COURTESY ALLIANCE ARTIST MANAGEMENT
Susan Hellauer, left, Jacqueline Horner, Marsha Genensky and Johanna Maria Rose are the superb vocalists of the Anonymous 4.
Quartet’s repertoire has medieval reach
Anonymous 4 has built its reputation on virtuosic vocals presenting sacred music
The Anonymous 4 are anything but in the world of art music.
For over two decades, the unique-sounding female quartet has carved itself a niche as a premier act known for pure and virtuosic vocals, singing a repertoire that spans centuries -- from British medieval, to American folk and gospel, to specially commissioned contemporary pieces.
The quartet makes a rare appearance in Hawaii, performing five concerts during a 10-day interisland tour.
Marsha Genensky, Jacqueline Horner, Susan Hellauer and Johanna Maria Rose -- all respected singers and academics -- decided on their moniker as somewhat of a joke. While studying sacred music from the Middle Ages, they learned that unsigned treatises had been edited and published by a musicologist from the 19th century as Anonymous 1, Anonymous 2, etc. The fourth was most important, as it not only described compositional style and music practices during the golden age of music in Paris in the early 13th century, but began attributing individual works to such master composers as Leonin and Perotin.
It was this music that gained Anonymous 4 its initial reputation, and will constitute a portion of concerts here. The rest of the program will be devoted to sacred music of the American folk tradition, taken from the group's most recent album "Gloryland."
"The first half of our concert is made up of music from medieval England that's specifically called 'A Medieval Ladymass,' made up of British chant and polyphony specifically devoted to the Virgin Mary. It's the best of the poetry and music from the Middle Ages," Genensky said by phone from the Big Island.
"And in the second half, we do the American tunes, our more recent repertoire, made up of shape-note and gospel tunes, basically from the late 18th century, when the colonies became the United States, to maybe the mid-20th century, and all with new arrangements."
The singers' recent focus on American music has given them a new perspective on their medieval roots.
"We found out -- and some of our audience members may notice this as well -- that some of the sounds from the Middle Ages carry into the early American music, like the use of octaves and fifths, and the creation of this really hollow sound," Genensky said.
In recent years, each member of the Anonymous 4 has devoted more time to solo endeavors. "This used to be a full-time job," said Genensky. "We used to be joined at the hip. But some years ago, we decided to pull back a bit and be a part-time group in order to pursue our own interests."
This isn't due to the any waning of enthusiasm. "We hope we're continuing to make a positive motion in our music. One important component in how we sing together is to be listening to each other as well. What we try to evoke is an organic shifting of the songs. ...
"In our concerts, when we sing medieval music, we seem to draw the audience in, to focus more deeply on the music. Contrasted to that, the American music tends to be more exuberant and fun."
And despite well-selected collaborations with other musicians and composers, don't expect Anonymous 4 to go after a much larger group of listeners.
"We seem to have a large enough core audience," said Genensky, "and we're lucky that our record label, Harmonia Mundi, has had faith in us since Day 1. It's always been 'What are you guys going to do next?' As to what comes next for us, even we don't know, but whatever we've done, it's what people like."
Place: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii-Manoa
In concert: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $30 in advance; $35 at door ($18 advance; $20 at the door for students and Honolulu Symphony musicians), available at Aloha Stadium box office, Rainbowtique stores, Stan Sheriff Center, UH-Manoa Campus Center and Windward Community College OCET office
Call: 956-8246 or visit outreach.hawaii.edu/community