It was 1986 when four women joined forces in New York to perform a cappella music of the medieval era. Naming themselves after an unsigned document, dated around A.D. 1200, describing musical practices at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Anonymous 4 seemed unlikely to attain popular success. Considering that their repertoire consists primarily of music penned between the 11th and 15th centuries and that they favor various forms of chant, plainsong and polyphony, this "act" hardly seemed destined for top of the pops status.
But the world of music can be a surprising place. Anonymous 4 has grown from critical favorites to a massively popular ensemble whose every release spends months at the top of the classical charts. Marsha Genensky, Johanna Maria Rose, Susan Hellauer and Jacqueline Horner have performed around the world, thrilling audiences with their unique presentations of unaccompanied early music. They create a truly spiritual atmosphere in concert, performing their program without interruption and sans applause. The effect is one of leaving the 20th century for some 75 or 80 minutes to just sit back and enjoy the otherworldly sounds washing over you.
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The group faced a turning point about a year ago when Ruth Cunningham, a member since 1988, decided to retire. In such a unique ensemble, this could have been a disaster. The decision to continue and find someone new had to have been especially hard--it's not like there are dozens of other quartets who stand on stage, inches apart in a semicircle, reading each other's body language and eye contact in total concentration.
After passing the word around early-music circles and receiving a pile of demo tapes, the remaining Anonymous 3 held auditions at an upper west side Manhattan church, and did indeed find just the right match. Jacqueline Horner is a transplant from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who, it's said, brings just the right touch of sexiness to the group's trademark ethereal sounds. Having survived being dropped into the middle of an extensive schedule of tours both in the U.S. and Europe, she's proven to be a great addition to all things Anonymous.
Anonymous 4 performs at 8 p.m. Friday, February 5, at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. Tickets are $24. 994-2787 (SCA), 784-4444 (Ticketmaster).