On Sunday, March 26th, Boston-based Blue Heron (Scott Metcalfe, Artistic Director), will be performing in the Lang Concert Hall at Swarthmore College as a culmination of its ‘Ockeghem@600’ series — a multi-year project to perform the complete works of Johannes Ockeghem, a leading European composer in the second half of the 15th century.
One of the foremost choral ensembles in the United States, Blue Heron is renowned for its vivid live performances and wide repertoire — it has been hailed by The New Yorker for the “expressive intensity” of its interpretations, and in 2018 was the first non-European ensemble in 41 years to be awarded the Gramophone Classical Music Award for Early Music. With an accomplished roster of musicians and a flexible organizational format, the group can range from three singers to many more, adding instruments when necessary. From 15th-century English and Franco-Flemish polyphony to Spanish music from that era, the ensemble has a deep commitment to historical performance and spotlighting neglected, seldom-performed music.
Inaugurated in 2015, Blue Heron’s ‘Ockeghem@600’ was scheduled to end more or less around the 600th anniversary of the artist’s birth in 1420, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although he was widely acclaimed for both his sacred and secular music by his contemporaries, the number of surviving works of Ockeghem’s output is relatively small. Just 20 chansons (‘songs’), 14 masses, and a few polyphonic motets can be definitively attributed to the composer. Short as the list may be, interpreting pieces written in the 15th century from the original source material was no small feat. Questions of voice type, pitch level, and scoring arose, often requiring much research on Blue Heron’s part. Thus, their project to perform his entire repertoire is considered both ambitious and groundbreaking. By the project's end, Blue Heron expects to have created a new complete edition of the works of Ockeghem.
The ensemble will be performing Ockeghem’s Missa Mi-Mi which is a musical setting of sections of a traditional Mass, along with other music by the composer. The performance will also feature Nymphes des bois, an emotional and haunting lament for his death, written by Josquin des Prez.
This event was made possible through a grant from the William J. Cooper Foundation that provides a variety of lectures, performances and exhibitions across disciplines to enrich students, staff, and the Swarthmore community. Professor James Blasina reached out to Blue Heron and applied for the funding that would eventually allow them to come and perform on campus as part of the Cooper Series of events.
“Blue Heron stands among the world’s foremost performers of Renaissance music. In the spirit of the liberal arts, their performances are intricately linked with scholarship, and they work very closely with educators, scholars, and students. It’s a unique opportunity to be able to host Blue Heron at Swarthmore through funding from the Cooper Foundation, and this is an exclusive chance to hear a particular style of choral music,” Blasina said.
Blue Heron will be performing their concert, ‘Last Works and Legacies: Johannes Ockeghem’s Missa Mi-Mi & Other Works’ at 3pm this upcoming Sunday, March 26th, at the Lang Concert Hall in the Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College. This will be followed by a voice student masterclass at 5pm and an open rehearsal with the Garnet Singers — a selective subset of the Swarthmore Chorus — at 7pm. All events are free and open to the public. No reservations are required.