The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Don’t “monetize” the Pro Arte Quartet, which performs three FREE concerts this week. It embodies the Wisconsin Idea | February 1, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.

Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.

So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.

The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.

The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.

No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.

The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.

The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.

If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:

Pro Arte Haydn Quinten

And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:


From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.

The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.

Here is a link to more information:

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage


At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For information, go to:




At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.

The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.

Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:


Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?

Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?

Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. We live in Tucson and attend many of the events at the UofA School of Music. Almost all student performances are free — opera being an exception. For other events: general public $10, UA employees and seniors 55+ $7, students $5. These fees are often higher for guest artists. Tickets can be ordered in advance via the box office and there is a small surcharge for this privilege. Ordering in advance saves having to stand in line.

    Comment by Wini Bowen — February 1, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

  2. My top-of-the-head response is — Yes, DO monetize the Pro Arte Quartet performances, or more precisely, their “formal” performances at Mills Hall, because they are nationally recognized, and so deserve a special status, so to speak. The same would be true of Christopher Taylor, and perhaps a few other professors in other musical areas with which I am not as well acquainted. I agree thoroughly with FFlambeau’s obervations — we are now very likely to see LESS support for Arts funding in the future, and I think we’re going to have to learn to fund a lot of things ourselves, and prioritize what we can fund.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — February 1, 2017 @ 9:30 am

  3. In an ideal world, where the government is supportive of arts and education, and the audience/electorate is an enlightened one, you are spot on.

    But with Walker and now Trump (and let’s face, some niggardly people before them), we do not live in an ideal world. I suspect, unfortunately, that the arts will continue to be underfunded, including the UW Music Department.

    I think adding a performance fee for most of their groups is not out of line, given these circumstances. I wish it was otherwise and they were free. But if the fees are not excessive and allow for group discounts for the needy (students; the young; the retired), I see nothing wrong with a modest admission fee.

    The alternative is for UW Music to reach out to donors and alumni and ask for money, but I suspect that they have been doing this for some time and just imposing an admission fee would work better for them (with due notice and explanations).

    I do think if the university does this, it should be done with a great deal of information being put out beforehand, and with detailed explanations of their plight. I suspect that most of the public (students aside who never want to pay for anything: I was a student for a long time and am aware of this) would have no objection, as long as the way is “paved for them”. The UW Music people should also spell out how the money is going to be spent: for scholarships or school staff etc.

    Comment by FFlambeau — February 1, 2017 @ 6:34 am

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