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Gender Imbalance

December 22, 2012

Blue Heron is a high-endy early music-oriented vocal ensemble based in Boston whose members have sung with the likes of Sequentia and Chanticleer and whose work has been written up by Alex Ross in The New Yorker.

But, even though Blue Heron employs some beautiful singers (notably the iridescent tenor Jason McToots and the beveled-edged baritone-bass Paul Guttry) the group's makeup confuses me.

It's mixed gender, but only three of its 12 members are women. I listened hard at a concert of works from 15th century France, Burgundy and Cyprus last night at a billowy church in Cambridge, MA to see if the gender imbalance created something special for the sound.

But I drew a blank on that front.

Though the ensemble worked hard to achieve a good balance and blend, and succeeded on the whole, countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf's timbre, though lovely, stuck out of the mix. I'm guessing that this happened because the other three high voices in the ensemble are supplied by female vocalists -- Daniela Tosic, Pamela Dellal an Jennifer Ashe.

Still, the concert, which felt rather long, had some great moments. The most extraordinary was a quartet of men performing the French-born composer Johannes Ciconia's "Gloria Spiritus at alme," a piece which modulates in such bizarre ways and whose "Amen" coda is so tonally unsettling, that it caused some audience members to titter. I loved it.

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