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Beethoven Weekend

The Parker Quartet

The Parker Quartet does triple duty for the Slee Beethoven Cycle

Patronage can be a really good thing. This very positive statement about the potential benefits of patronage does not, of course, refer in any way whatsoever to the corrosive effect of the ever more pervasive blight of political patronage, whether it occurs on the local, state, or national level. But in the realm of the arts, patronage can indeed make good things happen; witness two remarkable classical music events, just this past weekend.

Last Friday evening, Slee Hall at UB was the site of the inaugural Muriel Wolf and Albert Steger Endowment Concert, a free public event sponsored by the UB Music Library. Wolf and Steger, who had both been very involved with the encouragement and promotion of the performance of classical music in Buffalo, left a significant financial legacy in their wills to insure the continued performance of the works of Buffalo-based composers. The Wooden Cities Collective was the initial recipient of a grant from the Wolf and Steger legacy, and their concert last week may have actually been the most genuine re-creation in decades of the kind of synergistic concerts that made the University at Buffalo Center of the Creative and Performing Arts one of the most influential musical forces of the 1960s. Additionally, that concert featured the second performance of a new composition commissioned just this past year by the Friends of Vienna, another venerable, local music producing organization.

This past Sunday afternoon, the Rosch Recital Hall on the SUNY Fredonia Campus was the site of yet another example of the beneficial results of generous patronage of the musical arts. Glenn Cortese, the innovative artistic director of the Western New York Chamber Orchestra, presented the American premiere of the new, reduced version of his previously commissioned chamber version of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, the work that the composer described as “probably the most personal thing I have written.” Mezzo-soprano Lynne McMurtry and Heldentenor Marc Deaton offered exquisitely effective and thoughtful vocal interpretations of the German poetic translations of ancient Chinese poems that Mahler set in his late masterpiece. This newest chamber version of the work, which has in effect made its performance far more possible for music-producing organizations more modest than the symphony orchestra forces for which Mahler originally composed the work, was the direct result of a generous commission by a Hong Kong-based musical philanthropist.

This brings us to one of the oldest and most beloved local examples of the endless beneficial results of the generosity of far-sighted musical patrons, the annual performance of the Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle at the University at Buffalo. Frederick Slee and his wife, Alice, established a tradition of presenting the performance of the entire cycle of all 16 Beethoven string quartets on a yearly basis, initially in their home on Saybrook Place off Delaware Avenue near Forest Lawn Cemetery. Frederick left instructions, and funding, in his will that the performance of the entire Beethoven string quartet cycle should be presented on an annual basis by the then University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York at Buffalo, and it was left to his widow Alice to implement his wishes. Mrs. Slee honored the wishes of her late husband, and it is through the generosity of the Slees that their fellow Buffalonians have continued to enjoy the unique opportunity to enjoy the complete performance of what are universally considered to be the pinnacle achievement in the string quartet genre for almost 60 years, a privilege that no other city on the planet has had the opportunity to experience.

The winners of the 2011 Grammy Award for best Chamber Music Performance for their CD of the Ligeti quartets, the young members of the critically acclaimed Parker Quartet— violinists Daniel Chong and Ying Xue, violist Jessica Bodner, and cellist Kee-Hyun Kim—will be making their debut on the Slee Cycle this year. As always, they will be presenting the first three concerts of this year’s Slee cycle following the performance order stipulated by the Slees in their bequest.

On Friday, February 14 at 7:30pm, the program includes the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127; the Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1; and the Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3. Saturday evening’s concert at 7:30pm includes the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74 (“The Harp”); the Quartet in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2; and the Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131. The group’s final concert on Sunday afternoon at 3pm includes the Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3; the “Grosse Fuge,” Op. 133; and the Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1.

On Saturday morning at 11am, the Parker Quartet will hold a master class in Baird Recital Hall, open for free, public observation.

For advance tickets and more information, visit

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