The Story of ANÚNA 1987 ~ 2018
“ANÚNA was born as An Uaithne on an Autumnal evening in Dublin in 1987” according to Michael McGlynn its founder and Artistic Director. “I’d spent the five years since leaving school absorbing as much music as I was capable of retaining. Those few years had introduced me to medieval and contemporary music through my studies in University College Dublin, but more crucially I had been exposed to the sheer wonder of choral music for the first time and I desperately wanted to express and broadcast this beautiful new discovery to anyone that would listen.
I suppose the genesis of An Uaithne came from my ignorance of the need for the classical music industry to put music into boxes. To me it was all the same. I could hop on the same cassette tape from Debussy to David Bowie, or Clannad to Ligeti. Each piece had its own story, its own place in my head. It is this that defines the music and repertoire of ANÚNA today, but back in 1987 I expect you could have called it radical thought.
The first performance by An Uaithne was in September 1987 in Trinity College Dublin. I had been accepted to Trinity to study for a Master’s degree in English Literature and secured the role of conductor of Trinity College Singers. Preparing full concert programmes with a group of college students is always challenging, so I created An Uaithne as a small ensemble to help fill out our concerts and also to perform more challenging material.”
After leaving Trinity, An Uaithne expanded and developed, and the programmes became more unconventional.
“I remember an early concert of An Uaithne that featured Henry Purcell’s Ode to Saint Cecilia in the first part of the concert and a collection of Irish songs, which included one of my own but also featured choral arrangements I had done of pieces by the Irish group Clannad.”
It was at this stage that the mainstream audience in and around Dublin began to pay attention to the group. In December 1990 the choir recorded a track with Producer/Engineer Brian Masterson who remains Michael’s chief recording collaborator today.
In 1991 a concert at Dublin's Project Arts Centre heralded a crystallisation of all the ideas that had been floating around up to that time.
“I think that this single performance defined what we recognise today as ANÚNA. This is, I believe due to two important factors. In the first instance the music was pretty extraordinary displaying so much of the eclecticism that has sustained the ensemble over thirty years. We staged and re-enacted a traditional “caoineadh” (keening) and other pieces involving lighting and audio enhancement. The concert included the first performance of "The Rising of the Sun", specially commissioned from myself and a wild collection of contemporary Irish choral music. The second factor was that my brother John McGlynn joined the group.
John bought a more down to earth musical sensibility and kept drawing me back to the the fact that elitism should have no place in any genre of music. He kept me grounded in those early days, constantly bringing me back to the idea that there was no point in doing this at all if it couldn’t be communicated to everyone rather than the chosen few who “understood” choral music.
With this in mind we began to explore the connections between the music that we performed and ritualistic movement. While many choirs move in performance none move quite like we do. So much is dependent in performance on the space we sing in, the connections inherent in the spaces we inhabit.”
1991 also produced Michael’s "Celtic Mass" which contains the essence of the past and future of An Uaithne, and it was at this point that the group changed its name to ANÚNA.
In October 1992 the first ANÚNA demo recordings were made in Windmill Lane Studios yielding the tracks "Salve Rex Gloriae" and "The Rising of the Sun". Collaborations arose that with Sting and the Chieftains on the Grammy Award willing album “The Long Black Veil” and their voices graced the soundtrack of the Sullivan Bluth animated film Thumbelina, which became a classic of the period, which they recorded with Barry Manilow.
“At that stage I felt it was time to record some kind of proper commercial album. Having created a unique repertoire we went into a cold church in February of 1993, sixteen of us in total with a couple instruments. I didn’t quite have the album finished so rushed off three tracks in the few days before the recording, writing “The Raid”, “Invocation” and an arrangement of the classic traditional song “‘Sí do Mhaimeo Í”.
We completed the album, entitled ANÚNA, in four hours with one stereo microphone. The album was released in Ireland a few weeks later with no promotion. It slowly picked up traction selling many hundreds of thousands of albums and achieving a top 11 placing on the Billboard World Music Charts in the USA. I think we were just in the right place at the right time.”
ANÚNA enjoyed a hugely raised profile in Ireland and on the BBC in Northern Ireland, appearing often on television and radio. Later in 1993 Michael had enough material to create a new album which began recording in November of that year.
“I’ve done many mad things in my career, taking on the impossible and making it work with varying degrees of success. The first recording on Invocation was a complete disaster. I assembled a the choir and a collection of the finest musicians I knew and the recording failed dismally. A huge cost that was lost entirely. The material was just too hard for the group to sing and the complexity of the sound-world needed time to develop. So I put it away until the start of 1994 and went off to lick my wounds.
One of the more controversial moments in our career occurred at that time. We featured on an advert for a cider company on RTÉ television. The campaign featured the track "Media Vita", but is withdrawn after objections from the church. Not to be defeated we re-recorded a new song based on a secular text.”
In May 1994 a seven minute interval segment was broadcast as part of the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin entitled “Riverdance”. ANÚNA featured at the opening of the work, a segment entitled “Cloudsong” and the music was written by Bill Whelan.
“I remember that night very well, mainly because, despite the hype-in-hindsight no one actually had much of an inkling that “Riverdance” would eventually become a world-wide phenomenon. Bill had attended numerous ANÚNA performances and included us in his cantata “The Spirit of Mayo” in 1993. He was also very familiar with my own music. It was all just a happy accident, and one I will always be proud of having been a seminal part of”.
Eventually the single spent 18 weeks at number one in the Irish charts, went top 10 in the British charts and resulted in a hugely successful stage show and video. However the soundtrack album that was initially released did not feature ANÚNA.
“The first version of the album was completed with a group of session singers. I couldn’t reach agreement with the record label, so we were excluded from the release. However a decision was eventually made to include us on the disc and the version that was released in the USA and subsequently all over the world features the group on four of the tracks. It won a Grammy Award in 1996.”
Anúna sang with the show in London, Belfast, Ireland and New York, but Michael decided not to seek to renew Anúna's contract in September 1996.
“At that stage the Show was very much becoming a single troupe. I hadn’t set up ANÚNA to let it be absorbed into someones else’s creation and we parted with the producers amicably. But stepping off a moving train has consequences. Over the next while 14 of the singers left ANÚNA for “Riverdance - the Show” and we were no longer part of the biggest show on the planet. In fact, as I discovered with time, we no longer had a definable place within Irish music.”
ANÚNA released their second CD entitled Invocation in August 1994. The album subsequently went on to win a National Entertainment Award for Classical music that December.
In January 1995 the group their first of many appearances at the esteemed Celtic Connections at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, winning the award for "Most Popular Public Performance of the Year". The same year they recorded an interview with Michael and two songs for a television special for PBS in the USA as part of a show called "A Celtic Celebration". This is the first time ANÚNA come to the attention of the US public and the choral fraternity there sat up and took notice of the ensemble.
In June they were invited by Elvis Costello to perform as his guests at Meltdown on London's South Bank. There Michael met the singer Jeff Buckley, sharing a stage with him as a soloist, and his tragic death inspires the later album Behind the Closed Eye. The third album Omnis was released in October '95.
“By the end of 1996 ANÚNA were pretty much in the musical wilderness. At that stage I felt that no matter what we did we could never escape the Celtic/Riverdance label in Ireland something . So I just accepted that fact and moved on. the next two album Deep Dead Blue and Behind the Closed Eye were a conscious move to create a new niche for ANÚNA outside of Ireland. It isn’t surprising therefore that both records were sold to Polygram, with the former achieving a top five chart placing in the UK Classical Charts.”
ANÚNA began to perform more and more outside of the country including tours of Sweden, Spain and France in 1996. While the choir had collaborated with many traditional and classical Irish artists, in Madrid that year they performed with renowned Basque performer Benito Lertxundi. A further connection to Eurovision was made when ANÚNA soprano Eimear Quinn won the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo. To end an eventful year ANÚNA performed on "Later with Jools Holland" at the BBC in December.
“While we had begun to perform in Europe, it was pretty evidently on the basis of our association with Riverdance. It was wonderful to visit Poland, Italy, Norway, Germany and Canada over the next few years, but the most memorable concert we gave at this time was in Morocco where we were the first Irish group to participate in the World Sacred Music Festival at Fés. It was such a successful performance that we returned in 2002. I will never forget singing under an ancient tree in a palace garden, with the sound of multitudes of birds accompanying the high notes of the women’s voices.”
In 1998 ANÚNA sang at the inauguration of President Mary McAleese, President of Ireland, recorded two projects with The Chieftains in collaboration with Elvis Costello, Oscar winner Brenda Fricker and Chinese singer Dadawa for The Long Journey Home and Tears of Stone. The group signed an exclusive recording deal with the Gimell/Philips label, home of The Tallis Scholars and in January 1999 they recorded a PBS TV special in Norway with Secret Garden, appearing on two of their albums as guests.
“Even in all this excitement, one event stood out above all the others. In August, 1999 we performed at the The Royal Albert Hall in London at the BBC Proms. As a young man I had spent many summers travelling over to see the Proms, sleeping on floors and sitting in the cheapest seats imaginable. For me this moment stays with me as one of the greatest achievements of the group. probably the most amazing moment occurred when the singers sang my arrangement of “Jerusalem” scattered throughout the enormity of the Albert Hall.”
BBC2 filmed a performance that year of Behind the Closed Eye at Belfast's Waterfront Hall with the Ulster Orchestra and in January 2000 the work was repeated at the opening of Celtic Connections at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera. Deep Dead Blue was nominated for a Classical Brit Award and album six, Cynara, was released in November.
2000 also marked the first solo performance by the group at Dublin's National Concert Hall and the release of the award-winning "The Work of Angels" featuring a score by Michael performed by ANÚNA. Another highlight of this time was performing with The Ulster Orchestra to 14,000 people in Belfast as part of the BBC Proms.
Essential ANÚNA was released on Universal Classics in the UK and USA on Koch/E1 in 2003 resulting in a placing at number 6 in the U.K. Classical Charts. This compilation was followed by Christmas Songs in 2004 on Koch International. ANÚNA undertook first UK Tour that year and visit Chile and Argentina as guests of President Mary McAleese, President of Ireland.
“At this time we paid our first visits to the Netherlands and Japan, two hugely contrasting cultures that have embraced ANÚNA. Both our Dutch agent Peter Boone and our Japanese agent Plankton have carved out unique paths for us and we have been embraced and accepted as part of those cultures, something we will be forever grateful for.
By the time 2006 arrived I think I believed that I had said most of what I wanted to with ANÚNA. I was very wrong. Sensation was unrelated to everything we had done before. Slow, moody and atmospheric, there is nothing uptempo on the record. I had become aware that my music was being performed all over the world and sounded quite different to the way I had created it with ANÚNA. Maybe I was writing it with the intention of stretching the classic sound of the group”
Guest artists included Breton singer Gilles Servat who takes a narration role on the title track “Sensation”.
“The album holds together with an atmosphere of cool sensuality at its core. But it definitely marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new sound world.”
The appetite for all things Celtic continued unabated and besides contributing so many of the singers to Riverdance of the years, the advent of the US phenomena Celtic Woman showed the enormous influence the group has yielded on that genre of music. Over the next few years six ANÚNA singers have appeared in leading roles fronting the show - Tara McNeill, Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, Lynn Hilary, Deirdre Shannon, Orla Fallon and Éabha McMahon. In the meantime ANÚNA continued to tour the world and were Artists in Residence at Festival 500, Newfoundland in 2007. That same year marked the recording of the hugely successful PBS TV special ANÚNA - Celtic Origins in Cleveland USA for the Elevation Group. The programme was carried by in excess of 220 PBS Channels and the album titled Anúna : Celtic Origins hit number one on Soundscan in the World Music category.
The year ends with a nine week tour across the USA with a special guest violinist Linda Lampenius who subsequently has recorded and performed with the ensemble. Venues included New York Town Hall, Orchestra Hall Minneapolis and Berklee Performance Centre, Boston.
Recording began in June 2008 on a second Elevation collaboration Christmas Memories with Maryland Public Television for PBS. The programme achieves 80% coverage on PBS Channels, and the CD peaked at number 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 Album Charts. "Ding Dong Merrily on High" reached number 26 on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Charts. Anúna - Celtic Origins won four Telly Awards.
The group debut in Amsterdam with a solo performance at the Concertgebouw, one of the most famous classical music venues in the world. This continued a special relationship with audiences in the Netherlands
Since 2008 ANÚNA have maintained a busy performance schedule, but the biggest single event of the period was the creation of the ANÚNA Education Programme led by Lucy Champion.
“At the time many ensembles and institutions were seeing the value of running Education programmes. It became a buzz word, a new marketing tool. For us it was different. It helped us define and change the ethos of the group fundamentally, informing us about the uniqueness of what we do and helping us to explain the techniques that we used in performance to others.”
2010 marked the recording of a DVD and CD with Australian group The Wiggles, the most successful children's entertainers in the world.
2011 began with an invitation from Clannad to be their special guests for their Dublin performances at Christ Church Cathedral, celebrating forty years in the music industry. It also marked ANÚNA’s first tour of China where they receive a rapturous welcome. Other performances included Tours des Sites in Belgium in front of an audience of 7,000 people.
They recorded the soundtrack to the video game Diablo III in 2011 representing the voices of Hell. The video game subsequently went on to be massively successful in 2012, selling 3.5 million units on its first day of release and 12 million units in its first year. ANÚNA’s contribution earned them a Game Audio Network Guild nomination.
The most significant event that year occured when ANÚNA visited Iwake, Fukushima just after the tsunami and gave a workshop 40km from the stricken reactor. The group returned to the area in 2014 to a revitalised and renewed prefecture.
2011 marked a significant turning point. The first Anúna International Choral Summer School took place with delegates coming from five countries. By 2018 delegates came from 16 countries. That same year Michael paid his first visit to the American Choral Directors Association National Conference in Chicago thus opening up an enduring connection with the choral music fraternity in the USA for the first time.
These events began a process that took some years to complete - the creation of definitions for The Anúna Technique of choral performance. This new methodology is based on the unique history and performance practices of Anúna. It continues to develop and expand with each passing year.
2012 marked the release of the album Illumination to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Anúna. The disc features the solo voice of a young singer Andrew Hozier Byrne on the opening track. Hozier, as he is better known, performed with Anúna first at Christmas 2007 and grew as a performance artist throughout his time with the group taking lead vocals on a number of classic Anúna pieces.
To celebrate the anniversary Anúna featureed in a solo performance at Dublin's National Concert Hall. Repertoire includeed material spanning the entire catalogue of Anúna including the "Chanson de Mardi Gras" (1991) and a performance of excerpts from the soundtrack of Diablo III. When this video is posted online it crashes the Anúna website...
2013 included the group’s first tour of Canada and an ever expanding series of workshops which culminate in the second Anúna International Summer School. This event held in June has thirteen countries represented among the attendees and facilitators include Charles Bruffy, Artistic Director of the Phoenix and Kansas City Chorales and Dr. Stacie Lee Rossow of Florida Atlantic University. For the first time the majority of members of ANÚNA came from outside of the Republic of Ireland.
2014 marks an important year for Anúna, defining and developing the ensemble. Illumination is withdrawn from sale and reissued as Illuminations, completely remastered with new vocals and remixes. Michael McGlynn states that the original release aimed to "hide" a true connection with the singers, while this version puts the performer in the room with the listener and is a much more immediate and vital experience. The album now includes the work of Finnish violinist Linda Lampenius on three tracks, a long-time collaborator with the group.
Revelation is completed in early 2015 and marks a watershed for the choir. Now featuring a pool of approximately twenty five singers from eight countries, the group develops repertoire and techniques to allow for non-amplified performances, and the album reflects the increasing virtuosity of Anúna. The title track is a semi-improvised piece, created on the day of recording using fragments of harmony and melody. “Mononoke Hime”, the opening track of the album, becomes ANÚNA’s most successful streamed track on Spotify.
Anúna gave their first performance in England in a decade as part of the London A Cappella Festival on the invitation of The Swingle Singers. Michael gave a presentation with singers from ANÚNA at ACDA National Conference at Salt Lake City, Utah in March 2015. In August the group performed at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, China's premiere classical music venue located in Beijing which is a sell-out.
In 2017, ANÚNA celebrated 30 years with a series of events to mark the occasion. Highlights included a sell-out performance at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, tours of China, the Netherlands and a welcome return to Sweden to perform with long-time collaborator Linda Lampenius in Gothenburg. The stand-out event, however, is "Takahime", a unique collaboration between ANÚNA and a Noh Theatre company in Tokyo's Orchard Hall in March.
ANÚNA recorded four songs written by composer Yasunori Mitsuda for the soundtrack of “Xenoblade Chronicles II”, one of the most highly anticipated video game releases in the world.
In November 2017 Anúna released a video, created by Michael McGlynn, of the piece "Shadow of the Lowlands".
Speaking of his first encounter with Anúna through their album Deep Dead Blue, Mitsuda says "I felt that ANÚNA was a new type of chorus that I’d never heard before. My attention was drawn to the lead singer, Michael McGlynn, and I dreamt about making music with ANÚNA one day. After 20 years, my dream came true through the making of the game Xenoblade Chronicles 2".
In February 2018 the group won the Outstanding Ensemble category of the Annual Game Music Awards 2017 for their contributions to the game.
The year ends with the release of three limited edition CD releases, "A Christmas Selection" and "ANÚNA Selected 1987-2017" Volumes I and II. These feature over 60 remastered tracks and a number of new pieces including the monolithic "Look Away...", a 14 minute work that includes improvisation.
In February 2018 ANÚNA travelled to Tokyo to participate in four concerts with Mitsuda celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the release of the legendary video game Xenogears, also contributing new performances of songs to the soundtrack of the album.
2018 also marks the first performances and recordings by the new offshot ensemble of ANÚNA - M’ANAM.