As Madison, Wis.-based Pro Arte Quartet celebrates its 100-year anniversary, its current members are continuing a rich tradition in classical music.
The string quartet, which Chamber Music at the Barn hosts this week, also is proving that it aims to offer new works as its centennial celebration unfolds.
The internationally renowned ensemble, whose current members have ties to Wichita, performs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as part of the annual Prairie Pines outdoor music series.
"They are the longest fully functioning string quartet in the world and the first to reach the centennial mark," said Catherine Consiglio, Chamber Music at the Barn's artistic director.
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Students at the Brussels Conservatory founded the quartet in 1911. They became the Court Quartet to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium and began touring internationally a few years later.
They quickly gained global fame for their performance of modern music. Their American debut was in 1926 when they performed for the Hall of Music in the Library of Congress. After embarking on dozens of tours in North America, fortune and fate collided to give them a permanent home in the United States.
World War II stranded them in the U.S., and a performance at the University of Wisconsin during that time resulted in the university's offer of a permanent home. It started a trend among universities nationwide to host classical musicians as artists in residence.
Pro Arte has had 19 quartets and many famous members.
Sally Chisholm, who plays the viola, is joined by other current quartet members cellist Parry Karp and violinist David Perry, former concert master for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.
And violinist Suzanne Beia was principal second violin for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra prior to joining Pro Arte. She also spent two years as a member of the Wichita-based Sedgwick String Quartet.
They've been together since 1995 and have toured the world.
For Karp, who has been with the quartet since 1976, it's an honor to carry forward a legacy.
"It's very exciting to be part of something that has such a rich history. I'm very proud of the tradition," he said. "I feel a real connection to this and want to continue the work that so many people before us have done."
In addition to performing traditional pieces and classics, the quartet is committed to new music and is in the midst of commissioning new works. One of those has its roots in Wichita.
Walter Mays, a professor of musicology and composition at Wichita State University, is writing a piece for the group. One of his oratorios was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
The commissioned piece will be performed in October at the University of Wisconsin as part of a series of centennial concerts and lectures.
"We try to play the standard repertoire and continue the tradition by adding new materials," Karp said.
For their Wichita performances, they will play three classic works. Samuel Barber's Adagio from String Quartet, Op. 11, is considered to be among the most popular of 20th-century orchestral pieces. Franz Schubert's String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 29, is an evocative work conjuring melancholy and emotion.
"It's an incredibly lyrical piece, and personally one of my favorites," Karp said. "Schubert's genius is overwhelming. He died at 31 and wrote this great quartet in less than two weeks. I feel lucky each time I get to play this. It's unique, honest, moving and subtle."
Rounding out the concert will be Mozart's String Quintet in D Major, K. 593, which he wrote two years before his death. It's famous in part for its slow introduction.
"We love this one very much. The slow moment has moments that are transporting," Karp said. "It's an inspiring piece and a brilliant last movement."
Consiglio said she is excited for Wichita to host such accomplished musicians.
"These are really, really fine artists and very crafty musicians," she said. "The level of attention they give to detail is immense."
Though never a Wichita resident, Karp is no stranger to the area. Several years back, he was called upon to fill in when a musician became unavailable for a performance at WSU.
With two days' notice, he braved a sudden October snowstorm to travel to Wichita from Madison. Without much practice time, he turned in a performance that Consiglio said her colleagues found masterful.
"That gives you an idea of the kind of caliber these musicians are," she said.
If You Go: Chamber Music at the Barn presents Pro Arte Quartet
When: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Show at 8 p.m., outdoor buffet at 6:30.
Where: Prairie Pines, 4055 N. Tyler Road
How much: Tickets $12 to $47, depending on indoor/outdoor seating preference and dinner option. To order tickets , visit www.cmatb.org or call 316-721-7666.