Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/11/2015 (2163 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg choral ensemble Camerata Nova will wisk audiences back to a snowy grand northern German cathedral, circa 1620, to celebrate the season with song.
"This show will be a unique and beautiful way of welcoming the holidays," conductor Ross Brownlee promises during a phone interview. "I want to invite Winnipeggers to come and share this joyful and very accessible music with us."
The 24-member vocal ensemble launches its 20th anniversary season with a gala opening concert, Praetorius Christmas Mass, Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 3 p.m. at Westminster United Church.
The large-scale production, led by Brownlee, features a cast of more than 60 performers, including Camerata Nova, the Encore Quartet and Westgate Mennonite Collegiate Concert Choir. The three ensembles will be accompanied by a merry band of period musicians culled from Montreal, Toronto and San Francisco -- all Brownlee's friends -- as well as members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra playing such rarely spotted instruments as sackbuts and shawms.
"You can hear the excitement and anticipation of the Christmas story all the way through," Brownlee says of the 17th-century mass reconstructed from late Renaissance composer/organist Michael Praetorius's soaring music.
But lest anyone thinks the estimated two-hour (including intermission) show is actually doubling as an ancient religious rite, Brownlee points out it may also be enjoyed purely for its intrinsic musical value.
"This is not a church service. At the end of the day, it's still a concert, but one that is based on a very grand Christmas mass you might have witnessed during the early 1600s," the conductor says.
Last performed here in November 2008, the program also includes audience participation. Aspiring warblers are being invited to arrive at the venue 15 minutes early to rehearse their four lively Christmas carols woven throughout the work's musical tapestry of 23 solos, duets, trios, quartets and choruses. Brownlee assures participants may sing as much -- or as little -- as they feel comfortable, with no prior knowledge of German necessary.
"People can sing 'la-la-la' if they wish," he says of the singer-friendly hymns. "We just want everyone to sing lustily when the moment comes."
The affable conductor also expects that the sheer magnitude of hearing hundreds of choristers raising their voices together in four-part harmony will match -- or surpass -- Camerata Nova's first incarnation of the stirring piece.
"It makes every single moment of hard work beforehand worth it," he says of the surround-sound experience that will bathe the hall in music. "It's thrilling and brings tears to your eyes. It's absolutely electric."
The concert is a personal one for the Winnipeg-born musician, whose passion for early music was first ignited while a graduate student at McGill University during the 1990s.
He has announced this will be his final concert with the a cappella troupe founded by artistic director Andrew Balfour in 1996. He specifically chose to bookend his 12-year tenure with the work he fell in love with after first being introduced to it by his early music mentor, McGill professor Douglas Kirk. The American musician had been instrumental in producing the original 1994 recording of the mass, including performing in its orchestra led by driving force, Paul McCreesh. The latter is widely credited with creating the score based on works from the composer's Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica published in 1619.
"This is an iconic piece for me," Brownlee explains. "I first heard this incredible music coming from one of the listening stations at the McGill library. I became instantly enchanted with it, and when I returned to Winnipeg 12 years later I specifically chose it for my first major production with Camerata Nova."
Brownlee says his choice to retire from Camerata Nova in order to focus exclusively on his full-time teaching career at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, where he leads six high-level instrumental ensembles in tandem with choral director Vic Pankratz, has proven bittersweet.
"This choir is family to me. I've grown to love these people and have been given so many great opportunities over the years with them. I don't know how I could ask for any greater parting gift than leading this glorious music that I know will put a smile on everyone's face.
"How lucky am I?" he says.
For more information, see www.cameratanova.com.
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Next weekend will be a busy one for concertgoers. Not only does Manitoba Opera open its 2015-16 season with Mozart's comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro, Nov. 21, but the Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg also presents violinist Joshua Peters, a local rising star (Nov. 22, 2 p.m., Winnipeg Art Gallery), as part of a Canadian recital tour he earned for winning the 38th Eckhardt-Gramatté National Competition.
Still to come is the Manitoba Choral Association's Choralfest Manitoba 2015, which welcomes school, community and church choirs during its 10-day annual feast of choirs (Nov. 16-26), including a gala concert Nov. 20 at Sturgeon Creek United Church. For more details, visit www.manitobasings.org.