Approaching the microphone, music director of the Blue Heron ensemble Scott Metcalfe, read aloud the English lyrics to Cipriano de Rore’s “I madrigali a cinque voci.” Next, Assistant Professor of Spanish Antonio Bentivegna stepped up to the podium and read the Italian translation. Then, the chapel went silent as the members of Blue Heron shuffled their sheet music and began.
Their voices overlapped in stunning harmonies, keeping the audience enraptured until the very last note, letting it hang in the air for a second that seemed like eternity until finally, the crowd erupted into thunderous applause at the “Songs of Love and Death” Blue Heron performance on Saturday, September 15.
The Blue Heron ensemble is a renowned vocal ensemble from Boston, that specializes in Renaissance and Medieval era choral music. Founded in 1999, Blue Heron has been a staple of the Boston area for 19 years. They present a concert series in Cambridge, Massachusetts each year and have resided at the Center for Early Music Studies at Boston University and at Boston College. They have performed all over the country, from Seattle to Philadelphia, and even performed in London, England.
The group’s technique is seemingly flawless; on stage, they are composed of five members who each perform a different role vocally, creating beautifully staggered harmonies that resonate throughout the hall until they meet once more at the end.
“The arrangements were very well done,” first-year Sofia Beaufrand said. “I thought it was very interesting because this is poetry…it was very inspired.”
Other attendees also appreciated the niche, unexpected concert.
“I’m realizing now that I wouldn’t know when I would get to hear concerts like this, because these aren’t things you hear very often. Looking at the pamphlet, they seem to be a well-known group, so it’s nice to have the opportunity to have them here,” first-year Precious Odiase said.
The Blue Heron concert is part of the Colgate Italian Madrigal Conference took place from September 15 to September 16.
“[The conference] has brought together people from all different universities across the country and also overseas to talk about Renaissance music and to study it and what it means to listeners today,” Assistant Professor of Music and event organizer Seth Coluzzi said.
The Blue Heron group provides a direct window into the past, delving into how people and poets from the 15th- and 16th-centuries thought about common themes including love and death. The importance of connecting with the past is of particular significance to Associate Professor of History Antonio Barrera, who also attended the event.
“These stories of love and sadness help us to understand our own lives,” Barrera said.
Although the performance was completely in Italian, its message was still strong. The ensemble conveyed moods of longing and melancholy in haunting melodies. The performers managed to cross language barriers and thousands of years to connect with and move the audience. The ideas of the past are not out of reach for the modern era; in fact, they are often closer and more similar than they might first appear.