Andrew Balfour’s Medieval Inuit

October 28, 2022

Saturday, October 29, 2022, 7:30 p.m.
Westgate Mennonite Collegiate (86 West Gate)

Join us as we perform one of Andrew Balfour’s works from his Truth and Reconciliation concert series. wonder of the North and features Inuit throat singers Aleatra Sammurtok and Zeann Manernaluk. We are dedicating this concert to the memory of Dead of Winter board member and long-standing board member and Manitoba Inuit Association President for several years, Fred Ford.

Please note, this will be a filmed performance (to be released as a concert film), and capacity is limited.

PERFORMER BIOS

Aemilia Moser is in the 2nd year of a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Voice at the Desautels Faculty of Music, where she is singing the role of the Fairy Godmother in a performance of Massenet’s Cendrillon. She recently sang Alligator Pie with the WSO under the direction of Julian Pellicano.

Merina Dobson Perry continues to share her vocal gifts with many of Winnipeg’s professional choirs and also teaches music for young children. Merina has a secret “rock singer’ life.

Brittany Melnichuk is the conductor of the Rainbow Harmony choir and also works for the Manitoba Choral Association. She teaches at the Manitoba Conservatory.

Donnalynn Grills has sung with every major organization in town including Manitoba Opera, Rainbow Stage, Winnipeg Singers, and Canzona as well as the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, with whom was recently a soloist in Bach’s Mass in F.

Ange Neufeld, one of the founding members of Dead of Winter, is the tireless choir board rep for the choir. No one knows or cares more about the ongoing legacy of Dead of Winter and Ange is always there for everyone. When not singing with Dead of Winter or Winnipeg Singers, Ange is an Elementary School music teacher.

Carlie Fehr is in the first year of her Education Certification at the University of Manitoba. Every Monday she gets to work with the young singers at Dakota Collegiate, whose program is led by long-term DOW singer Justin Odwak.

Nolan Kehler is one of the busiest young tenors in the city, having recently sung the tenor solos in Bach’s St. John Passion under the direction of Kathleen Allan. When not involved in singing projects, Nolan works behind the scenes as a producer and studio director for CBC Radio.

Mike Thompson, another founding member of Dead of Winter is preparing for the Fall hunting season with his muzzle loader. Besides harvesting amazing venison, Mike is an enthusiastic drum hang participant and Manitoba’s only professional digeridoo player.

Kyle Briscoe is a recent graduate of the Desautels Faculty of Music. When not singing, he works as an assistant to Manitoba Opera CEO Larry Desrochers. Kyle will be singing the tenor solo in Peer Gynt with the WSO this winter and next season has him singing the tenor solos in the Messiah with the WSO.

Dr. Matthew Knight is our resident expert in Georgian music and has curated and arranged the Georgian portion of the upcoming DOW Christmas concert. Matt is much in demand on the local choral scene and is a father to two delightful daughters.

Al Schroeder is the 3rd founding member of DOW still in the choir and is also a member of Winnipeg Singers. Al’s facility as a woodworker and home renovator is much in evidence around the city. Al, along with Mike Thompson, is one of DOW’s overtoning experts.

John Anderson is a recent graduate in Vocal Performance from the Desautels Faculty of Music. When not sharing his voice with local choral groups, John can be found teaching at the Children’s House Montessori School.

Violist Jennifer Thiessen recently returned home to Winnipeg after two decades in Montreal. An accomplished performer on both viola and viola d’amore, Jennifer has commissioned and created numerous new works for viola, as well as playing early music. She has collaborated with many of today’s leading New Music composers, developing a particular specialty in improvisation. Jennifer is the Artistic Director For the Virtuosi Concert Series.

Percussionist Tori Sparkes is the Percussion Instructor at the Deasutels Faculty of Music, where she is inspiring a whole new generation of percussionists in the wonders of rhythm, colour, and exploration. Tori, the only true Icelander in tonight’s performance, plays with all the major Arts organizations in the city and regularly commissions new works.

Vic Pankratz has logged countless hours as a solo singer with Manitoba Opera, the WSO, and the RWB, and has also sung as a chorister with all the professional choirs in the city. By day he leads the choral program at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate. He is much in demand throughout the province as a choral clinician. If there is a hockey or football game on during rehearsal, Vic is sure to PVR it, so that he doesn’t miss a single period or down.

Mel Braun is the long-time Head of Voice at the Desautels Faculty of Music, where he delights in working with young singers both as a voice teacher and opera ensemble director. He has been heard as a baritone soloist in Opera, Oratorio, and Art Song all across North America. When not singing, teaching, or conducting, he keeps up with all the rock young bands around town. He has avidly followed the Blue Bombers for the last 55 years…..it has been a journey….Yikes!

Aleatra Sammurtok is a busy Mom with a long history of throat singing here in Manitoba. An active participant in the local Inuit scene, she can be found sharing her gifts at many of the Inuit ceremonies and celebrations. 

Zeann Manernaluk grew up in Rankin Inlet, where she started singing at the age of six under the tutelage of her aunt. After moving to Winnipeg, she immediately became an important part of the local throat singing scene. A mother of two, Zeann works in the health field.

Phoebe Mann – local singer and percussionist Phoebe Mann is an old friend of Dead of Winter and tonight finds her displaying her flag waving expertise as she creates the sound of those Norse sails whipping in the wind.

Medieval Inuit concert program — View on webpage or download to your device

Read more about Andrew Balfour:
Choral maestro Andrew Balfour pursues his Indigenous identity through musicThe Globe and Mail

You can help us continue to present beautiful music by DONATING TODAY!


Check out this live concert film for Andrew Balfour’s Captive filmed in May 2022 at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, MB.



Dead of Winter 2022-2023 Season

September 22, 2022

Phew! Our 2021/22 season was quite the ride, and as Dead of Winter glides into 2022/23 we’re showing no signs of slowing down. We have a season packed with rich and diverse programming, including Andrew Balfour’s Medieval Inuit and choral drama, Notinikew, as well as the 2023 Winnipeg Baroque Festival.

Check out the breakdown of our full season below, including individual concert details. We’re looking forward to singing for (and with!) you this year!

Rescheduled Performance of St. John Passion with members of the Vancouver’s Pacific Baroque Orchestra
Sunday, October 2, 2022, 3:30 p.m., Crescent Arts Centre (525 Wardlaw Avenue)
Go to www.winnipegbaroquefestival.com

Andrew Balfour’s Medieval Inuit
Saturday, October 29, 2022, 7:30 p.m., Westgate Mennonite Collegiate (86 West Gate)
Join us as we perform one of Andrew Balfour’s works from his Truth and Reconciliation concert series. Inspired by Andrew’s visit to Iqaluit, Medieval Inuit captures the endless beauty and wonder of the North and features Inuit throat singers Aleatra Sammurtok and Zeann Manernaluk. We are dedicating this concert to the memory of Dead of Winter board member and long-standing board member and Manitoba Inuit Association President for several years, Fred Ford. 

Please note, this will be a filmed performance (to be released as a concert film), and capacity is limited.

Get your tickets HERE

Celebrating the Carol
Saturday, November 26, 2022, 7:30 p.m., Crescent Arts Centre (525 Wardlaw Avenue)
Come sing “tra-la-la” with us at our FREE, annual Dead of Winter holiday sing-along! Our singers will be joined by the changed voices division of the Winnipeg Boys Choir and co-directed by Vic Pankratz and Spencer Duncanson, performing both classic and contemporary holiday music, including a couple of special Georgian carols curated by Dead of Winter member Matthew Knight. As is our tradition, we offer free admission to our holiday concert, but we ask that you bring a food donation for Winnipeg Harvest. 

Space is limited, please reserve your FREE tickets HERE

Andrew Balfour’s Notinikew (He who takes part in war)
Winnipeg Performance: February 20, 2023, 7:30 p.m., Ukrainian Labour Temple (591 Pritchard Ave.)
Montréal Performance: February 24, 2023, Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ)

Notinikew, anchors an all-Andrew Balfour concert—the perfect way to celebrate Louis Riel Day. The program will open with a number of the commissions that have made Andrew one of the leading voices in Indigenous music, including “Istichiwin,” “Omaabiindig,” and “Trapped in Stone,” as well as old favourites like “Vision Chant” and the “Domine Deus” from Missa Brevis. Notinikew, Andrew’s response to the plight of Indigenous War veterans, will close the program, its powerful lament aided by cellist Leanne Zacharias and Anishinaabe Songkeeper Cory Campbell. At the invitation of the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, DoW will also make its way to Montréal, where we share this same concert with new friends in Québec. The narration for the concert will be in French with English surtitles.

Get your tickets HERE

Winnipeg Baroque FestivalApril 15-22, 2023

But first…
Rescheduled Performance of St. John Passion with Vancouvers Pacific Baroque Orchestra
Sunday, October 2, 2022, 3:30 p.m., Crescent Arts Centre (525 Wardlaw Avenue)
Go to www.winnipegbaroquefestival.com for details and to get your tickets now! 

Monteverdis Vespers (1610)
Saturday, April 15, 2023, 7:30 p.m., Crescent Arts Centre (525 Wardlaw Avenue)
Artistic Director: John Wiens

Jesu, meine Freude
Saturday, April 22, 2023, 7:30 p.m., Crescent Arts Centre (525 Wardlaw Avenue)
Artistic Director: Kathleen Allan

Additional details about our 2022/23 season, including info on ticketing, will be released soon—stay tuned!

For more information about Dead of Winter, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.



Captive concert at PODIUM 2022 — May 21, 2022

May 19, 2022


After two years of delay due to the pandemic, composer Andrew Balfour, with vocal group Dead of Winter, will finally premiere the latest concert in Balfour’s Truth and Reconciliation series.

This is the third in a series of Truth and Reconciliation concerts created by Andrew Balfour to acknowledge and honour the pain, sorrow and beauty of the experience of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. 

On Friday, May 13, celebrated composer Andrew Balfour will bring his much-anticipated Captive concert to life at the West End Cultural Centre, a week before he presents the same concert at PODIUM Choral Conference and Festival in Toronto on May 21. 

Click here to open Captive concert program in new tab https://deadofwinter.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/CAPTIVE_Program_MAY_21_2022_PODIUM_Toronto_v1.0-1.pdf

OR,

Download the Captive concert program below

On Friday, May 13, celebrated composer Andrew Balfour will brought his much-anticipated Captive concert to life in Winnipeg, MB, a week before he presents it at PODIUM Choral Conference and Festival in Toronto on May 21. 

Conductor Mel Braun will lead the Winnipeg vocal group Dead of Winter in Captive, the third installment in a series of Truth and Reconciliation concerts that began in 2017. Dead of Winter will share the stage with a slate of talented guest performers, including Melody Mckiver on viola, Alexandre Tetrault on fiddle, Rosary Spence, and Cheri Maracle.

The Truth and Reconciliation concerts are Balfour’s brainchild, and each concert centers around a theme that resonates with the Canadian Indigenous experience. Past concerts in the series have 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 Kristi Lane Sinclair, with a glorious mix by Eliot Britton for commercial release after-the-fact. 

The ideas for the Captive concert started percolating during a composer gathering hosted by Dead of Winter back in February 2020. Balfour had gathered with Eliot Britton and Cris Dirksen in Neubergthal, Manitoba, where they spent four days workshopping their ideas. The gathering was an essential event in the creative development of the concert, and, originally, the plan was to perform Captive in May 2020. Then COVID-19 hit, and like so many live music events in the last two years of the pandemic, the performance was canceled.

Well, not exactly canceled.

The last two years have given Balfour and his fellow composers the unexpected gift of time, which they have taken full advantage of to build on and strengthen their original writing.

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

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. His own 25-minute piece sharing the concert’s namesake, ‘Captive,’ has evolved quite a bit over the last two years. Initially intended to tell the story of Chief Poundmaker, a famous chief of the Poundmaker Cree Nation, the narrative has transformed 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 and Reconciliation Concerts do is allow me 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.”

Balfour is also careful to highlight that he does not speak for all Indigenous people. 

“I can only speak from my perspective. I’ve had a little experience within the justice system myself, and have seen the powerful tragedy and racial injustice from the inside. But 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.”

Balfour and Dead of Winter will debuted Captive in Winnipeg, MB, at the West End Cultural Centre on the evening of Friday, May 13. This performance, however, covered only half of the excitement. A week following the concert premiere, Balfour and Dead of Winter will present Captive on the national stage in Toronto at PODIUM, Canada’s national choral conference and festival. The invitation to perform at the conference is an immense honour for Balfour, whose much-anticipated concert will be a feature of the festival. 

For more information, including performer bios and additional show notes, please visit https://deadofwinter.ca/season/captive/

Read more about Andrew Balfour:
Choral maestro Andrew Balfour pursues his Indigenous identity through musicThe Globe and Mail

Check out this video for I Went to War / Poni pimacisiwin (the end of living)— an excerpt from Notinikew (Going to War) by Andrew Balfour and featuring cellist Cris Derksen and the Winnipeg Boys’ Choir.



Captive concert features rich slate of guest artists

May 10, 2022

Andrew Balfour

Andrew Balfour’s Captive, which debuts this Friday, May 13th at the West End Cultural Centre, mines the depths of human vulnerability, portraying, through original vocal and instrumental compositions, the Indigenous body and spirit held captive by a colonialist way of life. It is a challenging story to tell and a difficult one for Settler audiences to hear, but the aim of the Captive concert is empowering the storyteller and engaging the listener through a shared experience of music and poetry. Though the centerpiece of the program is Andrew Balfour’s original composition “Captive,” which tells the story of Chief Poundmaker’s imprisonment in Stony Mountain Penitentiary during the 19th century, the program is fortified by an exceptional lineup of work and performances by Indigenous women. 

“This program is a statement on real truth-telling,” says Captive curator/composer Andrew Balfour. “The unique thing about it is that there are so many Indigenous voices featured, and especially women, which is a crucial reminder of the fact that there are still so many murdered and missing Indigenous women in this country.”

Melody McKiver

“This program is a statement on real truth-telling,” says Captive curator/composer Andrew Balfour. “The unique thing about it is that there are so many Indigenous voices featured, and especially women, which is a crucial reminder of the fact that there are still so many murdered and missing Indigenous women in this country.”

The lineup includes performances by Indigenous violist Melody McKiver, featured in Balfour’s “Captive,” as well as young Oji-Cree vocalist Keely McPeek as narrator for “Selkirk Avenue,” an earlier work of Balfour’s based on a poem of the same name by Metis poet Katherina Vermette.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to perform Andrew’s work Selkirk Avenue at the Captive concert,” comments McPeek. “Art and music are such important avenues in working towards reconciliation; I’m honored to play any part I can in the effort.”

Keely McPeek

“Woman,” a choral piece by Haida/Cree singer-songwriter Kristi Lane Sinclair, is featured in the first half and sets a poignant tone for the concert. Sinclair is part of a new wave of cross-genre Canadian Indigenous artists and her musical roots fuse rock, folk, and classical. 

The second half of the program features the world premiere of “Same Wave, Same Sea” by internationally recognized Indigenous composer/cellist Cris Derksen. “Same Wave, Same Sea” portrays another kind of captivity that is no stranger to any of us, that of isolation during a global pandemic.

Alexandre Tétreault

A softer, though no less poignant tone is added to the program in the Metis fiddle tunes performed by Manitoba fiddler Alexandre Tétreault. Alexandre blends these traditions with polka, foxtrot, and the most beautiful waltzes.

“There is a heavy relationship between Metis and the Cree and Ojibwe people of the Red River Valley,” says Andrew. 

Through music and poetry, Captive roots the ugly truth of the Canadian Indigenous experience in the here and now, naming the injustices committed against Indigenous peoples as belonging to the present as much as the past. In naming this cultural oppression, however, the Captive program is an effort to plant something larger than hurt: a conversation that might move towards reconciliation and hope. 



St John Passion POSTPONED due to weather

April 11, 2022

Coming off the high of this weekend’s festivities, it is with some heaviness that we make this announcement. Most of you may already be aware of the recent weather statement issued for Manitoba as a Colorado low approaches our region. Due to the precarity of these upcoming weather conditions, we have decided to postpone the St John Passion performance with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, originally scheduled for this Friday, April 15. We are, of course, disappointed in this turn of events, but we would like to emphasize that we are not canceling the St John Passion performance. This event is very near and dear to our hearts, and we fully intend to present it at a later date that does not jeopardize the safety of our audience and performers. We are currently working to finalize this new date and will loop you in with all the details at your earliest convenience.

In the meantime, we greatly appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate this stormy situation. The show must—and will—go on, so stay tuned!

Dead of Winter, Canzona, and Polycoro,
Winnipeg Baroque Festival Organizers



Dead of Winter (formerly Camerata Nova) getting ready to ring in the season

November 8, 2021

NOVEMBER 8, 2021 – Our first concert of the season – “Celebrating the Carol” – is fast approaching, and we cannot wait to ring, or should we say sing, in the holidays with our fans and supporters.

On November 27 and 28, we will be taking the stage for the first time as Dead of Winter (formerly Camerata Nova) at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. With a program curated by Andrew Balfour and John Wiens, this first concert in our upcoming season is an invitation to audiences and supporters to embark on a journey with the ensemble for our first live performance after almost two years. “Celebrating the Carol” will be a rare opportunity for audiences to hear (and participate in!) a spectacular concert experience free of charge. This type of outreach is something that Camerata Nova engaged in for 18 years and we are delighted to bring it back after the long haul of COVID. This is one of the many ways in which we give back to the community, making it more accessible to families and diversifying the audience for choral music in Manitoba.

As we return to the stage, we want to take the opportunity to showcase work by some glorious Manitoba composers including Scott Reimer, Daniel Wiebe, and Mike McKay. We are an ever-evolving ensemble, and collaborations with local creatives continue to shape our identity in the most rewarding ways. Rounding out the repertoire for this concert will be music by di Lasso, Gabrieli, Schubert, Mueller, and Wishart.

We should highlight that we are being careful with this offering. To reduce operating costs, we will not be bringing in big guest instrumentalists, and we will be accepting donations to defray the cost of the event.

If you have not yet reserved your tickets, there are still two weeks before the concert; but it’s selling out fast! Reserve your tickets here. If you have reserved a ticket but have, for whatever reason, decided not to attend, please contact us ASAP so that we can offer your reservation to someone else. This is extremely important, as we are operating at a limited capacity and would like to allow for as many people to attend the concert as possible.

Looking ahead to 2022, we are taking our early music performances up a notch. In April, we will be presenting an unprecedented collaboration between three Winnipeg choirs who are passionate about Baroque music: Canzona, Dead of Winter and Polycoro. Each choir will produce its own concert (April 8, 9 and 10, 2022) focusing on early music from a different region: Canzona – England; Polycoro – Italy; and Dead of Winter – Germany. The festival will culminate on April 15, 2022 with a three-choir performance of J.S. Bach’s St John Passion with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra, masterful Baroque soloists, and a combined force of powerful Manitoba choristers.

A limited number of early bird tickets are available at $60 for all concerts included in the Winnipeg Baroque Festival. Reserve your tickets here.

Of course, your safety is our priority. We are so looking forward to performing for you again, but we would like to do so as safely as possible. For our concerts on November 27 & 28 – Celebrating the Carol – we are:

– Selling tickets to approx. 33% capacity

– Requiring all patrons, choristers, volunteers, and staff to be fully vaccinated

– Requiring all patrons and choristers, volunteers, and staff to remain masked throughout the entire concert



We’re FREE-styling into the holiday season

October 13, 2021

This holiday season Dead of Winter is taking to the live stage with a free concert. Join us as we present Celebrating the Carol, performing time-honoured carols and early music, echoes our very first founding event 25 years ago. In 2021, it’s an invitation to journey with us out of our COVID-19 cocoons to enjoy our first safe, live performance in almost two years. 

We continue to have fun collaborating with top Manitoba choral composers including Scott Reimer, Daniel Wiebe and Michael McKay. Rounding out the repertoire will be divine music by di Lasso, Gabrieli, Schubert, Mueller and Wishart. Bring your kids, your vocal chords and something for Manitoba Harvest! See below for our COVID-19 protocols.

CELEBRATING THE CAROL
Saturday, November 27, 2021 at 7:30 p.m.
AND
Sunday, November 28, 2021 at 3:00 p.m.
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church (525 Wardlaw Avenue)
Curated by John Wiens, Andrew Balfour, Mel Braun, Vic Pankratz
Conducted by John Wiens

Reserve your tickets today to guarantee entry!

ABOUT JOHN WIENS
A dynamic conductor hailed for “awe-inspiring” (Winnipeg Free Press) performances, John Wiens has cemented his reputation as one of Canada’s finest chamber choir conductors. He performs across Canada each season, and is at home in current, ancient, and romantic repertoire. He is known as an innovative programmer who is always ready to push the boundaries of what a concert can be to explore new ways of experiencing music. 

John has appeared on stages across the world, pursuing an innovative path as a programmer known for an uncommonly wide repertoire. John’s inquisitiveness and love of investigation often results in the performance of new music, and music from before 1700. His conducting career has ranged from Belgium (University Chorus for L’Université Catholique de Louvain) to Morocco (Ensemble Voca Me) to Montreal (St. Matthias Anglican Church, Westmount) and Winnipeg (Polycoro, Camerata Nova).

Born into a musical family in small–town Manitoba, John aspired to be a musician from an early age.  He studied violin at the age of four, and sang in choirs throughout his childhood. He holds degrees in Violin, Voice, and Conducting, from CMU, McGill, and the University of Sherbrooke respectively. He has studied privately  with Paul van Nevel, (director of the Huelgas Ensemble), Christopher Jackson (SMAM)Andrew Megill (University of Illinois), Konstantin Krechler, and Donna Grescoe.

John is constantly expanding his knowledge of music ancient and modern. He has conducted the premiers of works by Andrew BalfourNorbert PalejT. Pat CarrabréNeil Weisenthel, and Isaiah Ceccarelli, and regularly programs repertoire by many of Canada’s leading composers including Anna Sokolovic, Mychael Danna, Vivian Fung, Nicolas Gilbert, and Oleksa Lozowchuk.

When not performing, John is in more and more demand as a clinician, adjudicator, and juror, participating in these activities as often as his busy schedule will allow. He is honored to work with and support new talent. He loves spending his spare time with his wife and sons in the kitchen or outdoors, and he is an avid fencer.

YOUR SAFETY IS OUR PRIORITY
We are so looking forward to performing for you again – as safely as possible. For our concerts on November 27 & 28 – Celebrating the Carol – we are:

– Selling tickets to approx. 33% capacity

– Requiring all patrons, choristers, volunteers, and staff to be fully vaccinated

– Requiring all patrons and choristers, volunteers, and staff to remain masked throughout the entire concert



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: