Chelsea Kutyn Wins Annual Camerata Nova Bursary At The 103rd Winnipeg Music Festival

April 22, 2021

We would like to offer our hearty congratulations to Chelsea Kutyn, who is the recipient of this year’s annual Camerata Nova bursary for the Most Outstanding Vocal or Choral Performance of Early Music at the 103rd Winnipeg Music Festival! Chelsea won recognition for her interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Wiewohl mein Herz….Ich will dir mein Herze schenken from the St. Matthew Passion.

Chelsea is currently working towards a Master of Music degree in Voice Performance at the University of Manitoba, under the tutelage of master technician, Monica Huisman. She is also one of four artists in Pacific Opera Victoria’s “Apprentice Civic Engagement Quartet,” an artist-led mentorship program aimed at creating authentic story-telling and community engagement through workshops and work with digital mediums.

Congratulations Chelsea!

The 103rd Winnipeg Music Festival ‘virtual’ festival was held from March 1 – 21, 2021.  Video recordings of the performances, trophy competitions, and Gala Concert are currently available for viewing via links on the Winnipeg Music Festival website.

Singing “Gloria” in the Digital Age

April 16, 2021

For a full year now, choral institutions have been either thriving or surviving in the midst of the online regimen forced upon the world of performing arts.

Choral groups have faced a unique challenge in figuring out how to transfer one of the most complicated and multifarious instruments—the voice—into the two-dimensional spaces of the digital realm. As an instrument, the voice is capable of some impressive sonic gymnastics. It has the ability to move from high-pitched warbles to bass rumblings, to create sounds sharp and direct, and then as quick as a breath recedes into a controlled whisper. We might go so far as to characterize the voice as less a solo instrument than it is a small orchestra, playing in the resonant halls of our diaphragm and skull. Add to this the fact that we often use our voices in harmony and rhythm with the voices of others, and it starts to become clear just how astonishing the work of a tight choral ensemble really is.

The realm of virtual music-making has added a whole new set of sonic permutations to choral singing. While some choral groups have either balked at the challenge (or simply do not have access to the right people and resources to meet the challenges head-on), others are eager to translate the versatility of the voice through a new, exotic medium and push the boundaries of what choral music can be in the 21st century.

John Wiens
John Wiens

“There is quite a level of nuance in how choral groups are approaching singing during this time. All across the country groups are coming up with interesting and novel things to do.”

This is the analysis of Winnipeg-born conductor John Wiens, who is a leader and advocate when it comes to pushing the sonic boundaries of choral performance.

“The progressive groups of today are embracing digital possibilities. There is room, now, for a series of compositions that are written specifically for digital content. The real opportunity as a creative is trying to find ways to write pieces that will embrace the randomness of Zoom—because let’s be honest, voices don’t line up when they’re singing on Zoom!”

For Wiens, the hot opportunity for the choral community is the digital medium itself.

“We’re choral organizations, and we’re spending heaps of money on video and audio engineers. This is fine, but if we want to help sustain our singers we have to be willing to reverse engineer and consider what a successful performance in COVID times really is. It’s experimental.

Wiens cites the “car choir” solution, John Newman’s idea for a kind of drive-in choral concert involving FM transmitters, as one kind of choral innovation that has come out of the pandemic.

“Certainly, many new ideas have developed in the past year. David Newman’s “car choir” is one example of an idea that has developed a life of its own. It is very interesting and different! The fact that there are all these new ideas and capacities, and ways of trying to get through a crisis, is a very positive thing.”

In his own musical projects, Wiens is interested in fusing early Renaissance choral music with contemporary choral styles using a virtual space. His latest project is a collaboration with Camerata Nova on a fresh rendering of ‘Gloria,’ a piece of early music by Renaissance composer Leonel Power.

“This piece specifically fits what I would like to experiment with. It’s written for two unequal voices, in duet, with a third voice that sings a very predictable cantus firmus (which is a tune that everyone recognizes). So you’ve got these two voices singing in a kind of quasi-improvisational fashion over this cantus firmus. I think it’s some of the most virtuous singing you’ll find in Renaissance music. It lends itself well to what I want to try and do with it because I want to try and build a sound world that links early music with contemporary music. I’ve no idea how successful I’ll be at this, as I’ve never tried it before! And, that’s one of the great things about Camerata Nova. They’ll almost always say yes to your wild ideas!”

With this project, Wiens is attempting to meet the digital format in a way that’s progressive and also showcases the inherent freshness and exoticism of the early music genre.

“I’ve never quite understood how it came to be that early music was perceived as less progressive. In the early ’70s when the early music movement got its legs, it was considered vibrant and exciting. Many of the same words were used then that we use to describe the contemporary music movement now.

“We really miss this sense of how innovative early music actually is. There is a bookish attitude that has settled around the genre. And I suppose there almost has to be because you have to read treatises and manuals in order to understand this music. That said, every time I sit down with a piece of early music, I feel how out of the ordinary this music really truly is. It’s not a surprise that contemporary composers today draw on the influence of these earlier works. Many contemporary composers—especially those who write choir—frequently listen to and are heavily influenced by Renaissance music. I think that this parallel gets lost, and this has always puzzled me. Oftentimes we see contemporary concerts treated with an outstanding visual component, but not the same treatment is given to performances of early music. We’ve got these two languages that are very similar, linked in many ways, and both contemporary in similar ways. But the level of freshness and newness in early music is just as present as it is in contemporary music.”

Wiens’ perspective, though fresh in the 21st century, harkens back to the Medieval folk rock movement of the early 1970s. Growing out of England and Germany, this movement saw European rock groups incorporating musical styles from the medieval, renaissance, and baroque eras into their work. Right around the time that the Velvet Underground were closing the gap between rock and avant-garde music and Brian Eno was acquiring his pop celebrity, groups like London’s Gryphon and Gentle Giant were moving “backward” on the trajectory of classical music genres, incorporating multi-instrumental band members who would play the clavichord, harpsichord, violin, and recorder. This subgenre movement of medieval/renaissance rock music lasted maybe a decade, but Wiens’ enthusiasm for the fusion of renaissance and contemporary styles of music is reminiscent of these earlier “punk” attitudes from the Euro-rock scene. Obviously, Wiens is not the lead singer or guitarist of a rock group—he’s the conductor of a choral ensemble. But now in 2021, we have the means to imagine these different types of musical artists and genres as not so different from one another—means such as the world of digital possibilities. You could almost go so far as to say: the cloud is the limit.

In collaboration with Camerata Nova, recording and filming started on  ‘Gloria’ during the first week of April, at the St. Norbert Arts Centre in St. Norbert, Winnipeg. The recording, and video component, will feature sopranos Sarah Clefstad and Merina Dobson-Perry.

Stay tuned for the release!

Camerata Nova’s groundbreaking Captive is the story audiences need to hear

February 2, 2021

Camerata Nova is scheduled to release a recording and video performance for Captive, the third project in their Reconciliation Series. Looking to be released this year, the series is spearheaded by composer and Camerata Nova Artistic Director, Andrew Balfour, who curates each concert around a theme that resonates with the Canadian Indigenous experience. So far, the series has featured collaborations with an impressive range of Indigenous artists, including Cree hip hop artist Lindsay Knight and Polaris winner Jeremy Dutcher (Taken, 2017), and traditional Ojibway drummer-singer Cory Campbell and cellist Cris Derksen (Fallen, 2018). Captive will feature compositions by Andrew Balfour, Cris Derksen, and Eliot Britton.

Originally slated for May 2020, the Captive concert now has additional time to percolate (in the midst of the pandemic), and Balfour has been unexpectedly grateful for the extra time.

One of the added challenges of the Captive, prior to May 2020, had to do with the lack of familiarity between the collaborators, in addition to being scattered across the country as active performing artists. In order to create a truly exciting collaboration, one that is cohesive and forward-thinking, Camerata Nova decided to organize a composer gathering for all of the creatives involved in the project. The gathering took place over four days in the Manitoba prairies (in the middle of winter!) and proved a valuable bonding experience for all involved. For Balfour, it was an essential event in his creative development of the concert.

“I think that Captive will be profound in part because it’s changed so much. To have an extra year to sit with the project has been very eye-opening into what we want its statement to be.”

“Our platform is, of course, choral music, which can be an incredibly powerful medium. With this project, we’ve been able to collaborate with Indigenous artists at a high level, and bring their vision to fruition through the artistry of conductor Mel Braun, head of the vocal program at the Marcel A. Desautels Faculty of Music, and the singers of Camerata Nova, alongside the safe space we’re able to offer these artists.”

Ultimately, the pandemic has given Balfour the time to go deeper into the story he wants to tell, and figure out the best methods to provide the context of this story to his audiences.

“The motivation at the heart of the Captive project (and the entire Reconciliation project) is to provide a platform for the voices of Indigenous artists. Though we may delve into some pretty heavy subjects, it’s so important that we provide our audience with the right context. This is vital. It’s one thing to be an artist or creator or composer and have something to say about murdered or missing Indigenous women, or Residential Schools or addictions; but you have to give performers and audiences context. Otherwise, the message will be lost. The country in general needs context.”

Balfour’s own 25-minute piece, ‘Captive,’ has evolved over the course of the last year. Initially intended to tell the story of Chief Poundmaker, the historically renowned chief of the Poundmaker Cree Nation, the narrative has instead morphed into a larger story of Indigenous incarceration, to be presented in five abstract scenes.

“There’s a legacy in our country of imprisonment of Indigenous people, and it’s a very tragic part of our colonial history here; indeed, most of our prisons are still filled with Indigenous people. One of the key things these Truth & Reconciliation Concerts do is allow myself and other composers to reset and rethink how we want to tell a story. Like ‘Notinikew’ (from the Fallen 2018 concert), it is not my intention to end ‘Captive’ with a positive note. Although I am myself a positive person, this is a subject that doesn’t have an optimal conclusion.

“Alongside that thought, it’s also important for me to highlight that I don’t speak for all Indigenous people. I can only speak from my perspective. Indeed, I’ve had a little experience within the justice system, and have seen the powerful tragedy and racial injustice from the inside. But of course, this injustice is everywhere; it’s in the medical system, it’s in the social system, it’s in our religious institutions, it’s everywhere. And the people who work in these systems, they are our intended audience. Ultimately, these Reconciliation stories are meant to be seen by those who are non-Indigenous.

“I can’t explain emotionally what the listener will get from my piece. I do feature the choir in a way that’s both subtle and important; they’re the bystanders and witness to what is happening. I was originally going to use performance art again, but I’ve decided instead on doing something that better features the choir and the powerful vocal forces that we have in our midst, to create the tension, suspension, and final declension of the narrative.”

In another perspective, Balfour’s ‘Captive’ can be understood as a statement of being held captive by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would say it’s a soundscape of mourning, solitude, and captivity; these emotions have cycled through many of us through this time of lockdown, where we’ve been separated from our loved ones, and, unfortunately for some of us, experienced the passing of those close to us without being able to be with family or friends.

“Most importantly, however, ‘Captive’ addresses my own perspective on Indigenous incarceration. When we are finally able to come out with this performance, I think that our audiences will be quite moved by the poignant and multi-layered statement of this concert.”

Take a whirlwind tour of our earlier Reconciliation Concerts, and watch the playlist of performance excerpts below:

Andrew Balfour performs Notinikew with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir

November 6, 2020

On Wednesday, November 11, Camerata Nova’s Artistic Director, Andrew Balfour, is lending his talents to an inspiring Remembrance Day performance with The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The program offers a Choral Perspective of Canada’s Indigenous Veterans and welcomes Andrew as the guest curator, as well as longtime Camerata Nova collaborator, cellist, and composer Cris Derkson.

The program will reflect on the Indigenous experience through music, dance and poetry, and is centred around Andrew’s choral drama, Notinikew (Going to War). Movements of the work will be sung by Andrew’s Winnipeg-based Camerata Nova and by the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

Andrew says of this choral drama:

Notinikew is an anti-war piece, an indigenous identity piece – a tragedy that speaks not just about World War I, but all wars and all indigenous soldiers. Why did these Indigenous warriors leave our forests and plains to enter a totally foreign military world and end up fighting in the midst of a true hell on earth?

The concert is a FREE event and will be featured via Livestream at 8:00 p.m. EST. Find out more about the program and performers on the event poster or concert webpage.

Learn the story behind Andrew’s Notinikew here: