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The Hilliard Ensemble is on the move.

Is it their perfect tuning or their ideally matched voices? Or does it go beyond that? Could it be that the quartet's enthusiasm for discovering and performing both new and old music is contagious to every audience that hears them? According to tenor Steven Harrold, "In parts of Europe such as Germany, we feel that we could turn up and sing almost anything and get a good audience because they trust us to come up with an interesting program."

Time will tell whether Richmond audiences greet the ensemble with the same enthusiasm. Appearing at Virginia Commonwealth University on Jan. 28, the group plans to perform works from its recently released CD, "Missa Media Vita in Morte Sumus," with music by Flemish Renaissance composer Nicolas Gombert. And if any group can make an audience love Latin motets, it's the Hilliard.

The name of the group is almost as unusual as its spellbinding power to entice audiences with new music. While many groups name themselves after composers, this ensemble wanted something different. So the singers named themselves after English miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard. "Hilliard's portraits are very small-scale but incredibly detailed and very beautiful. It was an aim of the group to produce something similar in the musical world," says Harrold.

Although the Hilliard Ensemble is based in the United Kingdom, people are lucky to spot them there. "We managed about 115 concerts last year. And very few of these took place in the U.K.," says Harrold.

Because they're on the road so much, the members feel like a family. While some musical groups meet only on the concert stage, the members of the Hilliard Ensemble socialize and travel together. According to Harrold, "Three of us are skiers, and we often go skiing together outside of work, so we must get along pretty well!"

Not only do the members travel well together, they've even learned to criticize each other pleasantly. Because the ensemble members have a huge amount of respect for each other as performers, it's easy to correct another member. "If you have that mutual respect, it enables you to accept criticism and not to take it personally," comments Harrold.

In the group's 30-year existence, there have only been nine singers. And all the combinations have garnered praise. Perhaps the composer Stephen Hartke summed it up best by calling the group "the Rolls-Royce of vocal ensembles." S

The Hilliard Ensemble performs at VCU's W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10-$25. Call 828-6776.


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