La Nef is a unique ensemble that presents a musical performance with narration, usually about some person or events from medieval and earlier times. Actually, the group stages what might be described as a mixture of music, storytelling, and acting. The instruments used by the members are typically of medieval origin and include the gemshorn, shawm, psaltery, Arab lute, oud, saz, viola da gamba, and many others. Sometimes the group performs modern music on modern subjects via the New Music Sector offshoot. A typical performance by La Nef would involve six or more performers, including instrumentalists, singers, and narrators/actors. Every two years the ensemble devises a new show. In its early music productions, the music La Nef provides is not always directly related to the subject matter but does capture the historic flavor of the time. Thus, for example, the show Music for Joan the Mad featured the story of this 16th century queen, with music not necessarily written or performed for her, but music from her time that captures the mood of the period. La Nef has made nearly a dozen recordings, which have appeared on Dorian Discovery, ATMA Classique, and Ambiance Magnétique.
La Nef was formed in Quebec, Canada, in 1991. The founding members were Sylvain Bergeron, Viviane Leblanc, and Claire Gignac, all of whom are still active in the ensemble. The name they chose, La Nef, pertains to the "nave" of a church, the area in which people gather for worship. The group quickly attracted attention and in 1992 its first recording Musiques pour Jeanne la Folle was issued on Dorian Discovery. There followed several more highly successful recordings and by the turn of the century, La Nef was a major presence on the concert and recording scenes.
Gignac established an offshoot she calls the New Music Sector in order to delve into modern and original music with integrated forms and using modern, even electronic instruments in performances. Among the New Music Sector's later efforts was the 2006 production of Last Kiss, which employs the works of Renaissance-era poets Louise Labé and Gaspara Stampa, and uses videography, photography, and other modern techniques in the production. By 2008 La Nef had made well over 500 concert appearances across the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Among later recordings is the 2007 CD The Battle of Killiecrankie on ATMA Classique.
Gignac and Bergeron were still serving as artistic directors during the 2011-2012 season, which included a performance with Nell Snaidas of Spanish songs and dances and a 20th anniversary celebration.