Winnipeg's Camerata Nova will be singing in the key of joie de vivre this weekend when it presents its latest concert: Nova France: 1,000 Years of French Song.

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This article was published 21/2/2015 (2689 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's Camerata Nova will be singing in the key of joie de vivre this weekend when it presents its latest concert: Nova France: 1,000 Years of French Song.

The shows being performed today at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. at St. Boniface's Précieux-Sang Church (200 Kenny St.) also feature the Winnipeg debut of acclaimed Montreal-based early music instrumental group Skye Consort.

Founded in 1999, the scaled-down ensemble for the weekend shows includes the group's driving force, founding artistic director/arranger Se°n Dagher (cittern/vocals), Alex Kehler (violins and nykelharpa), Grégoire Jeay (wooden flutes/percussion) and Amanda Keesmaat (cello).

"I'm just thrilled that they're here," says Camerata Nova conductor Ross Brownlee, who co-curated the program over the last three years with Dagher. "There's something magical about period instruments -- and Se°n's arrangements are always fun, accessible, kind of gutsy and a little raw on purpose."

Camerata Nova fans might recall hearing those "gutsy" arrangements last October when Dagher's other band, Le Nef, performed with the choir during its 16th-century Irish pub-inspired season-opener, Dowland in Dublin. The two like-minded musicians first met in Montreal during the 1990s, when Brownlee discovered his own passion for early music -- as well as the medieval sackbut -- while a graduate student at McGill University. The two have kept in touch ever since.

The weekend's eclectic program, which spans 1,000 years, includes troubadour songs, soaring Renaissance motets and New World folk music from France and Quebec -- a.k.a. New France. It continues its westerly travel to our own Franco-Manitoban backyard, with two world premières of traditional Métis songs: Chanson de Louis Riel and Le Voyageur arranged by Camerata Nova artistic director/composer Andrew Balfour.

The concert alternates (mostly) a cappella vocal numbers sung by the 12-member chorus with Skye Consort's instrumental offerings. The two groups also merge together as a musical mélange for a half-dozen of Dagher's toe-tapping arrangements created especially for this show.

"It's going to be great," Dagher says over the phone, adding that he's "extremely happy" after hearing his creations performed live during rehearsal for his first time this past Wednesday when the band arrived in town. "Maybe the francophone people here don't get to hear this kind of music as often as we do in Montreal, so we're really glad to be providing that opportunity, and playing these works where they have ties and roots."

One highlight will be his arrangement of 12th-century troubadour song A l'entrada del tens clar, which chronicles a lusty young queen who just wants to have fun without her wet-blanket king. Sung in Old Occitan, a deliciously guttural, romantic language, the work features Dagher's booming vocals as well as his cittern -- just one of the many plucked string instruments in his period instrument kit.

Another is the lively Kalenda maya, an estampie, or dance, also performed in Occitan that unfolds as a plaintive rant by a jilted lover.

"This music has lasted 800 years because it's really beautiful, with stories that still hold true today," Dagher explains of its enduring appeal. "This particular song could easily be a text message today."

The show also includes an audience-participation spoon choir la French kitchen party. During the intermission, Brownlee will teach aspiring spoon-icians how to click-clack their own utensils (wooden sets also available for purchase at the venue) to perform a simple rhythmic accompaniment for Balfour's Le Voyageur. No experience required.

"This is the easiest piece we have but that's all part of the magic," Brownlee says. "People just adore this and it's meant to be fun and inclusive and light."

In a stroke of programming savvy, Camerata Nova designed its concert to coincide with the city's annual Festival du Voyageur, which wraps up on Sunday. It's the first time that a classical group has aligned itself with the more folksy event, with the 10-day festival providing advertising support in exchange for reduced concert ticket prices for its pass holders.

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