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Buffalo, the quartet capital

 Budapest

For today's Gusto, I had the fun of putting together a cover story on two esteemed string quartets -- the Penderecki Quartet and the Jupiter Quartet -- who are coming to Buffalo in the near future. The Jupiter Quartet is performing on the Buffalo Chamber Music Society series at 8 pm. Tuesday at Kleinhans Music Hall's Mary Seaton Room. And the Penderecki Quartet is playing the Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle at UB's Slee Hall on Feb. 6.

Working on the story, I found myself thinking about Buffalo's eminence in the string quartet world, and feeling very proud of our town. For chamber music fans -- and they are legion -- Buffalo is thought of with a kind of reverence. And with good reason!

Since 1955, when an endowment from Frederick and Alice Slee got the Slee Beethoven Quartet Cycle rolling, Buffalo has enjoyed unique prestige in the chamber music world. In his book "Indivisible By Four," the memoir by Guarneri Quartet violinist Arnold Steinhardt, Steinhardt points out that we are the only city in the world where citizens get to hear all the Beethoven quartets, live, every single year. It is even more amazing when you consider the prestige the Slee cycle enjoys among musicians. String quartets consider an invitation to play on the cycle to be a great honor.

The Slee cycle led to our association with two legendary quartets, the Budapest Quartet and the Cleveland Quartet. Above is a picture of the Budapest Quartet, in residence at UB from 1955 to 1965.

ClippingAt left is a clipping I found while I was exploring UB history sites. What an impact the Slee bequest has had! The Budapest Quartet's musicians lived in Buffalo and became part of the fabric of the city. There are still people around who will tell you how cellist Mischa Schneider was witty and relaxed, while his brother and Budapest Quartet colleague Alexander, who played violin, was more uptight. That is what I have heard, anyway.

Here is something interesting I found in Wikipedia. When the Budapest Quartet was established in 1917 (the group went through several personnel changes over the decades) the musicians had four rules. They were: 1.) Disputes, whether musical or personal, were involved by a vote. In case of a tie, there would be no change. 2.) Musicians were not permitted to accept engagements outside of the group. 3.) All four players were paid equally. 5.) No wives or girlfriends at rehearsals.

The Beatles might have been together longer had they followed those rules, especially the last one!

The Budapest Quartet was in residence here from 1955 to 1965. Other revered groups followed in their footsteps. The Guarneri Quartet performed the cycle from 1967 to 1970. The Cleveland Quartet assumed the residency from 1971 through 1975. These incredibly distinguished musicians returned frequently in later years to perform all of a cycle, or parts of one. The series continues to attract the world's greatest chamber musicians, and the Buffalo Chamber Music Society concerts enjoy similar prestige.

What a feather in Buffalo's cap! This should be mentioned along with our architecture and our chicken wings as a reason our city is great.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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