By Jacob Stockinger
Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people on tour with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches. updates and photos are possible — from iPads, computers, cameras and smart phones — so that they can to keep the fans back here at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.
By now it has become apparent that the Pro Arte Quartet’s tour of Belgium is as big an event to the Belgians and to local residents there as it has been to Madisonians, Wisconsinites and alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Just before taking a day’s rest, Sarah Schaffer (below), who manages the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet, sent this text and this photo essay. They cover the return to Brussels from Dolhain Limbourg, the hometown of founding violinist Alphonse Onnou. Then the members of the quartet visited the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels where they toured the archives and library and also performed, including a rehearsal that was recorded for the national radio network.
Current members are violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.
Today’s Part 5 covers the extensive events at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where the frenetic pace just kept gathering speed. A concert tour is hard work, no glamorous vacation!
If you want background or need to catch up, here are links:
To Day 1:
To Day 2:
To Day 3:
To Day 4, Part 1:
To Day 4, Part 2:
Sarah Schaffer writes:
Today brought the Belgian premiere of Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s Quartet No. 3, commissioned by Pro Arte Quartet for its centennial, a special commission harking back to its Belgian origins, in the very hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music where the founding quartet played countless times, both as students and after.
It was so perfectly appropriate, and so very moving: this hall, this city, this composer, this work, this audience of mainly students, all at the ages now that the original Pro Arte Quartet members (below) Onnou, Halleux, Prevost and Maas would have been back then.
There were so many concert attendees that the printed programs (below) ran out.
The short program included — after remarks from Anne van Malderen (below top) on the history of the quartet and an introduction of his work, with examples played by PAQ, by Messieur Mernier (below bottom): Mernier’s Third Quartet, the Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, American composer Randall Thompson‘s “Wind in the Willows” and the famous Adagio for Strings from the String Quartet No. 1 by American composer Samuel Barber.
Applause called the PAQ back to the stage three times.
Our visit to the Conservatoire began earlier in the day with a tour by librarian Olivia Wahnon (below).
This distinguished archival collection contains the most manuscript holdings among all Belgian libraries, and she had prepared for our benefit some beautiful displays of rare materials.
Some of what we saw was related to the Pro Arte and string quartets. There were many manuscript scores and parts, particularly from the collection of second violinist Laurent Halleaux, and many concert programs.
But not everything was about PAQ! We see a Medieval handbook manuscript of chant:
We also had a glimpse of Constanze Mozart’s diary (below, in a photo by Sally Chisholm, you can see it is multilingual, and contains many beautiful drawings and paintings), a page of manuscript by Franz Liszt, and the teensiest, tiniest bound volume of Medieval manuscripts. Such treasures! Constanza wrote about her husband Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Husband genius. Still poor.”
For us, the division of the institution into two nationalities—Flemish and Walloon—seems somewhat incomprehensible and impossible to manage and navigate. Yet it is so much the history and culture of the whole country, especially evident after yesterday’s elections, it is simply taken in stride.
Although the whole infrastructure (below are photos of the conservatory’s exterior) is in a state of dilapidation—built in the mid-19th century, with a major renovation planned beginning in 2015 — it was in its way more touching and meaningful to see it now, while we can more easily imagine how it looked and felt when the first Quatuor Pro Arte (QPA) inhabited its halls and spaces a century ago.
Composer Benoit Mernier (below top, applauding the Pro Arte Quartet, and below bottom) reports he is well pleased with the progress that he hears in the playing of his piece, from its world premiere March 1 in Madison to now, just 2-1/2 months later. He hears the players inhabiting the work more: details are more precise; at the same time they bring more fluidity; and the overall arc and shape are now more convincingly presented.
One more chance to improve even more at the final concert tomorrow at the university in Louvain-la-Neuve.
Tomorrow: Our last day and final concert, at Louvain-la-Neuve. The week has sped by.
By Jacob Stockinger
Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people on the one-week tour of Belgium by the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches and photos they can to keep the fans at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.
Here is a link to the first installment:
And here is the second installment:
After troubles at customs and catching up from jet lag, the Pro Arte Quartet got down to the business of rehearsing and performing.
The quartet members -– violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm, cellist Parry Karp and manager Sarah Schaffer — and their entourage of “groupies” also spent time meeting and greeting the descendants of the original quartet members who started the ensemble over a century ago at the Royal Belgian Conservatory of Music in Brussels before World War II stranded them in Madison.
That’s when they became artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of music, where they have remained ever since.
Here are some updates on Day 3:
Sarah Schaffer (below), who also took the photos, writes:
Day 3 — FRIDAY:
The “coats and cases” space was the room that houses the Bela Bartok archives at the Royal Library!
Here is the exterior with its name in the two official languages of Belgium: Flemish and French.
The Bartok Room (below) has many rare and unique items – letters, photos, etc. It all rather takes one’s breath away. We each received a copy of a recent publication by the collection’s archivist, Denijs Dille.
FYI, the fifth person, on the right in the photo (below) taken after the bows that followed the concert on the Arthur De Greef Auditorium — named for the early 20th-century Belgian composer — is Hubert Roisin, Counselor to the King.
Mr. Roisin (below, in a close-up by violist Sally Chisholm) seemed very honored to be in attendance. We were certainly honored by his presence at the concert.
Here are the gifts we gave Monsieur Roisin for King Philippe: A framed photo (below top) of the original members and the current members of the Pro Arte Quartet plus an honorary letter (below bottom) from University of Wisconsin-Madison Rebecca M. Blank.
PAQ played to a mostly full house and was very warmly received. Many accolades filled the air at the private reception afterwards.
Afterwards, I pressed the willing-but-exhausted quartet into a “photo shoot” taking advantage of the spectacular architecture and gardens surrounding the library.
Then they all went off to rest.
It has been a very strenuous few days, and tomorrow is especially long, beginning with an 11 a.m. train trip to original quartet member Alphonse Onnou’s town of Dolhain, arriving in time for a 1 p.m. lunch. (Below is a photo of the Pro Arte Quartet in 1928. Alphonse Onnou is on the far left.)
Then it gets jam-packed with a full day of commemorations — including the municipal band offering “American” tunes in our honor — all BEFORE the 8 p.m. concert.
We will all be very glad to have Sunday “off.”
Not only is the SCHEDULE strenuous, but so also is the REPERTOIRE — with very few repeats over all these concerts.
The norm on tour is to recycle a handful of pieces.
Not so the Pro Arte Quartet, not on this trip.
They are holding up well but are, understandably, fatigués. (Below is the dual-language program notes from the concert of music by Bela Bartok and Franz Joseph Haydn — two composers the early Pro Arte Quartet was celebrated for and identified with — at the Royal Library.)
By Jacob Stockinger
Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people and participants on the one-week tour in Belgium with the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches and photos they can to keep the fans at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.
Here is a link to the dramatic first installment:
And here, below, is the second installment:
After troubles at customs and catching up from jet lag, the Pro Arte Quartet got down to the business of eating and sleeping, rehearsing and performing, of meeting its public and catching up with its history.
The quartet members and their entourage of groupies -– the quartet consists of violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm, cellist Parry Karp plus manager Sarah Schaffer — spent time meeting and greeting the descendants of the original quartet members who started the ensemble over a century ago at the Royal Belgian Conservatory of Music in Brussels before it became a Court quartet and then World War II stranded the quartet in Madison.
That’s when, in 1941, the quartet became artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where they have remained ever since.
Here are some updates on Day 2 of the Belgium tour:
Sarah Schaffer writes:
Day 2 — Thursday:
Today’s “crisis” is small compared to yesterday’s:
The quartet needed a place to rehearse.
We’d assumed, incorrectly it turned out, that the hotel would have something like a meeting room that might be used.
They offered instead the BAR! It is not open mornings.
And that is where Michel Arthur Prevost (below left in my photo), the grandnephew of founding violist Germaine Prevost and the impresario of the opening concert at Flagey Hall, first encountered the quartet when he unexpectedly arrived at the hotel this morning. On the right is his brother Jean Marie Prevost.
Acoustics at Flagey were fantastic, as they quartet found out when rehearsing.
The opening concert was much enjoyed by a small but extremely appreciative audience.
Tomorrow we meet King Philippe’s counselor, Herbert Roisin, and offer him our gift of the photos of the old and current quartet members and a letter from our new University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank that we carried with us to Belgium.
Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet has received media attention, the local newspaper running a story (below) in French under a headline in English:
Adds violist Sally Chisholm, who always has an eye for the feature and the fun:
What a fine way to travel!
Here is a very professional taxi driver taking us to Flagey Hall.
Much acceleration, good humor and the local title of Place des Morts (Square of the Dead) for the number of pedestrians crossing the street.
We are now in Studio 1, safe and greeting the grandnephews of Germain Prevost and many Pro Arte friends.
Here is the grandson of cellist Robert Maas, speaking with Anne Van Malderen who is writing a documentary history of the Pro Arte. He speaks no English, but is very easy to understand!
And here is the great-granddaughter of Robert Maas:
What a wonderful hall and appreciative audience.
Here is the stage before I played the Elegy for solo viola that was composed by Igor Stravinsky for one Pro Arte member and dedicated to the passing of another, Germaine Prevost. I performed it after remarks, in French, by Dr. Prevost, grand-nephew of Germain Prevost.
And here is the brief review by Dr. Robert Graebner, a UW-Madison alumnus and retired Madison neurologist who, with his wife Linda Graebner, is following the Pro Arte on its one-week tour and who commissioned for the quartet’s centennial the String Quartet No. 6 by American composer John Harbison — who teaches at MIT and co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival near Madison each August, and who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and a coveted MacArthur “genius” grant:
We just returned from a private concert at the historic Art Deco Flagey Studio 1. (Below is a photo of the concert posters taken by Sarah Schaffer.)
The Pro Arte was in top form, and attendees included two relatives of Germaine Prevost and two relatives of Robert Maas.
Tomorrow brings a concert at the Royal Library.
So stayed tuned as the Pro Arte performs again (below is the printed program from Sarah Schaffer) and meets The Royals – or at least their reps.
By Jacob Stockinger
It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.
Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.
The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.
But what to choose to play?
Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.
And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.
But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.
If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.
In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.
Are you ready?
Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.
Maestro, a downbeat please!
Best wishes and congratulations to all.