September 9, 2022
Those of us who still use paper calendars have turned the page and here we are in September! The kids are back in school, here and there a maple tree has begun to change its colors, cooler days have arrived – all signs point to a new season. Here at Blue Heron, we are looking forward with tremendous excitement to the music-making ahead of us, including the last two programs in our complete traversal of the works of the great Johannes Ockeghem, a new Spanish Christmas program, the ebullient Missa Fortuna desperata by Josquin Desprez, and more. And as we begin to rehearse this week in preparation for recording Volume 2 of Johannes Ockeghem: Complete Songs, I thought I’d take the opportunity to give you some insight into what’s up with the organization and the decisions we are making with an eye to this season and the future.
Since March of 2020, every plan we’ve made has been conditioned by the ever-changing course of the COVID pandemic. This year, although we are reasonably hopeful that the situation will continue to improve, we still don’t know what the future will bring. Blue Heron, in common with arts organizations of all sizes and shapes all across the country, saw audiences level off last season at about 60% of pre-pandemic numbers. No-one knows when or if audiences and ticket revenues will rebound.
As you may remember, in 2020-21 Blue Heron presented an entirely online season of four programs. Last year we returned to in-person performance, while offering each program at least twice and recording everything for online release, which enabled anyone who couldn’t make it to First Church in Cambridge to hear and watch our concerts from home. In so doing we were able to reach new listeners across and outside the country. We also spent quite a lot of extra money, roughly five times as much as we got back in remote ticket revenue. With many grateful thanks to our generous and devoted patrons, we remain in sound fiscal condition, but such a disparity between expense and income is not sustainable unless we are able to locate new funding. With considerable regret, but an equal measure of financial realism, then, this season we return to our pre-COVID norm: five programs performed once each at First Church (three times in December, as usual), and, for now, no online option. This was not a decision made lightly, nor does it mean that we do not hope and expect to be able to offer online programming again in the future. We continue to explore all possibilities. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, those of you who are unable to attend live concerts in Cambridge will still have some choices. We will again present a series of three online Spotlight Sessions – talks and conversations on topics related to Blue Heron’s musical activities – this year featuring Thomas Forrest Kelly on the history of the Christmas carol, Reginald Mobley and Martin Near discussing the art of the countertenor, and Debra Nagy introducing musical instruments of the fifteenth century. Both programs in the Ockeghem@600 series will be recorded and portions will be released on our YouTube channel. Our February appearance at Music Before 1800 in New York City will be recorded for streaming; other touring engagements will take us to Amherst, Massachusetts, in October, to Chicago in January, and Swarthmore College in March.
I mentioned above the second CD in our two-CD set of Ockeghem’s songs, which will be recorded this season for release next fall. In the meantime, look for the release this October of our live recording of Machaut’s Remede de Fortune, which is accompanied by a splendid booklet filled with reproductions of illustrations from the earliest manuscript copy of the work from circa 1350. The official release date is Friday, October 21st. If you are able to come to a concert the previous weekend, we’ll have CDs on hand for in-person, pre-release sale!