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World’s oldest quartet comes to UW-Fox

By Taylor Merckx

The Pro Arte Quartet performed in Perry Hall on UW Fox Valley’s campus March 26.

photo courtesy of the Pro Arte Quartet’s website
The Pro Arte Quartet performed in Perry Hall March 26.

Belgium’s Pro Arte Quartet performed a concert on March 26 in the CAC.

The quartet played chamber music and classical pieces by 20th century European composers.

“Western European art and music is one of the great treasures of any human culture, and our students do not get many opportunities to hear it live,” associate professor of music Marc Sackman said.

Founded by students at the Brussels Conservatory in 1912, the Pro Arte will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year.

“The highlight of our 100th anniversary season has been getting the chance to play four entirely new works which have been written and commissioned just for us,” quartet member Suzanne Beia, said.

Quartet members are violin players Beia and David Perry, viola player Sally Chisholm and Parry Karp on cello.

The group performed compositions from years 1788 to 1925, like String Quartet in D Major by Cesar Franck and Langsamer Satz for String Quartet by Anton Webern.

“It was beautiful. I liked the last piece the best,” Leah Hans, a Hortonville High School student, said. [The piece] was very complex, it wakes up your brain.”

Audience members were impressed by the quartet’s sound dynamic.

“It was interesting how the parts worked together with loud and soft…it made me think I was listening to a soundtrack,” sophomore Kevin Ritzke said.

The Pro Arte plays instruments that are over hundreds of years old. Made in 1680, Chisholm’s viola is the oldest instrument in the quartet.

Perry’s violin was made in 1711 and Beia’s violin in 1901.

Karp plays a cello made in 1819.

“I acquired [the violin] when I was 15 from a woman who was retiring from playing in the local symphony, and willing to make me a very generous payment arrangement,” Beia said.

“Those instruments are relics of materials that don’t exist anymore,” Doug Fowler, lecturer of astronomy and physics, said.

The group has performed throughout the United States, including at the White House, as well as Central and South America, Europe and Asia and even Rock Island, located in Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula.

“I have very fond memories of the time that the quartet played in the White House because it was near the holidays and everything was decorated very festively,” Beia said. “There was a lot of marble in the walls and the floor, which made our instruments sound warm and resonant in the brightly lit room.”

Members have also performed at Carnegie Hall, recorded solo and group albums and have received numerous awards and achievements.

The Pro Arte Quartet performed in Washington D.C. in 1926 at the inauguration of the Hall of Music in the Library of Congress.

The quartet returned for thirty North American tours in the United States and Canada, supported by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, noted patron of chamber music.

The musicians’ visit to Madison in 1938 left them stranded in the United States due to the outbreak of World War II and Hitler’s invasion of Belgium two years later.

The chancellor of the UW-Madison offered the quartet a permanent residence on campus, the first such recognition at a major American university.

The Pro Arte Quartet also became UW-Madison’s faculty string quartet, a tradition that is upheld to the present day.

The group has been acclaimed in such publications as the Washington Post, calling their music “a perfect blend of romantic pathos and folk-derived rhythmic vigor.”

“It’s impressive that they know where the notes are with no frets,” Ritzke said.

The concert was brought to UW-Fox by the Campus Activities Board.

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