About USCB Chamber Music

From its founding in 1979 by USCB Art History Professor Mary Whisonant, the USCB Festival Series has presented internationally renowned artists such as pianists Jean Yves Thibaudet and Richard Goode, violinists Joshua Bell and Robert McDuffie, flautist Paula Robison, cellist Carter Bray and the Emerson, Tokyo and St. Lawrence String Quartets.  For several of the early years, performances were held at area banks and churches and for several years at the MCAS theatre. In 1983 with the growth of membership and the opening of the USCB Performing Arts Center, the venue was moved to the Arts Center.  After Professor Whisonant’s retirement, Adjunct Professor of Music Dr. Ralph Cooper successfully arranged the Series for several years. 


Then Beaufortonian Harriet Keyserling prevailed upon the legendary Charles Wadsworth to assume directorship and bring to Beaufort the chamber music riches he had unearthed for New York’s Lincoln Center and Charleston’s Spoleto.   At that time Mr. Wadsworth had been entertaining audiences by providing informative and lively introductions of artists and compositions and his own inimitable style at the piano for over thirty years.  A world-class raconteur as well as musician, he was a favorite with audiences across the US and in Europe.  In fact, he has been credited by some with saving the art form of chamber music from extinction. 


Certainly during his two-decade tenure in Beaufort, he drew many new fans to the USCB Festival Series, and when he announced his retirement just as he was turning eighty in 2008, the Art Center was standing room only.  It was a memorable and bittersweet evening with a very large cake, many candles, enthusiastic audience participation, the presentation of a personalized parking meter with lifetime free parking from Mayor Keyserling, Wadsworth’s usual wit and most importantly wonderful music played by exceptional artists.  At the end, the Master expressed his great appreciation for nineteen grand years and his feelings of regret on closing the curtain on fifty years of grand music, “It’s very tough to say good-bye.  I plan to cry a lot.”


During his directorship, local audiences became accustomed to inventive programming and the very best young talent the world had to offer.  The Lowcountry was once again blessed beyond what one would expect in this out-of-the-way spot.  For forty something years the quality of the music and the talents of the artists have surprised and delighted audiences throughout the Whisonant, Cooper, Wadsworth, and now the Arron and Armstrong  tenures.


Cellist Edward Arron spent two years assisting Mr. Wadsworth with the USCB Series, getting to know the Lowcountry audience, and allowing the audience to enjoy his artistry and his thoughtful commentary and to appreciate his connectivity to the most significant young artists playing and composing chamber music at this time.  As one of those significant young artists himself and as the Artistic Director for the Metropolitan Museum’s Artists in Concert Series for ten seasons, he was uniquely qualified to ensure the continued high standards of the concerts. For a dozen brilliant years, Mr. Arron brought extraordinary talent to the stage at the Arts Center.  Once he helped us celebrate our 40th anniversary season, he felt it was time to pass the baton. Once again he rose to the occasion, reached for the stars, and introduced USCB Chamber Music to its new Artistic Director--the very talented and delightfully engaging pianist Andrew Armstrong.  In the midst of the pandemic, through every new restriction and variant, these two managed to continue offering concerts to our artists and our audiences…not missing a beat.


Having just concluded our 42nd season and Mr. Armstrong’s first as our Artist Director, we believe the enthusiasms of our audiences and our artists portend USCB Chamber Music’s future is bright.  He opened the season with a recital by Gramophone’s Artist of the Year, violinist James Ehnes, and concluded with an original composition by noted American composer, Jeremy Turner.  In between, he introduced the audience to new musicians and new composers while wowing us with many of the finest pieces of the chamber music repertoire.  A major highlight was bringing back Jeewon Park and Edward Arron for an evening of much deserved standing ovations…for pieces that shown the light brightly on their talents at the piano and cello and for the four-hands piece written by Gershwin and played by Park and Armstrong with great joy. 


Considering that this Series began when USCB was a poorly funded, two-year branch campus of USC, and Professor Whisonant was not only the artistic director, but also the ticket seller, airport taxi, caterer, and donor seeker and that there was a time when cutting back on Mr. Wadsworth’s concerts in favor of less “pure” forms of musical performances was threatening the continuation of the Series as we know it, we can all be proud that this community still has music and artists coming five times each year that make us the cultural envy of much larger, much wealthier, and much less fortunate towns and cities.  For that the University is grateful to all subscribers, Friends, sponsors, and ticket purchasers: Thank you each and every one.

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