Among the 13 Manitoba discs nominated for a Juno is the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra's first recording on its own label, MCO Records. And an auspicious debut it is. The recording is called Troubadour & the Nightingale and features soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian singing exotic and atmospheric music by Maurice Ravel, Sayat-Nova and Serouj Kradjian. 

Bayrakdarian is no stranger to the Junos, having won four consecutive Juno Awards for Best Classical Album (Vocal or Choral Performance) in a row.

But this disc has a special personal significance for the Armenian-born soprano, who also boast a degree in bio-medical engineering. That's because it includes a brand new work written especially for her by Armenian-Canadian composer and pianist Serouj Kradjian, who just happens to be her husband.

Kradjian says the inspiration for the work came out of a discussion with MCO conductor Anne Manson about the book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal.

That led Kradjian to do further research, which took him back to Spain where he lived for six years. In the course of his research he learned about an obscure group of female troubadours who sang and travelled in the 12th and 13th centuries in Occitania, in the south of France, bordering Spain.

"I didn't even know they existed," said Kradjian.

He even discovered a troubadour named Ysabella, though not much is known about her. The result is his imagining of Ysabella's life and travels in music, a work called "Trobairitz Ysabella."

"The fact that this brilliant man found an obscure female troubadour who was called Ysabella, well just imagine!" Bayrakdarian exclaimed.

"To recreate someone else's musical journey and explore this mysterious identity was just too good to pass up," she said.

Bayrakdarian, who is well known for singing more conventional classical music, found it a pleasure to learn this new work.

Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian has already won four Junos Awards. (Bo Huang)

"I realized something at the end of this process, that when music is written for you, you have no bad note days, there's no such thing," she said, laughing.

"Serouj wrote a piece that evolved from the original concept. He knows my voice very well, he knows the evolving of my voice - it was very different 10 years ago, it was very different 20 years ago. So he's taken all of that information and infused it with my personality as well as his artistic vision. So it was something that is very gratifying to me as a singer to sing because it highlights all my pluses.

Bayrakdarian has had a long and close relationship with the MCO. Aside from presenting several concerts together in Winnipeg, they have made a number of tours together, to New York's Carnegie Hall, to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and P.E.I..

Listen to Isabel Bayrakdarian and pianist Serouj Kradjian perform on Up to Speed with host Ismaila Alfa on March 28 at 5:10 p.m. and in conversation with Terry MacLeod on the Weekend Morning Show on Saturday, March 29 at 8:40 a.m.

They also perform in the Classical Showcase concert presented as part of the Juno celebrations on March 29 at Eckhardt-Grammaté Hall at the University of Winnipeg at 1:00 p.m.. 

The classical awards will be handed out at a special Juno ceremony on March 29.