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Preserving a legacy, forging the future

As the first quartet in the world to reach its centennial, the legendary Pro Arte Quartet launched an extravagant celebration to commemorate its unprecedented hundredth birthday. The multiyear festivities, 2011-2015, centered on a series of commissions and their world premieres, composer residencies, guest lectures, substantial broadcast coverage, museum exhibits, and a concert tour. All events were free and open to the public. The numerous artifacts that resulted—recordings, documentary, and a book—will ensure an enduring legacy.

With this rich, ambitious, and unprecedented undertaking we sought to celebrate not only the quartet’s 100th birthday, unique in the history of music as the only quartet known to have reached such an august age, but we also celebrate the Pro Arte and the University of Wisconsin as originators of the artists-in-residence structure, essential not only to this quartet’s’ survival, but to chamber music worldwide.

In a story now widely known, the quartet originated as the i dea of some teenage prodigies at the Brussels Conservatory in Belgium. The quartet rose to prominence in the early part of the twentieth century to become one of the most celebrated quartets in Europe, and in 1932 was named In 1932 the quartet was granted the title Quatuor de la Cour de Belgique, in recognition of its services to Belgian music.
 While on concert tour to the U.S., the Belgian Pro Arte was stranded in Madison, Wisconsin in May 1940, in the midst of a Beethoven quartet cycle there, when Nazi forces invaded their homeland. The university administration, in an amazingly courageous, imaginative and limber response, quickly completed arrangements to offer this quartet in exile a home at the University of Wisconsin. For the quartet, incalculable good fortune came from catastrophe; for the university, it acquired one of the brightest gems in the crown of its innovative and expansive Wisconsin Idea. And to the world’s great fortune, the arrangement took root and the Pro Arte Quartet has remained in Wisconsin ever since.

Widely emulated across this country, the important concept of sponsoring an artist ensemble within the structure of an academic institution cannot be underestimated. By providing a basis of support for musicians, by shifting “patronage” to public institutions, ensemble residencies have shaped chamber music in this country today, ensuring its health and vitality. And the idea originated in Madison, at the University of Wisconsin with the Pro Arte Quartet.

Celebrating the centennial
We hope you were with us for the journey celebrating these spectacular alignments. It’s been a remarkable ride that has included:

• Six centennial commissions - twelve premieres
Double premiere performances, composer residencies, pre-concert conversations, and live radio broadcasts of major new works by some of today’s most important composers. These works are now already entering the contemporary chamber music repertoire. Convivial dinners preceded the concerts—at the Chazen Museum of Art, University Club, Memorial Union, and Pyle Center—and dessert receptions followed.

WALTER MAYS: String Quartet No. 2, “Dreaming Butterfly” (October 2011)
PAUL SCHOENFIELD: Three Rhapsodies for Piano and String Quartet (with Brian Hsu piano) (November 2011)
WILLIAM BOLCOM: Piano Quintet No. 2 (with Christopher Taylor, piano) (March 2012)
JOHN HARBISON: String Quartet No. 5 (April 2012)
BENOÎT MERNIER: String Quartet No. 3 (March 2014)
PIERRE JALBERT: Howl, for Clarinet(s) and String Quartet (September 2014)

• A distinguished lecture series
Four public scholars in a lecture series coordinated with the premieres, with separate hour-long University of the Air broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio.
JOSEPH HOROWITZ: “Artists in Exile: How Refugee Immigrants Impacted on the American Performing Arts” (October 2011)
BILL MCGLAUGHLIN: “The Artist as Distant Early Warning System” (November 2011)
ANTHONY TOMMASINI: “Concert Music Today: A State of the Union Address” (March 2012)
TULLY POTTER: "Four Famous Belgians: The Quatuor Pro Arte" (April 2012)

• Exhibits
Four major exhibits about the Pro Arte Quartet and the centennial were mounted across campus and throughout the city during 2011-2012:

MEMORIAL LIBRARY, UW-MADISON - MAIN LOBBY: A display of some of the important works composed for, premiered by, or dedicated to the Pro Arte Quartet, as well as brief coverage of the early history of the quartet in photos and documents.

MILLS MUSIC LIBRARY: The quartet’s recorded legacy, ranging from 27 Haydn quartets recorded in the 1930s to radio broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio to modern releases on CD.

MILLS CONCERT HALL LOBBY: A history of the quartet presented by “generations” of the PAQ, defined by its five first violinists. Materials related to each of the composers commissioned to write in honor of the quartet’s 100th anniversary are also displayed.

DANE COUNTY REGIONAL AIRPORT: Mounted in collaboration with Tandem Press, with a creative team led by its irrepressible director Paula Panczenko, this was the most extensive and ambitious of all the exhibits. It presented the history of the quartet from its founding in Belgium through its centennial, the impact of two world wars, the quartet’s ambitious recording history, its vibrant relationship to the new music and composers of its day, the shifts in patronage that have allowed it to flourish, and its embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea. The exhibit included extensive photos, charts, maps, concert programs, reviews, correspondence, as well as audio and video samples and additional information accessed by I-phone and QR codes.

• An international tour: “Back to Belgium.” In May 2014 the quartet returned to Belgium for the first time since its war exile in 1940, revisiting many of the prestigious concert halls where it first made history in the first half of the twentieth century, including Flagey, the Royal Library, the Royal Conservatory, and Dolhain (the hometown of founding violinist Alphonse Onnou).

An enduring legacy

Through all of these efforts, and with the assistance of broadcast and social media, the Pro Arte’s centennial touched more than two million people worldwide, and likely legions more that we will never be able to know or count. Moreover, the afterlife of the anniversary lives on in the many artifacts it produced:

• New additions to the repertoire: Without question the most enduring legacy of the Pro Arte’s 100th are the commissions, which have brought into the world major new works from some of today’s most important composers. These pieces are destined to be performed widely by countless other groups eager to learn and perform them, and they will take their place in the chamber music repertoire, their lastingness assured through repeated performances by many players to more and different audiences. These six new works will forever be identified with the esteemed Pro Arte Quartet, alongside the more than 100 “firsts” associated with its long history of commissions and premieres.

• CD recording: The Pro Arte Quartet Centennial Anniversary Commissions: The American Premieres 2011-12. Produced and engineered by multiple Grammy award-winning producer Judith Sherman, the two-disc set of the first four centennial commissions (Albany Records, December 2013) is available at fine record stores and on-line audio shops ($35). A recording of the final two commissions will be produced in 2015.

• Video documentary: The Pro Arte Quartet - A Century of Music: This one-hour documentary produced by Wisconsin Public Television (April 2014) captures the rich history and legacy of the quartet, the dramatic story of its relocation from Belgium to Wisconsin, the crucial role of the University of Wisconsin in its story and success, and coverage of the current group, including its extensive outreach throughout the state (available from WPT, $17).

• Commemorative booklet: A comprehensive program book produced for the 2011-2012 season, that includes event details and a historical overview by John Barker. (Copies are available from the UW-Madison School of Music.)

• University of the Air archived lectures (at www.wpr.org)
Joseph Horowitz: Artists in Exile
Bill McGlaughlin: Variations on a Theme
Tully Potter: The Pro Arte Quartet Between the Wars
Anthony Tommasini: Reflections on Music

• University Place Presents: Pro Arte Quartet Celebrates 100 Years. A one-hour video interview hosted by Norman Gilliland on the launch of the anniversary, interspersed with numerous brief live performances (Episode 587 archived at video.wpt.org)

• Book: The Pro Arte Quartet of Brussels and Madison - A Century of History and Legacy. In preparation, this forthcoming book is the first comprehensive history of the quartet. Authored by music historian John Barker, it will likely be published as part of the distinguished Eastman Studies in Music Series of the University of Rochester Press.

A personal note
The Centennial Celebration would not have been possible without the support of countless organizations and individuals, both on campus and off, listed SOMEWHERE.* Support came in all ways — in contributions of money, time, and expertise. All were essential to the success of the project.

But personally, as the celebration reaches its conclusion, it gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the tireless efforts of our small ragtag band of ardent Pro Arte volunteers and supporters, our Friends Group, who coalesced around this project to assist in its execution over the many years of fundraising and public events that have led to this final installment. At its core, the group includes: John Barker, Jeanette Casey, James Crow (in memoriam), Norman Gilliland, Robert and Linda Graebner, Walter Gray, Greg Hettmansberger, Brian Hinrichs, Stan and Shirley Inhorn, Mike Muckian, Jacob Stockinger, and Andrée Valley. My warmest thanks and deepest gratitude extend to each one of them.

From the outset we had ambitious plans. At every turn we seemed to expand and add to our original concepts. The project mushroomed. We exhausted ourselves. But in the end, the celebration exceeded all of our expectations in every possible way, and we hope that it exceeded yours as well.

And now, with this centennial finale, we launch the beloved Pro Arte Quartet into its second century, its next one hundred years.

Sarah Schaffer
Director, Pro Arte Centennial Anniversary Celebration
Manager, Pro Arte Quartet