Beaux Arts Quartet
Beaux-Arts String Quartet
"Living and Making a living"
Musicians who go for broke by trying to survive in the field of chamber music alone often do just that---go broke. The chamber music repertory includes a large share of the worlds masterpieces, but it attracts a minor share of music's paying audiences. Most players choose to do their chamber work as an after-hours hobby, meanwhile keeping budgets in tune by teaching, solo dates, orchestral jobs or television-and movie-studio work.
Thus it was an audacious step three years ago when the members of the New York-basede Beaux-Arts String Quartet dropped all their outside assignments for four solid months of practicing. Until then, they had hovered uneasily between breaking through and breaking up. Now they were determined to
establish themselves by winning the newly established Walter W. Naumburg Foundation chamber-music prize.
In a competition against twelve other groups, they did it. Then, instead of socking away the $20,000 prize money, they used part of it to commission a new work by U.S. composer Leon Kirchner. His effort, a tense, tightly outlined piece enhanced by electronic sounds, won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize. Last fall the Beaux-Arts added stability to it's growing reputation by moving into professional chairs as quartet-in-residence at the State University of New York at Potsdam.
Today, it stand in the select ranks of secure year-round ensembles that have proved that chamber music can pay.
In a concert at the university's Stony Brook campus on Long Island last week, the quartet played works by Beethoven, Ives and Karl Korte, and played them with an ease and elegance rare among American chamber-music makers. Where most native groups feature a sharp-edged attack that glitters most brightly in contemporary music, the Beaux-Arts glides throughout the repertory with a silken, unruffled sheen and a cozy, old-world tonal blend.
The Beaux-Arts finesse is achieved not by dissolving individuality into the unit, but by insisting on each member's rights in a musical democracy. First violinist Charles Libove, 38, a tiny (5-ft. 3-in.) dervish of energy and enthusiasm, has the widest background as a soloist, acts as spokesman and arbitrator of musical disagreements. Violinist Bernard Eichman, 36, the newest member of the group with only one year's tenure, is a nonstop quipster who gave his first recital at the age of nine and joined Toscanini's NBC Symphony at 19. Violist John Graham, 31, a modern music enthusiast and the quiet intellectual of the group, plans all of it's programs. Cellist Bruce Rogers, 36, a missionary's son who was raised in Kenya, provides a solid foundation for the quartet as much with his steady, serious personality as with his cello.
The amiable togetherness practiced by the quartet is rarely interrupted these days for freelance ventures-and financially, it doesn't need to be. But money is one thing, music another, and the quartet has not forgotten the difference between living and merely making a living. As Libove says, "When we finish a concert and we feel that things have worked out, that's living."
Reprinted from TIME Magazine April 12, 1968