The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s final and official — the University of Wisconsin Pro Arte Quartet will tour to Belgium this week.

May 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison, Wis. -– After much worrying, nail-biting and hectic phone calls, the final and official word is in: The Pro Arte Quartet tour to Belgium is on!

And not a minute too soon, since the tour concerts start at the end of this week and the musicians leave for Belgium on Tuesday.

Here is an update from Sarah Schaffer (below), who manages the Pro Arte String Quartet for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

Sarah Schaffer mug

The University of Wisconsin Pro Arte Quartet will be returning to its roots this week with a concert tour of Belgium, where the group was first formed in 1912. Current musicians in the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) include violinist David Perry, violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp. (The current Pro Arte Quartet can be heard at the bottom in a YouTube video playing the Prelude for String Quartet by Ernest Bloch at one of its centennial concerts.)

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The trip is occurring thanks largely to efforts by Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin who helped the UW-Madison ensemble-in-residence overcome government restrictions that prohibit traveling across international borders with anything containing elephant ivory and other endangered flora and fauna.

The Brussels concert series — the capstone of the Pro Arte’s centennial year as the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet — returns the ensemble to its roots for the first time since World War II.

The concert series highlight will be the European premiere of the quartet’s latest commission, the String Quartet No. 3 by contemporary Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below, in a photo by Lise Mernier). The composition had its world premiere March 1, at Mills Concert Hall in the George Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus.

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing at the Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans. By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artist ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world.

The current tour to Belgium, which occurs May 20-28, almost didn’t happen thanks to renewed efforts by the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service’s International Affairs division, which since February has been actively enforcing a 1976 law prohibiting the importation of any items or materials containing elephant ivory, tortoise-shell, Brazilian rosewood and other materials.

Three of Pro Arte’s four musicians have ivory on the tips of their bows. The fourth, Sally Chisholm, has an antique viola heavily inlaid with either ivory or bone on the face of the instrument.

ivory on 2 bows

Chisholm’s viola was manufactured in Cremona, Italy, in 1680. It is her primary instrument and has a unique voice that has become central to the Pro Arte’s sound. “Violas have not been standardized, and to find a replacement instrument for the trip would have been difficult and have changed the sound of the entire group,” said Chisholm (below).

Sally Chisholm

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does issue permits enabling musicians with instruments containing prohibited products to travel with them, but it was unlikely that the permits would have been issued in time for the Pro Arte’s May 20 departure.

The UW-Madison Chancellor’s office worked with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (below), who helped facilitate more rapid processing of the permits, which arrived just prior to the ensemble’s departure.

Tammy Baldwin official portrait

The trip to Belgium will feature a variety of concerts in Brussels and elsewhere.

The Pro Arte will kick off the week-long tour on Thursday, May 22, with a performance in Studio 1 of the Flagey Building (below top with its handsome concert hall studio at below bottom), home to Belgium’s broadcast industry.

Flagey Building Brussels

Flagey building concert hall, studio

The program includes compositions by the “Dissonant” Quartet in C Major, K. 465, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below top), the Quartet in D Major by Belgian composer César Franck (below bottom), “The Wind in the Willows” by American composer Randall Thompson and the “Elegy” for solo viola by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, who wrote it for a member of the Pro Arte Quartet. Studio 1 has historic significance for the Pro Arte. An earlier iteration of the quartet recorded a complete cycle of the 16 Quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven there in 1938.

Mozart old 1782

Cesar Franck photo

On Friday, May 23, the Pro Arte will perform in the Arthur de Greef Auditorium of the Royal Library of Belgium (below top) in Brussels with a program featuring works by String Quartet No. 1 by Bela Bartok (below middle) and Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No, 4 by Franz Joseph Haydn (below bottom).

Royal Library of Belgium

bartok

Haydn

On Saturday, May 24, the Pro Arte travels to Dolhain Limburg, birthplace of the quartet’s founding violinist Alphonse Onnou for a reception, dinner and performance at Kursaal Dolhain. The evening program will include previously listed compositions by Mozart, Franck and Haydn plus “Waltz from Five Novelettes” by Alexander Glazunov (below).

glazunov

The Mernier European premiere at the Royal Brussels Conservatory (its exterior is below top, the grand concert hall is below bottom) follows on Monday, May 26.

Royal Conservatory Brussels exterior

Royal Conservatory Grand Hall Brussells

The program features the Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, by Mozart, the work by Randall Thompson (below top) and the slow movement or “Adagio for Strings” (premiered in Rome in 1938 by the Pro Arte) from the  String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11, by American composer Samuel Barber (below bottom).

Randall Thompson

barber 1

The final performance of the tour on Tuesday, May 27, will take place at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve (below).

Catholic University of Lovain

In addition to the Mernier work, the performance will include works by Mozart and Barber. In addition, the audience will view a 1975 documentary film about the Pro Arte by Pierre Bartholomée that includes interviews with composers Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky and others. Denise Bauer (below), the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium will be present.

Denise Bauer

 

 

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