Boston-based vocal ensemble Blue Heron has won one of the most prestigious early music awards in the world for its performance of a repertoire that had gone unsung and unheard for centuries.
The British magazine Gramophone announced this week that Blue Heron had won the prize for the early music category. Early music refers to medieval, Renaissance and baroque music, usually composed before 1750, when Johann Sebastian Bach died.
The milestone marks the first time in the award’s 41-year history that the prize for early music has gone to a non-European group.
The prize recognizes Blue Heron’s recording of "Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5," a piece of music traced as far as 1540, when it was copied for Canterbury Cathedral. Gramophone called it "one of the discoveries of the year."
The Peterhouse partbooks are "the largest and most important extant source of repertoire from the golden age of English cathedral music," according to a statement from the group.
The repertoire had gone unsung and unheard for centuries because some of the parts were missing. They were recently restored by English musicologist Nick Sandon.
Blue Heron, which will mark its 20th anniversary this year, is widely considered one of the most innovative and prestigious early music ensembles in the United States. It is directed by Scott Metcalfe, a specialist in Renaissance music.
"I’m pleased beyond words that the Gramophone Award may win greater recognition for the Peterhouse repertoire and for Nick Sandon’s essential and brilliant restorations, the fruit of a lifetime’s work," he said in a statement.
The ensemble is slated to release the complete 5-CD boxed set on Sept. 24, on its own label under the title “The Lost Music of Canterbury.”