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Plus Points for No 'Silent Night' Sing-along

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Read my review today in the actual Washington Post, the thing they print on paper:

Charles T. Downey, Anonymous 4, sounding like a comeback
Washington Post, December 2, 2009

Anonymous 4, the quartet of women known for singing medieval chant and polyphony with faultless intonation and translucent vocal color, brought its comeback tour to Dumbarton Oaks on Monday night. After almost 20 years of acclaimed work in concert and on disc, the group stopped performing a few years ago, a suspension that has happily proved temporary.

In the new configuration Ruth Cunningham replaces Johanna Maria Rose, returning to sing alongside Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, who replaced Cunningham when she left the group in 1998. Three favorite repertories collide in a new Christmas program, "The Cherry Tree": late medieval chant, 15th-century English polyphony and Anglo-American folk song. The juxtaposition is less jarring than it might seem, underscoring the melodic fluidity, open and modal harmonies, parallelisms and pre-tonal dissonance that these styles share. [Continue reading]
Anonymous 4
Friends of Music Series
Dumbarton Oaks


MW said...

Lovely review, Charles.

One thing, though: A4 never "stopped performing." They stopped being a full-time, more or less year-round group in 2004, but they've continued to do at least one tour every year and made and released two albums (The Origin of Fire and Gloryland).

The A4 folks always tried to be clear that they were not disbanding. For instance, here when the news broke:

In fact, the quartet is emphatically not closing down altogether. "Anonymous 4 is not disbanding; they [the singers] are very committed that Anonymous 4 will continue to exist as an ensemble," said the group's manager, Rob Robbins of Herbert Barrett Management. "They're just not going to continue as an ensemble spending 212 days a year in airports and hotel rooms, doing programs that take months to research and assemble and rehearse."

But journalists just kept repeating that A4 was closing shop. The story that the most popular medieval music group (!) the world had ever known was disbanding was just too good a news item to resist.

Ah well - it wasn't the first time we in the media mob distorted a story, and it won't be the last.

Charles T. Downey said...

Yes, the group kept singing, but the decline in their touring and recording activities was dramatic enough that for publicists now to keep repeating that they did not retire (I have gotten messages to this effect other than just yours) seems like protesting too much.

In any case, to blame the media for some sort of distortion of the facts is silly. Are we really to forget that the group went on a tour of farewell concerts in 2004?

MW said...

Well, Charles, I'm not a publicist, and I'm not even in regular touch with any publicists at this point, so I can't say anything about what publicists may have told you or whether they're protesting too much.

Certainly I remember the 2004 tour; the finale of that tour at Music Before 1800 in NYC was quite a big deal. And I remember that the "farewell" was to mark the end of their activities as (to quote the SFCV review to which you linked) "a regular touring and recording group, though they will continue to do some projects together." [emphasis added]

And after that 2004 tour, A4 kept turning up on WNYC's "New Sounds Live" programs every so often. The Hildegard CD (Origin of Fire) came out, and later (in 2006-07) they did the Gloryland CD and an associated tour. (I have a t-shirt from that tour on my dirty laundry pile even now. Whenever I wear it, I get compliments on that dandy sunburst logo.)

Whenever I saw or heard that A4 was doing those things, I thought: Well, they're as good as their word, they really haven't disbanded.

Sure, their touring and recording activities declined dramatically: two CDs in a period when they would normally have released four, and a reduction in touring of, I'd guess, about two-thirds.

Having cut back their activities by two-thirds is certainly a major change, but it's not the same as having "stopped performing" (as you put it in the Post review).

Just sayin' ...

Charles T. Downey said...

Given what they did occasionally produce and what they were doing together, it does not seem to distort the facts to say that they had basically left the stage. When you undertake something called a Farewell Tour -- well, what do you expect?