Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Post for the End of Time: The Retirement of Anonymous 4.



     It was a sad day a couple of weeks prior to this one when I read that the world's premiere female vocal quartet, and perhaps some shall say even ensemble, have decided that the 2014-15 season shall be their last as a performing group. Comprised of singers Ruth Cunningham, who also writes excellent program notes for the foursome's concerts, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, and Johanna Maria Rose, the history of the ensemble spans 29 years, and they leave an impressive recorded legacy of more than twenty albums on the Harmonia Mundi label.

      Formed in 1986 as a friendly endeavor one afternoon as the original four (Horner-Kwiatek replaced Cunningham later, who later returned to replace Rose.) gathered to read through some medieval polyphony, they decided to remain a group. They did not want to have a prescribed leader, which has been excellently exhibited in their music making ever after. Hellauer proposed the name for the group, which was initially met with opposition. Nevertheless, it remained, and it has been identified as among the gold standards of medieval music.

     I was immensely blessed to witness this divine ensemble perform in my native city of Oklahoma City last early this year. Performing in a local Episcopalian church, a friend of mine from university and I attended the concert. The audience was not an especially capacious one for the venue, for there may have been 200 people in entirety who came to witness the performance. If memory serves me correctly, the cost of attendance for university students was a mere ten dollars, which I gladly paid, and I can safely say that I received much more than a fair value for such a paltry cost.

     When the four ladies entered the sanctuary, we all applauded. They began the evening with medieval selections, and for the entirety of the first half prior to the intermission, a pin's drop could be heard throughout the place. Not one of us among the audience members dared move for the distraction it might create in opposition to the sublime music to which we were paying the utmost reverent attention. There was no applause, but this was not due to a lack of adulation from all of us; we simply did not wish to break the complementary silence between the chants. A more surreal evening I have never experienced, and the applause at the intermission was most grateful and ardent for the performers.

     The second half included the groups signature, exquisite settings of traditional hymns. We applauded between each set of them, for they were organized in such a manner, and these performances were enough to make me wish that each Sunday was devoted to worship of God in such manner, for I should find it most difficult to discover a purer, more gorgeous form of praise to God than this evening certainly was. Rare are the occasions upon which a recorded artist sounds as perfect in live performance as it does upon its recordings, but I can assure you that there is no difference between the two instances in the case of Anonymous 4, and this concert is perhaps the very best I have ever attended.

     Following the performance, we were all invited to purchase recordings from the ensemble, and who among us could possibly resist following such aural pleasure? I procured their latest at the time, Marie et Marion. I do not believe any of us wanted the evening to end. When we had finished making our selections, the group came forth and autographed everyone's copies, and they were even gracious enough to pose for a photograph with my friend and answered any questions we had during the autograph session. I informed them of my sentiment regarding the concert and my great desire to hear them live before having been blessed with the chance, and they were most gracious in proffering their gratitude to hear my intimations. It was one of those evenings one can only dream of having with a famous artist, yet here it was in reality.

     As the group settles into retirement, I emphatically encourage you to attend a concert by Anonymous 4 if you possibly can. It is not an evening you shall regret, and, even though I should never otherwise advise it, I should even be so bold as to suggest neglecting one's homework for an evening to witness them in performance. You shall not be disappointed. Prior to complete retirement as a group, they are scheduled to release a final album for Harmonia Mundi. It completes an American trilogy from them and shall be entitled 1865. Featured on this release shall be folk songs and parlor songs from the American Civil War era, and master fiddle, guitar, and banjo player and otherwise vocalist Bruce Molsky joins them in the creation and performance of this music.

     I lament Anonymous 4's departure from the world of classical music, but I look forward to a brighter future when such music surrounds us all about God's throne in Heaven. Meanwhile, upon the Earth in the steadfast love of our Father, I leave you and wish all of you a merry Christmas.

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