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Anonymous 4 and the Chilingirian String Quartet will perform English composer John Tavener’s The Bridegroom, Benjamin Britten’s Missa Brevis, and medieval sacred music at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at Lafayette’s Williams Center for the Arts. The concert will be preceded by a 7 p.m. lecture from Williams Center Director Ellis Finger.

Anonymous 4 will open the concert with an extended excerpt from its new best-selling recording, 1000: A Mass for the End of Time, and the Chilingirian Quartet will close the evening with one of Haydn’s most popular quartets, E-flat major String Quartet, Opus 76, No. 6.

Tickets for the concert cost $20 and may be ordered by calling the Williams Center, (610) 330-5009.

Susan Hellauer of Anonymous 4 also will give a free presentation on “Sacred Choral Music and the Work of John Tavener” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, at the Easton Public Library, Sixth and Church Streets. The library can be contacted at 610-258-2917.

“Ancient Faiths, Modern Voices” is a Humanities and the Arts Initiative, funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Humanities Council with additional support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Last year, the Friends of the Williams Center contributed funds toward the commissioning of a new work by Tavener. The composer has gained cult-like status for his ethereal vocal music, deep spirituality, and uncanny ability to articulate the longings of a modern era through compositions rooted in medieval music and Orthodox faith. The Williams Center performance of The Bridegroom will be its premiere.

Tavener composed The Bridegroom in response to a commission from violinist Levon Chilingirian to write a work for his string quartet to perform with Anonymous 4. Tavener chose as his subject the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, indicating that “the texts are sung in the first three days of Holy Week in the Orthodox Church. The Bridegroom who comes is God. He constantly requires Love put to the ultimate test. There is no room for pride, callousness — we must repent, i.e. have a metanoia (an inner change of mind), weeping holy tears as we stand outside the Heavenly bridal chamber. The quartet of strings represents the Bridegroom and the female voices represent us, full of longing. The music should be almost unbearable in its ecstatic light, its endless melodic arch.”

Tavener was born in London on January 28, 1944, into the family of the organist at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Kensington, and was immersed in religious practices as a boy. By his teenage years, he was conducting the choir, playing the organ, and composing pieces for services. From 1961 to 1965, he studied with Lennox Berkeley and Australian-born composer David Lumsdaine at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where he made settings of the Credo, verses from Genesis, and poems of John Donne that were influenced by the acerbic style of Stravinsky’s later music, most notably the Canticum Sacrum. In 1966-1967, soon after his graduation, Tavener wrote The Whale, an ambitious cantata using electronics and other modernistic techniques whose scenes include a graphic representation of Jonah’s expulsion from the belly of the beast. The London premiere of The Whale in 1968 established Tavener’s prominence in British music at the age of 24. The work was recorded two years later on Apple Records, the label founded by The Beatles.

During the 1970s, Tavener’s musical style and religious thought underwent profound changes. His chamber work In Memoriam Igor Stravinsky, written on the occasion of that composer’s death in 1971, was the beginning of the move toward the luminous, austere, introspective, transcendent, mystical style of Tavener’s characteristic musical speech. Paralleling this stylistic evolution was a spiritual one: In 1977, Tavener converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. Tavener’s conviction about the mystical powers of music has inspired a large number of works on religious themes with sung texts — cantatas, requiems, introits, canticles, lamentations, prayers, vigils, rites, and operas — as well as a growing body of chamber, orchestral, and vocal compositions with secular contexts.

The four women who comprise Anonymous 4 — Hellauer, Marsha Genensky, Jacqueline Horner, and Johanna Maria Rose — came together in 1986 to experiment with the sound of medieval chant and polyphony as sung by higher voices. Renowned for its astonishing vocal blend and technical virtuosity, the ensemble takes its name from the designation given by musicologists to an anonymous 13th-century Englishman who, as a student in Paris, wrote about the vocal polyphony then being performed at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Anonymous 4 combines musical, literary and historical scholarship with 20th-century performance intuition, interweaving music with poetry and narrative. Anonymous 4 performs on music series throughout North America, including New York, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C.

Anonymous 4’s programs have been broadcast nationally on National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and other concerts have been recorded and broadcast by NPR stations around the country. The group has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, NPR’s Weekend Edition, and WETA-FM’s Millennium of Music, and has appeared frequently on WNYC-FM’s live radio program, Around New York. Anonymous 4 also regularly performs throughout Europe and Asia. Its recordings for Harmonia Mundi USA have sold over one million copies worldwide. All recordings have reached the top ten on Billboard’s classical chart.

Highlights for the 2000-2001 Anonymous 4 season include a concert series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and engagements with UCLA’s Performing Arts, San Francisco Performances, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, University of Arizona’s UA Presents, Spivey Hall, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Cleveland Chamber Music Society, and performances in the major musical capitals of Europe, including London’s South Bank Centre, a tour of Scandanavia, and a debut in St. Petersburg.

The Chilingirian Quartet is comprised of Levon Chilingirian and Charles Sewart, violin; ’Asdis Valdimarsdottir, viola; and Philip De Groote, cello. With tours to nearly fifty countries on six continents, and with recordings for EMI, RCA, BMG, Hyperion, CRD, Nimbus, Chandos, Conifer, and Virgin Records, the Chilingirian Quartet has become one of the world’s most celebrated and widely traveled ensembles. The Chilingirian is Quartet-in-Residence at the Royal College of Music, London, and gives regular concerts for the BBC, for major British festivals, and at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall and Wigmore Hall.

The group was formed in London in 1971, giving its first concert in 1972, and since then has performed across Europe in prestigious halls such as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Munich Herkulessaal, Zurich Tonhalle, Vienna Konzerthaus, and Stockholm Konserthuset. Since its New York debut in 1976, the Chilingirian has made annual coast-to-coast tours of the United States and Canada, as well as tours to the Far East, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and South America. It has been invited by the New York International Festival to be Britain’s contribution to the festival’s quartet series.

The Chilingirian Quartet has a strong association with several contemporary British composers, in particular with Tavener, who wrote both his second and third string quartets for the group. Robert Saxton was commissioned by the Barbican Centre to write his Songs, Dances and Ellipses for the Chilingirian during its 25th anniversary year. Hugh Wood, with whom the quartet’s association stretches back to its early days, wrote his 4th Quartet for the group and also Serenade and Elegy for string quartet and orchestra, premiered by the Chilingirian together with Matthias Bamert and the London Mozart Players at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1999. The Chilingirian recording of the six Mozart quartets dedicated to Haydn was voted Best String Quartet Recording by critics of Gramophone magazine.

The 2000-01 Performance Series at Lafayette is cosponsored, in part, by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid Atlantic Foundation for the Arts, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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