Chamber Music Feature Print



Raleigh Chamber Music Guild Celebrates 60 Years

October 1, 2001 - Raleigh, NC:


edited by William T. Walker*

These are dark and disturbing times. The world is at war, responding to actions of a maniacal leader and his cohorts. The economy is in a decline and people are struggling to come to terms with what might lie ahead. In Raleigh Little Theatre, a group of local and regional professional musicians present a program of Bach, Brahms and Mendelssohn. 

October 2001? No, it was April 25, 1941, and the beginning of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild. At a concert the following year, "more than a score of men in uniform from nearby military camps were guests of the Guild."

Music has always been a solace in time of tragedy, a unifying source of comfort, and a celebration of prosperity and joy. Despite humble beginnings, the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild has remained part of our community for 60 years, during which music and emotions, too, have run the gamut.

On a spring day in 1941, about twenty musicians and music lovers met in the studio of Russell Broughton, head of the Music Department at St. Mary's College and organized the RCMG, scheduling three concerts for the spring of that year. Dr. Edgar Alden, a violinist on the faculty of Meredith College (and later--for 40 years--at UNC-CH), was appointed Music Director, and Broughton was the first President. For four of the next seven years--activities were suspended for three years during WW II--Alden, his wife Dorothy, and other area professional musicians gave three concerts per season, charging at the outset a fee of $2.00 per subscription! 

The Aldens and their colleagues continued to participate at various intervals over the years, but in January 1949, the Guild for the first time reached beyond the immediate area and presented the Juilliard String Quartet, starting what would in time become a virtual tradition for the RCMG. This ensemble has performed on its series eighteen times, most recently in 1999. Among the artists in seventeen of those concerts was first violinist Robert Mann, who will be a special guest of the Mendelssohn String Quartet on the Guild's April 7, 2002, concert.

Over the years, the concert venue shifted from St. Mary's to Meredith to the old NC Museum of Art (downtown) to the Erdahl-Cloyd Student Union and then Stewart Theatre at NCSU to Ravenscroft School. This season, the Masters Series moves again, to the Fletcher Theater at the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. Throughout the years, the Guild has upheld high artistic standards and brought to Raleigh many of the world's greatest chamber artists and ensembles. The mention of only a few of them here would slight many favorites of our readers. Suffice it to say that the Guild's anniversary program booklet for this season will contain a complete roster of the groups that have appeared here.

Programs and variety in ensembles have always been priorities of the Guild. The program committee, ably led for many years by Marvin Johnson (who remains Co-Chair), has the task of sifting through hundreds of potential groups before making recommendations to the Board. The choices may range from duos to chamber orchestras and may include strings, winds, brass, piano, guitar, vocal ensembles and combinations thereof. The possibilities are virtually without end and the committee thus faces many challenges each season.

One of the Guild's most important projects has been its commissioning program, begun in 1984. Since then, nine new works by North Carolina-based composers have been commissioned and premiered during RCMG subscription concerts. The next one will be on the opening Masters Series concert on October 14, when the Eroica Trio premieres a work by Scott Warner, Assistant Director of Jazz Studies at UNC-CH. "All Blessings to the Goddess" was commissioned by the Guild in celebration of its 60th anniversary. Other composers who have been featured since 1984 include Peter Klausmeyer, Robert Ward (two new works), Kenneth Frazelle, Sheldon Shaffer, Stephen Jaffe, J. Mark Scearce, and Penka Kouneva.

In the last ten years, the RCMG has expanded its activities to include at least one artist residency per season. Activities associated with these three-day visits have included school programs, master classes, and outreach projects in public housing communities as well as formal subscription concerts. Residencies have been offered by the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, baritone Sanford Sylvan, the Dorian Wind Quintet, the Ahn Trio, the Anderson String Quartet and, this year, the Eroica Trio. By working with non-music groups such as Raleigh's Parks and Recreation Department, the Raleigh Housing Authority, the Korean Language School and the AIDS Service Agency, the Guild has extended its offerings beyond its core constituency to the community at large.

Until recently, the Guild presented a single series featuring nationally- and internationally-acclaimed chamber music ensembles. In 1998, the North Carolina Museum of Art requested the Guild's assistance in revitalizing chamber music at the Museum. After much discussion, it was decided to initiate a new series, co-sponsored by RCMG and NCMA, with planning, coordination and presentation being the Guild's responsibility and the Museum providing the concert space and ancillary support. Because the Museum has a statewide mandate, this series features chamber groups from all over North Carolina who offer programs that generally complement the visiting or permanent exhibitions. The links between visual arts and music led to the new series' name--Sights and Sounds on Sundays. This six-concert series, now in its third season and marketed at popular prices, has enjoyed considerable success as it has introduced new and exciting ensembles and programs to the Triangle area.

As the organization has grown, so too its budget has increased. From a total annual budget of $500 in the early years, the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's operating budget has risen to slightly over $100,000, more than half of which goes for artists' fees. Ensembles can range from a few thousand dollars up to $12,000 or more. Income is derived from a number of sources including ticket sales ($34,500), funds from an endowment ($15,500), individuals, corporations, foundations and arts service agencies ($50,000).

This 60th season of the Masters Series opens with the Eroica Trio on October 14, followed by the Alexander String Quartet, with the Ciompi Quartet, on November 11. Musicians from Marlboro perform on February 24, the Waverly Consort, on March 17, and to conclude the season Robert Mann (formerly of the Juilliard String Quartet) joins the Mendelssohn String Quartet, currently in residence at the North Carolina School of the Arts, on April 7. Remaining concerts on this season's Sights and Sounds on Sundays series at the NCMA are Triptych (October 28), the McIver Ensemble (January 13) and the Seraphim Chamber Players (June 9). As the careful reader will note, the result is professional-quality chamber music in the capital in nearly every month of the year.

An editorial in The Raleigh Times on March 27, 1942, stated, "...Chamber music has registered a hit in Raleigh and is destined to step right along even more vigorously for the future." We're counting on it! 

[*Editor's Note: We gratefully acknowledge the unknown author of "A Brief History of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, 1941-1973" and assistance provided by the organization's staff in the preparation of this tribute. The staff of CVNC joins others in our community in extending congratulations, best wishes and thanks to the RCMG for presenting 60 years of outstanding chamber music here. W.T.W.]

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Season tickets for the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's five-concert Masters Series are $75, full-time students with ID $25. Individual tickets are $25 for the Eroica Trio and $20 for all others; students $10 for the Eroica Trio and $6 for all others. Tickets are available in advance by calling 919/821-2030 or at the door. The Eroica Trio concert will be held on Sunday, October 14, at 3:00 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. Composer Scott Warner will present a pre-concert talk at 2:00 p.m. in the upstairs patrons' room. A reception follows the concert. An open rehearsal will be held in Person Recital Hall on the UNC-CH campus starting at 4:30 p.m. Friday, October 12. A master class will be held in Smedes Parlor at St. Mary's School, 900 Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, starting at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 13. Admission to the open rehearsal and the master class is free. For more information, call 919/821-2030. Please note that previously-planned events at Enloe High School have been canceled due to a change in the Trio's flight schedule. Students of music programs at Enloe and elsewhere are urged to attend one of the two related educational events noted above and--of course--the concert!