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Too free with Slee

Penderecki-quartet In today's paper, Garaud McTaggart reviews the Penderecki Quartet at UB  on Friday night, performing in the Slee Beethoven Quartet Series. McTaggart reports that the ensemble, pictured at left, changed the order in which the quartet played the three featured works. The Penderecki chose to play the quartets chronologically -- with the earliest quartet first and the latest quartet last. This was not the order dictated for the concert.

McTaggart makes a good case for the switch in his review. He says it gives the audience a chance to track Beethoven's artistic development.

But I personally I do not like the idea of a quartet messing around with the order dictated by Frederick Slee when he set up this series and gave us the endowment for it. Here's why:

No. 1, as B.B. King would put it, Slee is paying the cost to be the boss. We in turn are paying the Penderecki Quartet to carry out his wishes.

No. 2, our Slee Beethoven series is unique in the world and regarded as prestigious among classical music ensembles. If you're invited and agree to the challenge, don't go changing the rules when you get here.

No. 3, you would think that Slee would have arranged the quartets as the Penderecki played them, earliest to latest. That would be the obvious way to do it. But he did not. He took a different way, and when scholars and Beethoven fans have pondered why he did what he did, they have concluded that his order makes sense. Arnold Steinhardt of the Guarneri Quartet, for one, has written about why he respects Slee's order. Other musicians and musicologists have, too.

No. 4, a quartet should have to play the game. Sometimes it's tough. Sometimes because of the way Slee set things up, the musicians have to throw themselves into a deep, unfathomable masterpiece, without any warm-up. That's the breaks. That's one of the things that make the Slee Beethoven series exciting. It would take away the cliffhanger excitement if quartets get the message that the order is optional.

So there it is, my quartet of reasons why I believe the Penderecki was out of bounds last night. As I said, Garaud sided with the quartet.

Garaud and I will hash this out at some point over a beer. Don't worry about us.

But meanwhile, does anyone else out there want to weigh in?

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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