ABOUT USCB CHAMBER MUSIC
From its founding in 1979 by USCB Art History Professor Mary Whisonant, the USCB Chamber Music 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 found a permanent home, and Professor Whisonant retired.
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 inimitable style at the piano for over thirty
Photo by Corrine Parker Photography
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.
Photo by Corrine Parker Photography
Certainly during his two-decade tenure in Beaufort, he drew many new fans to USCB Chamber Music 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 memorable music, “It’s very tough to say good-bye. I plan to cry a lot.”
During his directorship, local audiences became accustomed to inventive program-ming and the very best young talent the world had to offer. The Lowcountry was 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, Wadsworth, and now the Arron and Armstrong tenures.
Cellist Edward Arron spent two years assisting Mr. Wadsworth, 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.
Strangely enough, the last five years of the series have in many ways been the least normal, but in some ways, the most encouraging since the concerts began. In 2017 long-time supporters and new subscribers joined together and established the Chamber Music Endowment. Setting up the endowment was a huge step for chamber music and a major commitment from the University and the community. Once established, the endowment has consistently received annual gifts, including its largest single gift just as the pandemic was upon us. The financial stability it provides and the constancy of our Friends and subscribers allowed us to continue the five concert seasons when major venues around the country were dark. We found a brilliant videographer, and with his talents we were able to offer both limited-live and full virtual concerts, keeping our artists engaged and employed. Because virus variants persist and because we can expand our audience to those who cannot attend in person, we shall continue to offer the virtual options as long as it is financially possible.
Having just concluded our 42nd season and Mr. Armstrong’s first as our Artistic 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 a 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.