The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet turns 100. Come make history by listening to history this week.

October 14, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

This season the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) turns 100 with its current members being (from left) violinist David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.

No other quartet in history has ever done that.

And the Pro Arte — which recorded works with famous pianists Artur Schnabel (at bottom) and Artur Rubinstein and who premeiered many string quartets works including those by Bartok and Stravinsky — did it in an unusual and memorable way.

The quartet, originally formed in Brussels, was exiled while on tour in Wisconsin when, in May 1940, Hitler, invaded Belgium and they couldn’t return home. So the UW-Madison approached them to be artists-in-residence – the first string quartet ever to do so – and they accepted. It changed the standard “business model” of string quartets by allowing quartets both to teach and to survive while performing and touring. (The Emerson, Tokyo, St. Lawrence and other string quartets continue to do so today.)

Understandably, the Pro Arte Quartet is celebrating the event in a big way, to the tune of a $500,000 celebration.

This season they have commissioned four American composers – Walter Mays, John Harbison, William Bolcom and Paul Schoenfield – to write new work that they will give the world premieres of. Here is a schedule of the world premieres, all on Saturdays at 8 p.m.:

• Walter Mays’ String Quartet No. 2 (Oct. 22 in Mills Hall)

• Paul Schoenfield’s Three Rhapsodies for Piano Quintet (Nov. 19 in Mills Hall)

•  William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 (March 24 in the Wisconsin Union Theater) with UW faculty pianist Christopher Taylor

•  John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 (April 21 in Mills Hall)

Within 24 hours of each performance, the concert will be available for streaming from Click on Calendar Events and then on the loud speaker symbol.

In addition, there will be out-of-town guest lecturers including Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times and Bill McGlaughlin of “Exploring Music” on National Public Radio. There will be other lectures, open rehearsals, art exhibits, domestic and international tours, and more, including a book about the Pro Arte, a special souvenir program booklet and CDs of the commissions.

And in keeping with the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, which is also marking its centennial and which says that the university should benefit the citizens who support it, all events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

So mark your calendars and datebooks for the forthcoming events.

Wednesday, Oct. 19, 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Room 1351 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Composer Walter Mays (below) will discuss “My Recent Music” as part of Pro Arte Quartet Centennial.

Thursday, Oct. 20, 9 a.m. to noon in Mill Hall. Open rehearsal by the Pro Arte Quartet with composer Walter Mays of the program for Saturday night.

Friday, Oct. 21, 4-5 p.m. in Room 2650 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Lecture by culture historian Joseph Horowitz (below) on “Wagnerism and the New American Woman.” (Part of the Wisconsin Book Festival.)

Saturday, Oct. 22, 3-5 p.m. in the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St. Lecture on “Artists in Exile” by culture historian Joseph Horowitz, who wrote a book, below, on that topic, tracing the impact of exiled performing artists on America in the 20th century) followed by a question-and-answer session. A pre-concert dinner is optional by calling (608) 262-2201.

Saturday, Oct. 22, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. First of the four concerts with the WORLD PREMIERES of commissioned works as well as great stabndrads from the chamber music repertoire and works that had special meaning to the Pro Arte in the past.

On the first half, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform Ernest Bloch’s “Prelude” (1925), Samuel Barber’s String Quartet No. 1 (with the world-famous Adagio for Strings slow movement that the Pro Arte gave the world premiere of in Rome in 1936) and the the world premiere of Walter Mays’ String Quartet No. 2 (2011).

The second half features Schubert’s gorgeous Cello Quintet (1828), with guest cellist Bonnie Hampton (below) from the Juilliard School.

A free reception will follow in the lobby of Mills Hall. (Pre-concert events with introductions to the composer Walter Mays and culture historian Joseph Horowitz and questions from the audience at 7-7:30 p.m.)

Sunday, Oct. 23, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art, 800 University Ave. “Sunday Live From the Chazen” (below) will feature part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Saturday night concert, including the second performance of Walter Mays’ String Quartet No. 2. The event will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area) and is part of the opening celebration for the opening of the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art. Call 263-2246.

For more information and background, visit:

Or call UW School of music at (608) 263-1900.

Or visit the  Pro Arte web sites:

For even more information, I heartily suggest reading the stories by Gayle Worland in last Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal. They were thoroughly researched, extremely well written, with great human interest, and clearly and logically organized and laid out:

Why not leave a message for the Pro Arte Quartet in the COMMENTS section?

They would surely appreciate it.

And The Ear wants to hear. 

Posted in Classical music

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