The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet will tour Europe in January of 2014. It also gives the world premiere of a quartet by Joel Hoffman this Saturday night along with classic works by Mendelssohn and Mozart. Plus, this Friday night, the UW Symphony Orchestra performs with the student concerto competition winners and plays a student work. | February 12, 2013

ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW conductor James Smith (below) will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra in the annual FREE concert by the student concerto competition winners and the student composition winner. This year’s program includes: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s “Capriccio Espagnol”; soprano Shannon Prickett singing the aria “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino“; percussionist Jacob Wolbert in the third movement of Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion; cellist Philip Bergman in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, Op. 129; violinist Nathaniel Wolkstein in the first movement of Camille Saint-SaensViolin Concerto No. 3; pianist Yusuke Komura is the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor; and “Whispering Seraphim” by student Joshua Hintze, conducted by David Grandis.


By Jacob Stockinger

For The Ear, one of the MUST-HEAR concerts will take place this coming Saturday night, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That is when the Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) -– now in its record-breaking 101st season after last year’s commission-filled Centennial -– will perform a very appealing program that is FREE and open to the public.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The first half of the chamber music concert is devoted to quartets based on the theme–and-variations format.

The concert opens with the last unfinished quartet, Op. 81, from 1847 by Felix Mendelssohn (below), who died at 36 that same year. The work has two movements that Mendelssohn supposedly wrote in overwhelming grief at the death of his sister-composer Fanny Mendelssohn.


Then comes the world premiere of a string quartet from 2012 with 14 short movements by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below) of Cincinatti, whose work is often featured in Madison by members of the Karp family at their Labor Day concerts.

As The Ear understands the story, Hoffman wrote the work for the Pro Arte on the occasion of its centennial last season. (The Pro Arte Quartet has a long history, right from its founding, of playing and championing new music, starting from Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Bartok right through today.)

But the Arte had already commissioned several new works (string quartets and piano quintets) for the centennial — including one quartet by well-known American composer John Harbison, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” that also features many small or short movements. So this “volunteer” commission by Hoffman was not included in the official centennial, but will finally get a hearing.

I have found Hoffman’s work – a couple of piano trios and a cello sonata, I seem to recall – modern but accessible,  interesting and engaging. Se will see how the strong quartet stacks up.

Joel Hoffman

Then the concert will conclude with one of the great all-time masterpieces of chamber music: Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, from 1782, one of the six great “Haydn” quartets that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) composed to honor his older mentor Franz Joseph Haydn, who had basically invented and perfected the string quartet as a genre and whom Mozart admired and loved.

In fact the two geniuses played string quartets together, with Mozart (below right) on viola and Haydn (below left) on violin.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

Old string quartet

In related news, The Ear has also learned that the Pro Arte Quartet has signed on to do a European tour in the first half of January 2014. The exact itinerary, details and length are still being worked out, but the tour will include at least one stop in Belgium.

Belgium is where the Pro Arte was founded at the Brussels Conservatory in 1911-12 and eventually became the royal court quartet before being exiled in Madison by World War II and accepting an artist-in-residence post at the UW-Madison in 1940, where it has remained ever since.

In addition, a quartet by a contemporary Belgian composer, Benoit Mernier (below), whose work has been commissioned as part of the continuing centennial celebration and will be premiered next season.

Benoit Mernier 1


  1. Well, January 2014 is still too far away to plan for, but with me finishing college this year, unless I find a job that will keep me busy I should be able to travel and maybe catch a glimpse of a real orchestra where in life it’s hard to find a good concert.

    Comment by Puiu — February 13, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

    • Good luck!
      I think you mean a string quartet.
      Thanks for reading and replying.

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 13, 2013 @ 9:36 pm

  2. Is it Nathaniel Wolkstein performing this Friday?

    Comment by R Anderson — February 12, 2013 @ 9:46 am

    • Hi Richard,
      Right you are!
      Thank you for finding the mistake and correcting it.
      Somehow I messed up since the winners weren’t listed on the Events web calendar and I had to hunt them up. Maybe Spellcheck messed up.
      But it was probably me.
      I apologize and am sorry for the error.
      I have already made the correction.
      Thank you for reading –and so closely –and then replying.
      With best wishes and again with thanks,

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 12, 2013 @ 10:14 am

  3. Hey Jake. Nice to see you and Judy at Grace Presents’ recent recital. Not flawless, yet nicely played.

    I thought you might care to give the the PA Quartet and the U Club a plug for a performance before this weekend:

    Cheers, Bruce

    Comment by Bruce Croushore — February 12, 2013 @ 8:40 am

    • Hi Bruce,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      It was a wonderful reading with some very beautiful playing. And small flaws come with the excitement of live performance. We and our piano teacher friend form Milwaukee enjoyed it thoroughly.
      I suspect I will talk about it again next week and we may also go to the performance for all three of Brahms’ violin sonatas by the same players, violinist Laura Burns and pianist Jess Salek, when they perform them on Friday night, Feb. 22, at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, at 7:30 p.m.
      Unlike the free performance at Grace Presents, this concert will cost $15 for general admission, $10 for students.
      Also, I did indeed put in a plug for the Pro Arte Quartet’s Valentine’s Day dinner at the University Club last Thursday, in time for people to make reservations. They can use the search engine to check with last week’s post for details, or use the link you provide. I think it was also on the UW School of Music’s web site at
      Thanks for the work you do with Grace Presents.
      Remember the possibility of the Q&A with the pianist later this spring. You said she was somehow special.
      Best wishes,

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 12, 2013 @ 10:20 am

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