About the Pro Arte Quartet
The Pro Arte Quartet was founded in 1911-12 by students at the Brussels Conservatory. Violinist Alphonse Onnou was the leader, and the other founding members included Laurent Halleux (violin), Germain Prévost (viola), and Fernand Auguste Lemaire (‘cello). The quartet made its début in Brussels in 1913 and soon became known as an exponent of modern music. In 1918 Fernand Quinet became the cellist, but in 1921 he was replaced by Robert Maas. That year, with the aid of Paul Collaer and Arthur Prévost, the Pro Arte Concerts began, in which performances were given of new works by, among others, Bartók (whose Fourth Quartet is dedicated to the Pro Arte), Casella, Honegger, Martin, Milhaud and Rieti. The quartet performed with great success at the 1923 ISCM Festival in Salzburg, and the same year played new works commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge at a concert in Rome. After touring Europe the quartet visited England for the first time in 1925; subsequent visits to England included annual series of a week’s performances in Cambridge (1932–8). In 1932 the quartet was granted the title Quatuor de la Cour de Belgique, in recognition of its services to Belgian music.
The Pro Arte played their American debut in 1926, performing at the inauguration of the Hall of Music in the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. They returned for thirty tours to the United States, as well as a tour of Canada, often under the auspices of the noted patron of chamber music, Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Their first visit to Madison was in 1938, where, two years later, the musicians were stranded by Hitler’s invasion of Belgium and the outbreak of World War II. Following their concert on campus, the University of Wisconsin chancellor offered a permanent home to the quartet – it was the first such residency ever in a major American university, and became the model on which many other similar arrangements were developed at other institutions. Onnou died in 1940, but the quartet continued until 1947 as quartet-in-residence at Wisconsin University, led first by Antonio Brosa and from 1944 by Rudolf Kolisch. The Pro Arte became the faculty string quartet at UW-Madison in the late 1950s, an appointment that continues to the present day.
Today, in addition to widely acclaimed performances of standard classical repertoire, the Pro Arte continues its tradition of championing new music. In recent years, the quartet has recorded all the chamber music of Ernest Bloch, the fourth and fifth quartets of Andrew Imbrie, and the first and second quartets of Tamar Diesendruck. They commissioned the ninth quartet of Ralph Shapey, premiered Walter Mays’ Quartet in G Minor, were recently awarded Koussevitsky Foundation grants for new works by Brian Fennelly and Tamar Diesendruck, and have given numerous New York premieres. In collaboration with Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard Quartet, the Pro Arte has performed the viola quartets of Roger Sessions and Samuel Rhodes.
The Pro Arte Quartet performs throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, has performed at the White House, and is the resident ensemble of the Chazen Museum of Art, for whom they perform a series of five live radio broadcasts per season. Other projects include a Bartok Quartet Cycle performed in one evening, a Shostakovich Quartet Cycle, and participation in a Beethoven Cycle with the Orion and Emerson String Quartets. The Pro Arte toured Japan during the summers of 2002 and 2004, and Italy in 2007. Their recording of Dvorak Quartets, Op. 34 and 51 was released in 2001, the first in a series of the entire quartets of Dvorak. Other recent releases include string quartets of Mendelssohn and, with Samuel Rhodes, string quintets of Sessions and Rhodes (Albany).