The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: The oldest string quartet in history — the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet — starts its 100th birthday party in Carnegie Hall after playing the same program in Madison

May 13, 2010
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

All night last night, Wednesday night — at least from about 7 to 10 p.m. Central Time — my thoughts kept to flying in New York City.

To Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall, to be exact.

That’s where the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) — the oldest on-going string quartet in the world and the history of the world – was starting its 2011-12 celebration of its centennial with a concert.

FYI: If you want to know more about the history, I recommend Lindsay Christians’ story for 77 Square. Here’s a link:

The program included in Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 74, No. 1; Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 51; and Alexander Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 2 (1915).

That makes the program for Carnegie Hall great sampler of 18th, 19th and 20th century works by a quartet that premiered modern works by Bartok, Honegger, Milhaud and many others. (The Pro Arte has commissioned six quartets to premiere during their centennial celebration.)

I was wondering what the critics thought – if any of them went. And they certainly should have.

I went to the PAQ (that’s what the quartet is affectionately called around the University of Wisconsin School of Music) for its last Madison appearance before Carnegie Hall, which also happened to be the last program of the season for last Sunday’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” (below, in my photo), which was broadcast live statewide by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Time didn’t allow the Haydn to be included, but I know from past experience that they perform Haydn beautifully: crisply but lyrically with great elegance and the wit that Haydn always has as well as the pathos he could muster in his more bittersweet moments.

But the playing of the other two works was great, first-rate. It was tight part-playing with no pitch problems, and the tempi, dynamics and balance were exemplary. And they were not easy works, especially the Zemlimsky, which embodies the decadent decline of Vienna around World War I.

And these thoroughly professional and convincing performances came despite some hectic end-of-the-school-year schedules and some personal difficulties for ca couple of the members. The members – violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp — are all seasoned and reliable pros.

Little wonder the Pro Arte received a standing ovation from a slightly less than full house. (Usually the Pro Arte, which traditionally closes the Chazen season, fills the “Sunday Live” seating, but it was Mother’s Day after all as well as finals week.)

After the concert – the big treat – came the little treats: locally donated coffee, tea and cookies (see my photo below).

The snacks included a lot of socializing. The talk was all about what a great job the quartet had done.

And I’m betting that’s exactly what they did last night in Carnegie Hall.

What did you think of the Pro Arte’s Chazen performance if you heard it live or on the radio?

Do you have a message you’d like to leave the Pro Arte?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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