July 16, 2019

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Classical group tries classic rock

Guess Who inspired Camerata Nova's choral singers this time?

To most radio listeners, songs from the 1960s would be classified as “oldies.”

But members of the Winnipeg choral group Camerata Nova often perform music from the ‘60s — the 1660s — so for them, tracks from the last century still have that new-song smell.

The selection of modern pop hits at Camerata’s upcoming series of concerts is just one element that sets it apart from the group’s usual productions. The show takes place not at a concert hall or in a church but at the Park Theatre, where crowds will be encouraged to move around, dance and get close to the stage.

“And the bar will be open,” co-conductor/curator Vic Pankratz says with a laugh of the informal show’s intended coffee-house vibe.

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To most radio listeners, songs from the 1960s would be classified as "oldies."

But members of the Winnipeg choral group Camerata Nova often perform music from the ‘60s — the 1660s — so for them, tracks from the last century still have that new-song smell.

The selection of modern pop hits at Camerata’s upcoming series of concerts is just one element that sets it apart from the group’s usual productions. The show takes place not at a concert hall or in a church but at the Park Theatre, where crowds will be encouraged to move around, dance and get close to the stage.

Camerata Nova is best known for its repertoire of early music, compositions inspired by Indigenous themes and cutting-edge new classical music. (Kevin Roy)

Camerata Nova is best known for its repertoire of early music, compositions inspired by Indigenous themes and cutting-edge new classical music. (Kevin Roy)

"And the bar will be open," co-conductor/curator Vic Pankratz says with a laugh of the informal show’s intended coffee-house vibe.

Though it might seem like a stretch for Camerata Nova — known for its repertoire of early music, compositions inspired by Indigenous themes and cutting-edge new classical music — to delve into familiar rock tunes, Pankratz explains it evolved naturally out of a familial connection.

"(Camerata co-conductor/arranger) Mel Braun and I are actually brothers-in-law and our kids are all rock musicians," Pankratz explains. His bassist-guitarist son Jason plays with local acts Begonia and JP Hoe, while his son David drums with New Whales and JP Hoe; both played with Imaginary Cities. Braun’s son, Micah, performed with Winnipeg bands the Nods and Jicah, and spent months in Los Angeles on a songwriting contract.

"For years we’ve gone to hear them do their thing and they’ve come to hear us do our more classical thing," Pankratz says, adding that it was Camerata’s artistic director, Andrew Balfour, who suggested a concert that could bring together fathers and sons on a program of poppier fare.

The show will feature 17 mostly modern-day pop, rock and folk songs from prairie artists, including Neil Young, the Guess Who, Royal Canoe, Begonia and the Wailin’ Jennys. (Kevin Roy)

The show will feature 17 mostly modern-day pop, rock and folk songs from prairie artists, including Neil Young, the Guess Who, Royal Canoe, Begonia and the Wailin’ Jennys. (Kevin Roy)

"We said, ‘Instead of just doing that, lets make it all music that’s reflective of the Prairies,’" Pankratz says. The suggestion set the stage for a show featuring 17 mostly modern-day pop, rock and folk songs from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and the Guess Who, all the way up to newer Winnipeg acts Royal Canoe, Begonia and the Wailin’ Jennys, all arranged for choir and rock band.

"Another thing that makes this concert unique is our singers are on mics, so sonically this will be a different experience," Pankratz says. "It’s going to be like a rock choral show.

"Our sons are very excited because often when they’re asked to play with a choir, they have to just tap and be very gentle, but here they’ll be able to go for it and play it out loud."

The choir will consist of 10 members, backed up by a four-piece band (guitar, bass, drums and keyboard), and joined by guest vocalist Raine Hamilton, an award-winning Winnipeg singer-violinist whose most recent album, 2018’s Night Sky, features many string-backed tracks clearly influenced by early folk music.

Co-conductor/curator Vic Pankratz says the members of Camerata Nova use their voices in atypical ways and the arrangements of well-known songs are anything but straight up. (Kevin Roy)

Co-conductor/curator Vic Pankratz says the members of Camerata Nova use their voices in atypical ways and the arrangements of well-known songs are anything but straight up. (Kevin Roy)

"She actually has a degree from the University of Manitoba in early music," Pankratz says. "She’s a medieval musicologist, believe it or not, and one of the things Camerata loves to do is early music, Renaissance and even earlier, so we thought she would be the perfect fit. We’re going to do a song (from Night Sky) called For Hildegard — Hildegard of Bingen was one of the great early Renaissance female composers — and we’re doing a few other of Raine’s songs."

Prairie Songbook may take Camerata regulars out of their comfort zone, but where the show will stay true to form is that the musical arrangements — the majority of them brand new — are the kind of complex, unusual work the choral group’s audiences have come to expect.

"They’re not the kind of thing high school choirs would do, just straight-up beautiful arrangements of these standards," Pankratz says. "In Camerata Nova, we use our voices in different ways and we told all the arrangers to think about that... We’re doing things with tone clusters, overtoning, soundscapes that we’re making.

"One song that we’re doing is Cows Around by (Alberta country singer) Corb Lund, and at the beginning the choir is doing a soundscape of animal sounds and the wind and things like that," he says. "These are really new and fresh takes on these well-known songs."

jill.wilson@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @dedaumier

Camerata Nova will be joined by guest vocalist Raine Hamilton, an award-winning Winnipeg singer-violinist. (Supplied)

Camerata Nova will be joined by guest vocalist Raine Hamilton, an award-winning Winnipeg singer-violinist. (Supplied)

Jill Wilson

Jill Wilson
Senior copy editor

Jill Wilson writes about culture and the culinary arts for the Arts & Life section.

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