Berkeley universities

Award-winning Boston ensemble to sing Renaissance madrigals

Fans of Renaissance choral music will be in for a treat in late October, when the much-loved vocal ensemble Blue Heron heads to the Pitzer Center at UC Davis for a free noon concert on Thursday. October 28 and a paid evening program on Friday. October 29.

Blue Heron are a professional vocal group founded in the Boston area in 1999. They have performed at the Boston Early Music Festival, the Berkeley Early Music Festival, the Library of Congress, and many renowned universities (including a concert at Harvard about two years ago, where they sang some of the music they’ll play at Davis).

The group has released over a dozen albums, including a 2018 record that won a Gramophone Classical Music Award for Early Music. This award made Blue Heron the only US vocal ensemble to date to receive this much sought-after London-based honor, which has been awarded annually for over 40 years and is typically awarded to British or European performers.

Jessie Ann Owens. Courtesy photo

Blue Heron’s connection to Davis is Jessie Ann Owens, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Music Department at UC Davis. Owens has considerable scientific expertise in the music of the composer Cipriano de Rore, who lived from about 1515/16 to 1565 (when he died at 49 or 50).

Cipriano was born in what was then Flanders (now part of Belgium), but he rose to fame as a musician and composer when he moved to Italy, where he became arguably the most important madrigal composer in during his lifetime, paving the way for more recent (and today better known) composers like Palestrina, Gabrieli, Monteverdi and others.

Owens researched the life and music of Cipriano, including Ciprano’s first book of madrigals (published in 1542, when the composer was 25), and in the process, she approached Blue Heron to make the first complete recording of the music in this 1542 volume. Music scholars today regard this book as an important innovative artistic breakthrough that many other musicians have noted with approval, launching Ciprano (who was until then somewhat of an independent ) in a series of posts with chapels in Venice, Ferrara and Parma.

Scott Metcalfe, artistic director of Blue Heron, says the 1542 book “really changed the course of the madrigal in Italy”. Blue Heron then worked closely with Owens on the preparation of a two-CD recording which was released (with very favorable reviews) in 2019. (A Blue Heron concert with this music at UC Davis had to wait until to now in part because of the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out many concert dates over an 18-month period from 2020.)

Davis audiences will have two opportunities to hear Blue Heron sing:

* There will be a free concert without a ticket on Thursday October 28 at noon at the Pitzer Center (part of the Shinkoskey Noon Concerts series). The program is called “200 Years of Love and Loss” – love and loss being two of the most common themes in old madrigals – and Blue Heron will perform works from the 1300s, 1400s and 1500s by composers such as Guillaume de Machaut, Josquin des Prez, Johannes Okheghem and (of course) Cipriano de Rore.

* There will be a paid concert at 7:00 p.m. entirely dedicated to the music of Cipriano at the Pitzer Center on Friday, October 29. The concert will be titled “Songs of Love and Death” – love and death equal to love and loss as far as the lyrics of Renaissance madrigals are concerned – and will be preceded by a pre-concert talk by Owens at 6:15 p.m., discussing Cipriano and his music.

Tickets cost $ 24 for adults, $ 12 for students and children, online at or at the door.

Proof of Covid vaccination or a recent negative Covid test will be required at the door for both performances, and masks should be worn.


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