio. The Baroque pieces included the string playing of Claudine St-Arnauld, Rachel Moody, violins, Anne-Élise Lavalée, viola and Yuri Hooker, cello plus Michael McKay on keyboard. The first of these pieces, Antonio Scarlatti’s Lamentatione per il Mercadi Santo, was expertly handled by guest soprano Maria Luz Alvarez. Dramatic and powerful, Ms. Alvarez held the audience’s attention throughout the many sections of the piece. As well as this piece, Ms. Alvarez’ choices of solo pieces included the concert opener Ay trista vida corporal – a chant from El Misterio del Elche – a 14th century song for the street procession of Corpus Christi, and Ay amargas soledades, a 17th century plaintive lament presented by Ms. Alvarez and accompanied by Yuri Hooker on cello. I appreciate Ms. Alvarez introducing us to these wonderful Spanish pieces, which we may not be so familiar with in Winnipeg.

Finally the two concerts included two Manitoba Offerings, O Fortuna by Andrew Balfour, and a slightly truncated version of Kenneth Nichols’ Music for Pilgrims and Penitents, reflecting on the stations of the cross and written in memory of the 14 woman killed in the Montreal Massacre. Although I had heard this piece when it premiered years ago, this evening I found it particularly affecting.

In conclusion, this was a perfectly executed, excellent concert. Each piece of the program held one’s attention, the flow of pieces worked well, including juxtaposing pieces from different periods, and full groups with small ensembles. We were treated to many different singers featured in solos and small ensembles. I really had a problem even deciding which pieces to comment on for this review, they were all so well done. Congratulations Camerata Nova and co-sponsors Virtuosi for a great performance!

Camerata Nova takes audience on journey past all four horizons (April 2011)

Camerata Nova took its loyal choral fans to all ends of the earth Sunday afternoon, as its second season offeringDirections: A Day in the Life of Mother Earth explored the “meaning and magic” of the four directions.

The eclectic program included four sets of music inspired by traditional cultures’ interpretation of east, north, west and south. Each section, in turn, began with an Anishinabe song performed by local Aboriginal singer/drummer Corey Campbell that underscored the program with sacred reverence.

Holding the concert in the Circle of Life Thunderbird House — a CN concert first — only added to the experience that began with a traditional smudge ceremony invoking gathering spirits.

Now in its 14th year, CN is known for innovative programming spearheaded by founding artistic director Andrew Balfour. This concert proved no different with the 14-voice ensemble led by Mel Braun shifting position throughout the two-hour show, facing the direction corresponding to each set. While playing havoc with sight lines — not to mention diction — this novel concept nevertheless showed the organization’s care paid to creating a unique concert experience for its listeners.

The world premiere of Balfour’s Omnia Sol Temperat (East) is a meditative reflection on worship of the sun, based on medieval text used in the Carmina Burana. The modal work displayed Balfour’s ear for close harmonies with guest string quartet: Claudine St-Arnauld (violin); Rachel Moody (violin); Anne Elise Lavallée (viola); and Blair Burns (cello) seamlessly interwoven throughout while adding its own sonic texture.

Also from the east set, Minnesota-based composer Catherine Dalton’s From the State of Emptiness evokes haunting Tibetan chant including otherworldly, whistling vocal overtones led by chorister Alan Schroeder.

Ave Maria (West) by New-Brunswick’s James Fogarty is an arresting a cappella work that steadily grows in intensity as its melody derives from densely scored harmonies.

Minnesotan composer Abbie Betinis’ Spell of the Elements (West) intrigued with its incorporation of spoken text, foot stomps, and extended vocal techniques creating naturalistic colours.

The program ended with Winnipeg-based musician Richard Moody’s Maya (South) based on his own text and first performed by CN in 2008. Described as “a poetic, humorous look at the birth and death of the universe,” Moody’s re-scoring of the work for choir and string quartet unfolded as a lilting, melodic excursion to the cosmos before finally bringing this unusual concert full circle.


Camerata Nova

Circle of Life Thunderbird House

April 3 attendance: 280

four out of five stars

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 4, 2011 D3

"We sat enthralled, never knowing what would happen next" (March 2010)

****1/2 OUT OF FIVE

Medieval Inuit, Saturday, March 13, 2010, Église Précieux-Sang

Review by Gwenda Nemerofsky, Winnipeg Free Press

Andrew Balfour, artistic director of Camerata Nova is a wise man. At the acapella vocal ensemble’s concert Saturday night, he said, “It is impossible to describe music in mere words. You need to experience it.”

And an experience is exactly what Camerata Nova gave their audience.

It started with the venue. Etienne Gaboury’s magnificent creation, Église Precieux-Sang is enough to take your breath away. The all-wood interior and circular seating of the spiralling teepee structure is warm and welcoming.

The program included traditional Inuit songs, Icelandic, Estonian and Finnish works, sung, throat sung and accompanied by didgeridoo, percussion and viola. We sat enthralled, never knowing what would happen next.

We knew we were in for something different when Inuit performer Madeleine Allakariallak translated board chair Sandi Mielitz’s introductory comments into Inuktitut.

Icelandic chant Almáttugur guo, allra stétta, was mournful and full of difficult dissonant intervals handled with ease by sopranos and altos. The men’s long resonant drones rumbled through the church, but while conductor Mel Braun directed the proceedings, the difficult text kept singers’ eyes focused firmly on their music stands.

Braun’s expansive movements reaped rewards in Iceland, Land of Happiness, as ensemble members sang with smiling voices, making this optimistic folk song especially lovely.

Allakariallak stepped forward with fellow Inuk singer Sylvia Cloutier and facing each other at close range, microphones in hand, performed rhythmic throat singing. Allakariallak sang much of the time, while Cloutier did metered breathing. This visceral performance was totally arresting. We even found ourselves breathing along with them.

Arnalukakuluk featured Allakariallak and Cloutier using a variety of throat singing techniques. Some sounded like hyperventilating, while others were a little spooky. Allakariallak sang with fierce determination, gesticulating strongly.

With Joy We Go Dancing, a more traditional work by Finnish composer Rautavaara, was restful, offering an opportunity to hear the sopranos’ finely crafted notes. There are fine voices here. The men chimed in with rich phrasing, Braun maintaining flow and balance.

Throughout the evening, Frederick Ford projected historical photographs taken by his explorer grandfather on a huge screen. These Arctic images added context and authenticity.

The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Balfour’s suite of eight songs, Medieval Inuit.

Full of sounds of the North, it was a stark and atmospheric portrait of a harsh land populated by a strong people and their first encounters with early explorers.

Huge black flags were waved vigorously, sounding like sails whipping in the wind. Singers made bird-like calls and Alain Guilmette drummed thunderously.

Violist Anne-Élise Lavallée’s vibrant, rich tone was the perfect choice for the grieving, introspective interludes and, when accompanied by wind talking, was truly mesmerizing.

Allakariak sang with glowing strength and spirit in Singing the Story, her arms moving like wings. Cloutier’s drum seemed to float in her hand.

And while programming this as the opener, when many of the novel elements were as yet unheard might have created more of a stir, the crowd loved it and gave Medieval Inuit an enthusiastic standing ovation.

... tirelessly seeking new ways to express wholly authentic music" (March 2009)


Falls the Shadow, March 14-15, 2009, The Aboriginal Centre

Review by Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press, March 16, 2009

Anyone who has lain awake at night counting endless sheep would have understood Camerata Nova’s latest concert, Falls the Shadow. Saturday night’s eclectic program explored the cracks between hazy dream states and the waking world – where “magical states of consciousness are open to the unconsciousness” and anything can happen. The intriguing show was conceived by CN’s artistic director/conductor/composer Andrew Balfour, who led the 13-voice choral ensemble during the 90-minute concert, including three world premieres of his own compositions.

Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s haunting poem, The Hollow Men, the multimedia production also featured choreography by Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers artistic director Brent Lott, performed by WCD company dancers: Kristin Haight, Lise McMillan, Johanna Riley and Sarah Roche (with understudies Christie Martens and Alison Pethrick), as well as Dean Cowieson’s shadowy lighting design. Guest percussionists: Derek Elaschuk, Phoebe Man, Mark Paxton-MacRae and Michel Loiselle on hurdy-gurdy added a strong ritualistic flavour.

The two weekend shows were performed in the grand rotunda of The Aboriginal Centre, with its glorious acoustics ideally suited for the (mostly) a cappella program.

Balfour’s Between the Conception sets a verse of T.S. Eliot’s text with syncopated hockets and vocalizations, creating an unusual, lighter treatment for the bleak poetry. His ambitiousGregorio’s Nightmare displayed his flair for drama, with brave soprano soloist Karine Beaudette literally falling backwards from her perch into the waiting arms of six dancers.

The venue’s sight lines proved to be a challenge, with the dancers often seeming to disappear on their low stage. More integration between the artists – such as during Gustav Holst’s gorgeous I Love My Love where Roche wove amongst the singers like a ghostly figure – would also have created a more satisfying experience, as would have a better, stereophonic use of the richly resonant space.

We did have a taste of this with Saint-Saëns’ Calme des nuitswith the choir divided into halves, as well as during O Virgo splendens, where the choristers sang from the aisles, enveloping the crowd of 325 in sonic pleasure.

The evening’s most dramatic moment came during Balfour’s third work of the program Raven Can Tango. Near the end of the hypnotic work, Paxton-MacRae and Man suddenly broke free of the band to swing oversized black flags overhead, creating the soul-stirring sound of flapping wings that became a leitmotif for the entire concert.

Despite a few inevitable bumps that come with any creative risk-taking venture, Balfour continues to prove that he is an important voice – and restless dreamer – in Winnipeg’s rich artistic community, tirelessly seeking new ways to express wholly authentic music.

That is magic in itself.

"Bravely going where no one has gone before..." (May 2008)


Off the Wall, Thursday, May 22, Park Theatre

Review by Gwenda Nemerofsky, Winnipeg Free Press, May 24, 2008

And now for something completely different. Andrew Balfour and the a cappella group Camerata Nova took the plunge Thursday night with Off the Wall, a potpourri-style concert that could have sported the tag-line ‘Just about anything goes.’

Bravely going where no one has gone before, Balfour, joined by guest artists Richard Moody, viola, Lianne Fournier, vocals, and arranger/conductor Dan Wiebe ventured into pop, rock, jazz, medieval and more in a multi-voice, multi-instrument extravaganza that had the audience riveted.

As with almost anything experimental, some things worked and some didn’t Occasional exposed vocal lines lacked clarity and support, blend was a frequent issue and a few tunes meandered with questionable purpose, transcending into the chaotic. But the ones that worked did so in a big way, easily overshadowing the works/performances that need to go back to the drawing board.

The fun started with the unusual venue. The Park Theatre oozes kitschy charm, with its roomy seats and red-painted tabletops. Stars glittered on the walls and the stage boasted lava lamps, a sofa, easy chairs and a sheepskin rug.

The singers entered down the aisles, dressed in a mix of hippie garb and ’70s funk. Colourful psychedelic images danced on a giant screen as drummers Derek Elaschuk and Mark Paxton-MacRae, hurdy-gurdy player Michel Loiselle and Michael Thompson on didgeridoo began a Balfour-arranged version of George Harrison’s Within You, Without You.

By the time the singers joined in, there was so much going on, they seemed like an afterthought.

Will You Visit Me Dreaming Forward?, on the other hand, made much better use of this talented ensemble, employing an intriguing technique of swells and détaché notes. The first word of each line was heavily accented, and the ensemble’s crisp diction made the text, also by Balfour, clear as a bell. It ended with a moving aboriginal cry.

Lianne Fournier’s witty and irreverent Oh Zannah was a hit, combining Latin flavour with jazz for a lounge feel, slinky and silly. Poking fun at the traditional Latin text often sung by Camerata Nova, she mixed scat and nonsense with Latin for clever combinations like “sanctus fructus” and “omnibus deum.” All this was done in her commanding and rich velvety voice with singers echoing.

Dan Wiebe used a Renaissance touch in his arrangement of the Mamas and Papas hit Dedicated to the One I Love. He is a sensitive conductor, using beautifully fluid motions.

The evening finished with a romp in the farmyard as bleating, clucking and moos accompanied the performance of Bovina sancta (Holy Cow) by Balfour. A little Mozart, a nasal waltz and other vocal effects you don’t usually hear from this group had the audience in stitches. The cowbell at the end was the cat’s meow.

This was a valiant departure from Camerata Nova’s usual fare, which one nevertheless hopes will not be forsaken.

"perfectly tuned voices alternated between plaintive and joyous" (February 2008)


Rituals, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival, Westminster United Church

Review by Gwenda Nemerofsky, Winnipeg Free Press, February 5, 2008

The second concert of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s New Music Festival, Rituals, interpreted the term loosely, often leaving solemnity aside, to the delight of an almost full house on Sunday.

What emerged was a thoroughly intriguing and embracing evening of new music that stimulated the senses.

First up was Ka Hia Manu, a traditional Polynesian song arranged by Stephen Hatfield. Members of Prairie Voices lined the front and sides of the church and walked on to the stage, men holding bamboo stocks and sceptres, women with flowers in their upturned palms. This versatile choir met the changing demands of the music – at times gentle, at others strong, almost yelling.

At one point they erupted into a tribal-like dance, complete with hoots, animal calls and swaying of hips.

Andrew Balfour’s Fantasia on a Poem by Rumi featured Camerata Nova, his 14-voice a cappella ensemble and string quartet (Claudine St-Arnauld, Rachel Moody, Merrily Peters and Margaret Askeland). This was a musical exploration of the words of 12th-century Afghanistan-born poet Rumi on the idea of death and transformation.

The piece opened with the eerily magical notes of the crystal bowl. As the pristine voices of the singers entered, luxuriantly textured harmonies portrayed the emotional pulls between the finality of death and the spiritual peace it brings. Tension in the string parts acted as an underlying question, while the perfectly tuned voices alternated between plaintive and joyous. This is not a sombre look at death but a hopeful one.

Epitaph for Moonlight by R. Murray Schafer recalled a walk in the forest on a summer night. Prairie Voices and the University Singers delivered peeps of laughter, voices like the wind, whispers, solo voices followed by a myriad of echoes – a delightful sensory treat that hinted at the scent of pine needles.

Vancouver singer-songwriter Veda Hille provided what she called “palette cleansers” between choral works. Singing songs from her new CD to be released next month, her clean and simple delivery was refreshing in its unpretentiousness. Accompanying herself on the piano, she struck a stark contrast to the choirs, performing with unself-conscious abandon.

Sid Robinovitch’s Noche de Lluvia (Rainy Night) was a sensual, swaying Spanish song. Pianist C. Kayler and the University Singers really got into this hot, yet gently civilized number.