Friends of Chamber Music: the First 25 Years
by Rachel Giese, Past President (1973)
Twenty-five years ago there was much good music in Vancouver but no chamber music except for rare visits by the Hart House Quartet, the Paganini Quartet, the London String Quartet, an occasional concert by local musicians and the private exercises of such devoted amateurs as Leonard Marsh, Horace Plimley, Frank Hawkins and their friends. It seemed to Albert Steinberg, Concert Master of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, an opportune moment to establish a chamber orchestra under his direction. He turned to the Community Arts Council and won the enthusiastic support of Alec Walton, a young banker, brother of Sir William Walton.
A meeting was called for 11 March, 1948, at the studio of John Goss, noted English baritone and music teacher. The minutes list those present: Dr. Ida Halpern, Miss Ruth Jones, Miss Marjorie Agnew, Drs. F.H. Soward and L.C. Marsh, Messrs. Albert Steinberg, John Goss, S.B. Wright, W.F. Hawkins and A. Walton. They resolved to form a society to be known as the Friends of Chamber Music and to incorporate at the earliest possible date. Ida Halpern was elected President, Leonard Marsh Vice-President, Alec Walton Secretary-Treasurer and Albert Steinberg Musical Director. It was decided to invite one hundred citizens of Vancouver to become charter members and to solicit funds to underwrite a first concert in April with four to follow in the next season. Two more meetings were held in March and April to consider the problems of the Society, mostly financial. It was decided not to incorporate as yet, since this would cost seventy-five dollars, but to give a concert early in May with a tentative budget of $360. Derek Inman, Manager of the Symphony Orchestra, agreed to handle business matters without charge.
First Friend of Chamber Music Concert
The concert was presented on the 13th of May in the Mayfair Room of the Hotel Vancouver. The artists were Albert Steinberg, 1st violin, Eugene Hudson, 2nd violin, Smythe Humphreys, viola, Audrey Piggott, cello, Norma Abernethy, piano, and John Goss, baritone. They played Haydn’s Emperor Quartet; Scottish Folk Songs, arranged by Beethoven for voice, strings and piano; Samuel Barber’s setting of Dover Beach for voice and string quartet (a first performance in Vancouver); a Piano Trio by Joachin Turina and Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat – a programme which delighted the audience and pleased the critics. Concert expenses of $327.98 were well within the budget and though ticket sales at one dollar each brought in only $249., donations (notably from Steinberg and Goss) more than made up the deficit, allowing the Treasurer to report a surplus of $20.52.
First Friends of Chamber Music Season
Hopes ran high and the Musical Director prepared an ambitious programme for the next season with four concerts budgeted at $2,275. To meet the expected deficit he proposed to solicit financial support from the Musicians’ Union and the Community Arts Council. John Goss gave fifty dollars. The Board instituted two classes of membership, regular at five dollars, sustaining at ten, and each Director took a dozen tickets to dispose of as best he might. Some were sold, some were returned, many were given away at the donor’s expense to win new friends for the Society.
Some economies had to be effected before the season was over but the four concerts were duly given and variety was again their prime virtue. A String Orchestra with flute and oboe, a String Trio and String Quartet, with and without piano, presented an impressive repertory ranging from Purcell to Holst, not neglecting Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Schubert but also paying hommage to Faure, Dvorak and Dohnanyi, Dunhill, Weinzweig, Finzi and Bax. The audience was kind and the critics encouraging, but the highlight of the season was the appearance at the second concert of Dohnanyi’s former wife, the beautiful Elza Galafres. She had charmed Vienna and Budapest as actress, dancer and choreographer: she now spoke of Dohnanyi, whose Quartet in E flat was to be played that evening, and for ten minutes made her listeners feel that they were at the centre of the musical world.
Garden Party and Incorporation of Society
By the end of the season the Society had forty sustaining members, a strong Board of Directors and a cash balance of $25.23. It was decided to give a garden party. Mrs. George Norgan offered the use of Kew House, a show place on the cliffs above Howe Sound. Mrs. Frank Hawkins (President, at one time or another, of the Woman’s Musical Club, the Vancouver Council of Women, and the Canadian Women’s Club) was named convener. Prizes were collected, tickets printed, refreshments ordered, a license obtained for the raffle and members of the Cossack Choir engaged to entertain the guests. Then the President, Ida Halpern, was invited to meet the President of the Community Arts Council at the office of Dal Grauer, President of the Symphony Society. For an hour seven men tried to persuade her to call the whole thing off because it was not in the interest of the Symphony and what was not good for the Symphony was not good for music, not even chamber music. She smiled and remained obdurate until Dal Grauer asked: “And when is your party?” “On the 11th of June.” “May I please have tickets for my wife and me?” After that all went well. Lady Charles Ossulston sold raffle tickets to all her friends, Frank Hawkins invented a new game, tea cups were read and fortunes told, disbursements were kept to a minimum and the net profit was $305, of which $250 was promptly invested in Dominion Government Bonds. It was now time to incorporate and H.M. Drost, one of the two lawyers on the Board, not only drafted a constitution and by-laws and drew up the articles of incorporation but paid all expenses out of his own pocket.
Friends of Chamber Music Second Season
Discussion followed on plans for the next season. The Musical Director felt that the Society was his creation and owed him an audience. Had not a first circular of 1 May, 1948, stated that “the formation of the Friends of Chamber Music has come about mainly as a result of a concert held 15th December, 1947, under the direction of Albert Steinberg at the Point Grey Auditorium and sponsored by the Community Arts Council”? But the President preferred to recall the Verein der Musikfreunde of Imperial Vienna and Beethoven’s pupil and patron, Cardinal Archduke Rudolph. She held a Ph.D. in Musicology from the University of Vienna. She had recorded the songs of the West Coast Indians, winning the gratitude of serious students the world over. (“How did I get the Chiefs to sing for me? By shelling peas and peeling potatoes with their wives!”) She wrote for the newspapers, spoke on the radio and lectured on music at the University of British Columbia. Half of the Directors and Sustaining Members had followed her lectures or shared her nostalgic memories of European concert halls. Other friends were scattered from London to Shanghai and kept her informed of what was going on beyond the confines of the Community Arts Council. When she heard that her friend Alice Ehlers was to receive an honorary degree at Portland and would bring her harpsichord for a recital with Eva Heinitz on the viola da gamba, she persuaded the Board to engage them and their instruments for a total fee of $350.
They opened the second season in the Crystal Ballroom of the Hotel Vancouver and at the intermission three hundred and fifty people filed past the harpsichord, a splendid eighteenth- century piece, all red and green and gold, while a few string players contemplated the viola da gamba, also a fine instrument of even earlier date. Steinberg gave the next two concerts, coming up with a Merighi cello and a Hill reproduction of a Stradivari violin. He was scheduled to give a third concert including William Walton’s Quartet in A minor, but when the score arrived and was found to be without bars, he decided that it would be too difficult for his men with their limited rehearsal time. It had, however, been widely advertised for this first Canadian performance and the President was relieved to find that it was being offered by the Hungarian Quartet in their current repertory. Their fee was $450 , a hundred more than the budget allowed, but the Society had a new Secretary, Dorothy Hauschka, whose husband, Walter, a Viennese music-lover, merely asked: “Do you want them? Well then, let’s have them!” They closed the season with Mozart’s Quartet in B flat major (K. 548), the Walton Quartet and Schubert’s Quartet in D major, “Death and the Maiden”. Their instruments were a Stradivari and a Guarneri violin, a Goffriller viola and a Carlo Bergonzi cello. The President felt that she had at last given Vancouver the best the world could offer. The Treasurer was happy to report that for the first time concert revenue had exceeded concert costs (by $64.50) and Frank Hawkins moved that the Society have at least one such concert every year to pay for the others.
Friends of Chamber Music Third Season – controversy: local or world’s best?
The Paganini Quartet was accordingly engaged for the first concert of the next season and the Hungarian Quartet for the fourth. Albert Steinberg, no longer Musical Director, was invited to present the second and third for a flat fee of $600 and to become a Director, an honour which he preferred to decline. There was heated discussion, some of the Board agreeing with Steinberg that it was unfair to pit “our musicians” against such groups as the Hungarian the Paganini. Why not let the Woman’s Musical Club sponsor visiting artists and be satisfied to foster local talent? But the majority wanted excellence at all costs and they were soon confirmed in their preference for seasoned outside groups by the rivalry which developed between the Steinberg Quartet and the new de Rimanoczy Quartet, both drawing on the personnel of the Symphony but not inclined to cooperate. Steinberg gave the second concert of the 1950-51 season with new players assisting him. For the third he wanted to engage fifteen players but this the Board would not sanction, remarking that Mozart had been satisfied with nine for the same music. In December it was announced that Steinberg and de Rimanoczy would join forces on February 13th to present an octet a double quartet, and each one a quartet. But by January Steinberg decided that it was impossible to carry on without the confidence of the Board so that he had no choice but to withdraw “wholly and completely” from the impending concert. When he went to Hollywood not long after, he left as his best memorial in Vancouver the Society which had so soon disappointed him. His photograph may be seen on the programme of November 1st, 1948, where he is shown scanning a sheet of music, baton in hand.
The contested concert was postponed until February 28th and was given by de Rimanoczy. In 1951-52 he gave two more concerts, with Boris Roubakine at the second in Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat major and Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F major. From then until 1961 the Society presented one local group in each season. In the Fall of 1952 it was Marie Rodker, contralto, with John Avison, piano, Smythe Humphreys, viola, and Arvid Grants, flute. In 1953 it was Jan Cherniaysky, piano, Esther Glazer, violin, and Irwin Hoffman (the new Conductor of the Symphony), also violin, playing among other things a Sonata for Violin and Piano by Hoffman himself. In 1954, 1959 and 1961 it was the Cassenti Players directed by George Zukerman, principal bassoonist of the Symphony, with other first-desk men including Smythe Humphreys and Ernst Friedlgnder, cello. In February, 1956, it was a Mozart Festival Concert with Esther Glazer, Irwin Hoffman, Malcolm Tait, cello, and Edwina Heller, piano. In December, 1956, it was again the de Rimanoczy Quartet with Marie Schilder, nee Rodker.
In 1958 it was the Kessler Trio (Jack Kessler, John Avison, Audrey Piggott) with John Arnott, clarinetist. In 1960 it was the Vancouver String Quartet (Jack Kessler, Arthur Polson, Smythe Humphreys and Ernst Friedlgnder) with John Avison. In 1963 the Society sponsored, but did not itself present, a recital by the Beethoven Quartet (Esther Glazer, Arthur Polson, Michael Bowie and Ernst Friedlgnder). In 1970 Meredith Davies (Hoffman’s successor at the Symphony) presented nineteen of his best players, mostly from the woodwind section, in music rarely or never before heard in Vancouver, including Don Banks, Tirade with Phyllis Mailing, Soprano.
Many of these concerts were excellent and admirable artists appeared in all of them. But they were occasional performances by busy musicians with little time for rehearsal and only a casual interest in each other’s work. The Board was especially concerned about adequate rehearsal and the minutes come back to this point again and again. Not officially recorded but even livelier in the memory of those concerned, was the difficulty of dealing directly with the artists themselves instead of with professional agents, and not with one but with all of them, their wives, cousins and aunts, about everything from programmes to fees. But the real trouble was with the audience which quietly stayed home leaving the Directors to face the charge of “morbid indifference to local talent” and “snobbish devotion to great names.” After much heart-searching and subject always to reconsideration, the Board finally decided to present the best groups available in as many concerts as the members might wish to attend, whether the artists were from Penticton or Samarkand.
Such lordly independence was not easily achieved.
Parties for the Society
From 1949 to 1955 an annual tea or supper party served to attract new members and to raise money. The garden party at Kew House has remained legendary for its tribulations and success. Others were even more profitable. In 1950 Lady Ossulston was convener of a garden party at the home of Air Vice-Marshall and Mrs. Kenneth Nairn on Drummond Drive. In 1951, 1952 and 1953 the Horace Plimleys gave their place on South-West Marine Drive for a tea and two supper parties convened by Mrs. Frank Hawkins, Dr. Marion Cowie and Mrs. R.L. Jack. In 1954 and 1955 there were two more supper parties at the Ronald Graham House, West Point Grey, convened by Mrs. Hawkins and Dorothy Hauschka.
The proceeds from the five parties were $3,419, an important sum for a young organization whose operating costs exceeded operating revenue, but not much in proportion to the work involved. There were raffles with generous prizes, fashion shows, marionettes, folk dances, a minstrel, an accordion player, operatic arias and – thanks to Mrs. Arthur Stekl and Mrs. Frank Taylor – much good cooking with a European flavour. (“You could smell the goulash right up to the Inter-Urban!”) The Minutes record such pleasant items as the striking of a committee to buy twenty-four bottles of good wine, and $39.50 from the sale of mayonnaise, but also lost card tables and folding chairs with no one to claim them. As Ida Halpern recalls: “We all worked like Trojan horses, but it was fun!” What high spirits and how much charm went into these affairs may be seen in the Society Pages of the Province and the Sun where the “Trojan horses” – Ida Halpern, Dorothy Hauschka, Virginia Ossulston, Jean Hawkins – are pictured wearing wonderful hats and smiling at a world that wants its music tempered by fashion. But by 1956 Dorothy Hauschka was ready to suggest that “instead of asking a few people to work their fingers to the bone for a party, we should ask everyone to work harder at selling tickets.”
Friends of Chamber Music Membership
In 1950 Mrs. W.D. Patton was made chairman of a Membership Committee with the Biblical motto, Compel them to come in.
By telephoning, by button-holing friends, by mailing three thousand letters and distributing as many dodgers, with help from the Community Arts Council, the Symphony Society, the Woman’s Musical Club, the Philharmonic Music Club, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the B.C. Federation of Music Teachers and sooner or later every likely organization in town, with much free publicity from the press and radio and a very little paid advertising but above all with good reviews from the music critics, membership was increased from 146 in 1950 to 323 in 1951. Then, without Mrs. Patton, it remained almost stationary for ten lean years until 1962 when under the chairmanship of Eric Wilson it rose dramatically to 464 and in 1963 to 552, leading to “vigorous discussion” of the danger and satisfaction of over-selling the house.
For this the obvious remedy was to increase the number of concerts. These had been kept at four for the first eight seasons with one discouraging attempt to interest the public in an extra concert by a favorite ensemble. For the next five seasons there were five concerts, then, for four seasons, six (with one extra in 1963 and two extra in 1963-64, all ill-attended, as was also an extra concert in 1971). In 1965-66 the house was fully sold for seven concerts and the Society instituted an additional series of three concerts for the following season. This was announced as a special offering for the Centennial then being celebrated throughout the Province but it has been continued as a second series ever since although most of the members have preferred to subscribe to all ten concerts. At the latest count, membership in all series, First, Second and Combined, was 755, including 265 sustaining members. With fourteen complimentary tickets and a few issued at the door, mostly to students, the house is still over-sold, but so discreetly that there have always been a few empty seats even at the most popular concerts.
21st Anniversary: Borodin Quartet play Shostakovich;
25th Anniversary: Beaux Arts Trio play Beethoven
The ill-success of extra concerts made the Board hesitate when Eric Wilson proposed to celebrate the Society’s twenty-first anniversary with a Summer series of three concerts at which the Borodin Quartet would play, for the first time outside of Russia, the complete cycle of Shostakovich’s twelve quartets. Expert advice was discouraging: “It would be a risk in New York. What can you do with less than a million people to draw on”? With help from the Canadian Broadcasting company, the risk was taken and the reward was great. The concerts were memorable, and after the first of them the house was full. For its twenty-fifth anniversary the Society has had three more Summer concerts with Beethoven’s Piano Trios played by the Beaux Arts Trio of New York, another triumph and an even more intimate pleasure.
What Community Outreach?
From the first there were always members who wanted the Society to do more for chamber music than present exemplary concerts and the Minutes have preserved their suggestions for bringing together amateur performers, organizing festivals and workshops, collecting and lending scores, commissioning work by Canadian composers, and so on. Most frequent and most seriously entertained were proposals to establish scholarships for students of chamber music, to present young performers in special concerts and to encourage student attendance at the Society’s regular concerts.
Student membership was provided for in the constitution and tickets have always been available at half price to all students whether at a University, in the schools, or with a private music teacher. So long as there were empty seats either because membership was small or the hall too large, every effort was made to attract students, especially from the University of British Columbia where one or another of the Directors has always had close connections. Single tickets were sold through the Alma Mater Society for as little as twenty cents and season tickets for one dollar, the maximum allotted being two hundred in 1961-62.
But when the Society settled into a proper concert hall and regular subscribers wanted to take all available seats four months in advance, it was difficult to reserve more than a few for students who might, or might not, be applying after their Summer vacation. Fortunately, low-cost tickets were by then available to students for almost all musical events in the city and excellent concerts were being given especially for them at both the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, so that the Board could revert to its original policy without disappointing anyone.
Scholarships and student concerts were a more arduous matter.
Young Musicians Concerts
In 1954 Mrs. Margaret Halom gave the Society $250 in memory of her brother, Dr. L.L. Horvath, a founding member. It was decided to use the money for a concert by young musicians and hope to make this an annual affair. Mrs. Halom continued her support until her death in 1959 after which her son, Stephen Halom, did as much for two more years until the Society had other funds to draw on. These were from a bequest by Mrs. Elizabeth Brydone Taylor, a client of H.M. Drost. She wished to further musical education in the Province and Drost suggested legacies to the University of British Columbia and the Friends of Chamber Music. She died in 1954, leaving the Society as her residuary legatee. Her will was contested and it was not until 1958 that the estate was settled after acrimonious charges, later withdrawn, and two hearings in the Supreme Court. The heavy legal costs would have been even more considerable had not Drost taken over the case in 1956 and seen it through at his own expense. The Society ultimately received $9,293 from this bequest and in 1961 it received a legacy of $1,000 from another of Drost’s clients, Mrs. Ida Clare Cabana. With these monies the Society has paid for student tickets to its own and other concerts, given a yearly scholarship to a music student at the University of British Columbia, contributed to master classes, music camps and workshops and continued its Young Musicians’ Concerts.
The first of these was in May, 1955, at the Vancouver Art Gallery, where they continued to be held until 1961. They are now being given in the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse so as to offer a professional setting for concerts of little less than professional excellence. At first, competition was not keen and standards were low. But already in 1956 it was decided to offer $300 in prize money, anticipating receipts from the Taylor estate, and over the years this has been raised to $600. With this incentive and with the increasing number of experienced players in the Junior Symphony, the Community Music School and the two Universities, but thanks above all to the intelligence and devotion of Freda McTavish and Hilda Wilson, the number and quality of the contestants (screened at a preliminary audition) is now all that could be hoped for. Practice has varied over the years, but there are at present two divisions, one for groups whose average age is eighteen or less and another for groups between eighteen and twenty-five. Any combination of instruments for chamber music is acceptable and even voices and instruments, but not duos. There has generally been an abundance of brasses and woodwinds in various formations and a relative dearth of string quartets. The contestants play music of their own choice and occasionally come up with works unknown to judges and audience, once even with an original composition. The judges are three in number, c from the Society and if possible one professional player and a music critic or other expert. It has been an honour for the Society and a great benefit to the musicians to have men of such distinction as Stanley Bligh, Lawrence Cluderay, Lloyd Powell, Murray Schaffer, Irwin Hoffman and Meredith Davies – to mention only a few whose names come first to mind – select the winners and analyse the performance of each group, noting the good moments of even the weakest and suggesting amendments to the best. There are generally four prizes and since 1971 there have also been two cups of fine old English silver, to be held for one year, to which a silver medal has now been added – all given by friends who wished to encourage continued participation by the same groups. So far none of these has gone on to play chamber music professionally though a number of the performers have joined the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra or gone elsewhere to pursue a musical career. The audience is still sparse but for those who attend regularly it has been a pleasure to watch the maturing talent of, for example, Angela Cavadas on the violin or of Desmond Hoebig, a promising cellist since he was eight and at eleven a national prize-winner.
From the beginning the Society had difficulty in finding a suitable place for its concerts. The Mayfair Room of the Hotel Vancouver was small, the Ballroom splendid but awkward (only part of the audience could see the artists) and sometimes neither room was available at the required date. From 1953-54 to 1958-59 the Society found a home in the Georgia Auditorium, managed by Derek Inman, an old friend. He did what he could to convert an ex-boxing ring into a concert hall, putting up heavy curtains to cut down the area and brightening the scene with artificial flowers. Acoustics were not bad and the rent was low, but there were rats on the rafters and drafts everywhere. As early as 1949 the Society advocated the building of a civic auditorium suitable for concerts, plays and lectures, and such a hall was included in the plans for the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. In November, 1957, the President, Dorothy Hauschka, was warned that City Council planned to reduce costs by cutting out the small hall. She made a vigorous protest and the Society joined with other groups in the Community Arts Council to get the project included in a money by-law submitted to the voters in December. This was approved after intense canvassing by all concerned. In March, 1958, the Society was assured that the hall, with a capacity of 750 (actually 671), would be available in 1960. Meanwhile it was offered the use of the Theatre, at a fee of $250 or less, and here all concerts were held in 1959-60 with the balconies closed and the empty stretches of the upper orchestra well blacked-out. But in May 1960, when it had become apparent that the small hall would not be ready for another year or two, the Society was confronted with the alternative of paying $400 a night, which the Treasurer – now Robert Bentley – refused to do, or retiring ignominiously to some High School auditorium, a return to pre-history which Ida Halpern indignantly rejected. The President was in Europe and it was Ida, armed with full powers by the Board, who sallied out to conquer City Hall. She used all the right arguments with all the right people and in the end Alderman George Cunningham was able to persuade Council that a civic auditorium, like parks, libraries and museums, must be made available to responsible users even if the City loses money. A fee of $300 was agreed upon and the Society remained, a bit uneasily, in the Theatre until March, 1962, when it moved into the long-awaited hall and celebrated with a concert by the Juilliard Quartet, who were delighted with the acoustics.
Unfortunately, the hall had been named the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse and the Playhouse Theatre Company, formed in 1963 with a generous grant from the City, assumed virtual ownership, claiming all the time it needed for rehearsal and performance without regard to other users. This time it was Dorothy Hauschka who fought the good fight, again with help from Alderman Cunningham and the support of Ian Dobbin, Manager of both Theatre and Playhouse. It was an Homeric battle and though no boulders were hurled “such as two men of this late age could not lift”, there were heroic gibes (“a rude and disagreeable conversation”, as the President described it), letters to the press, partisan articles, scurrilous comments from the side-lines in the best show of the year, and finally a brief to Council by the President, so temperate and cogent that she won the day. “The rights of the Friends of Chamber Music to protect their season in the Playhouse” were recognized by the Civic Auditorium Board and confirmed by the City Board of Administration, Finance Matters, as duly reported by the City Clerk under date of 19 August, 1964. But it was the Playhouse Theatre Company that had the last word. In their next programme they devoted a full page to the Friends of Chamber Music, concluding: “We wish these fellow-occupants of the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse the greatest of success.” To keep the peace, the Society has tried to schedule all its concerts for Tuesdays – a poor night for repertory theatre – and with its growing prestige it has generally managed to get the artists it wants, even with this self-imposed limitation.
Also under dispute in these years were the claims of the Provincial Government to levy an amusements tax and of the Municipality to collect a license fee. In some years the Provincial Government demanded fifteen per cent of admissions, in others five. Once it gave provisional exemption, then reverted to its earlier claims but still let the Treasurer hope for a refund. Only after diplomatic missions to Victoria by Robert Bentley and Ida Halpern and the friendly intervention of Minister Buda Brown were the Friends of Chamber Music granted the same exemption as the Symphony Society. The City License Inspector was at least consistent. Regularly he required payment of a twenty-five dollar license fee (as much as for a three-ring circus) and regularly the President refused to pay on the ground that this would subject all other musical organizations to the same exaction. The Inspector prepared to issue a summons and the Treasurer sent a cheque under protest. The Society worked both directly and through the Community Arts Council to have the ordinance amended. With help from Alderman Anna Sprott, it finally succeeded in getting the fee reduced to a nominal five dollars for all organizations in its category.
Despite these clashes with authority, the Society has always shown a notable respect for form. It was incorporated in 1950 and the first Annual Meeting was held in May of that year at
the home of Mr. and Mrs. Drost. The Constitution, then adopted and still in force with minor amendments, provides for a Board of twenty-four Officers and Directors. This number is barely adequate for the work to be done but it is the largest that can readily gather in a private home (where Board meetings are generally held) and perhaps the largest that can reach agreement on such controversial issues as whether to enjoy “Death and the Maiden” for a ninth time or give a hearing to Schnittke, Ligeti or Goleminov.
The Society has been particularly fortunate in its choice of Presidents. Ida Halpern served for the first four years of experiment and adventure. As Honorary President she has continued to give the Society the benefit of her knowledge and charm, still shelling peas and peeling potatoes wherever needed: on the Programme Committee, as Adjudicator at the Young Musicians’ Concerts, as President of the Woman’s Musical Club and an Honorary Director of the Symphony Society, consulted by everyone about everything from International Festivals to Metropolitan Opera Auditions and in correspondence with everyone from Benjamin Britten to the latest composer of yet another Quartet No. 1. She was followed by Frank Hawkins, the one other member of the Board who has served for twenty-five years and an example of the amateur player who knows the intimate delight of chamber music as none else can. His successor was Dorothy Hauschka, also an excellent musician and the perfect complement to Ida Halpern whose enthusiasm she matched with unfailing tact and a sureness of purpose that has kept everyone in sufficient awe to get things done. She has been President for seven years in two terms of office and Chairman or Co-Chairman of the Programme Committee for eleven more. “Ask Dorothy”, “Tell Dorothy” and more rarely “Don’t bother Dorothy!” have been the unofficial watch-words of the Society ever since she joined the Board in 1949. The fourth President was Alice Shelton, a Director since June, 1948, who continued until her death in 1966 to give the Board the incisive distinction that was characteristically hers. And as she loved the best in everything, she bequeathed to the Society five thousand dollars to cover the extra cost of some superlative ensemble. Actually there have been two concerts as her gift to old friends and fellow-members: one by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra in 1970 and one by I Musici in 1973. Next came Robert Bentley, a Viennese with a family tradition of music-making and a passion for nature as well as art. When not in the mountains of British Columbia or the California deserts he devotes himself to business, especially the business of the Friends of Chamber Music. Once he had done his stint as President he became Treasurer, the ideal Treasurer who knows what expenses to foresee, what expenses to avoid, and what risks to take when the occasion warrants. His financial forecasts at the beginning of the year are as exact as his Financial Statements at the end and always the two coincide within a few dollars. Harold Rice, M.D. and Engineer, was free to serve for only one year, 1961-62, but even since he resigned from the Board he has continued to help whenever needed, especially with the Young Musicians’ Concerts. For the next four years, and they were difficult ones, Dorothy Hauschka was again in charge until Eric Wilson was ready to take over. A Chartered Accountant who knows how to control numbers, he had been an ideal chairman of the Membership Committee. From 1966 to 1970 he proved himself a no less energetic and imaginative President and it is to him that the Board owes its most exciting moment when it decided to fly in the Borodin Quartet from Moscow to play the Shostakovich cycle. He was followed by Rachel Giese, on the Board since 1959, one of the Society’s many members from the University of British Columbia. She too was able to serve for only one term and it is John Parnell, M.D., connoisseur and collector of French wines, Persian carpets, paintings and recordings, who has presided for the last two years. On the Programme Committee he had long championed the moderns and it is largely to him that recalcitrant members owe the experience of listening for the first time to composers whom they are now glad to have heard if only to give their dislike an earlier date. But for the anniversary concerts he was glad to have Beethoven’s eleven Piano Trios, five of them for the first time in these twenty-five years.
Of the other officers it is the Treasurer who has the heaviest responsibilities and, if he is Robert Bentley, the most work, but all have their duties. The Minutes are a monument to successive Secretaries – Eileen Willis, Hilda Wilson, Kathleen Gose, Margaret Armstrong, Adelia Livesey, Anne McCallum – who have never lapsed from the exact decorum of Alec Walton and Dorothy Hauschka. Everything is there except the dust and heat of battle. The Corresponding Secretaries – Margaret Musselman, Margaret Armstrong, Eric Wilson, Ardith McMillen, Ann Angus, Margaret Robbins – have been masters of every form: the formal address to His Worship the Mayor in Council, the polite note with complimentary tickets, sincere thanks to the music critics, congratulations or condolences with flowers to friends of the Society in all the vicissitudes of life. Less clearly defined but not less exacting is the part of the Vice-Presidents who sometimes to their own surprise find themselves doing everything not otherwise taken care of. Their life would be easier if committee chairmen never went to hospital or to Europe. For it is the committees that make the concert season.
Friends of Chamber Music Society Committees
Friends of Chamber Music Programme
The Programme Committee is always a year or more ahead of itself, gathering reports on new ensembles, negotiating for groups not generally available on the West Coast (it took seven years to get I Musici!) and then settling down to consider the offerings for the next season, trying, within the limits of the budget, to reengage the tried favorites, to select one or two new groups of exceptional promise, to keep a proper balance between String Quartets and other formations, to space them out over eight or nine months (generally impossible), to get them all on a Tuesday and to put one of the best in each series, without forgetting that artists may fall ill or quarrel and that booking agents cannot always perform what they promise so that for the ten groups selected there must also be two or three replacements. This is the moment for shrewd bargaining and “package deals” by which the Committee may save a thousand dollars if it takes, let us say, a Chamber Orchestra and two Quartets from the same agent. And if they are the best, why not, even though everybody knows that the artists are worth more than their fees whether or not the Society can afford them? Once the contracts are signed comes the choice of music. Some groups offer a dazzling repertory of all the Beethoven quartets, the best of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Brahms and half-a-dozen contemporaries for good measure, leaving the customer to chose with due regard to the length of each piece and its proper place in any programme. Others have less confidence in their public and offer just three programmes complete in every part, and even if they agree to substitute Opus 59, No. 2 for the No. 3 already scheduled in a preceding concert, you will find at the moment of performance that Opus 59, No. 3 it still is – and if some other ensemble has just given an inferior rendering, Tant pis pour eux! But long before this the Committee has brought its programme to the Board. Each Director, knowing that most members feel as he does, has loyally defended their preference for this group or that, their devotion to Brahms or their indifference to the anonymous Master of Avignon. (“Who wants to hear another ‘untitled instrumental composition’ for crumhorns?”) And in the end, since the Board is reasonable and the Committee has all the facts, its work is found good with such minor amendments as make everyone feel that the evening was well-spent.
When the programme is ready, a brochure discreetly touting next year’s delights is prepared by the President or his deputy and mailed to present and prospective members. The Membership Committee is no longer concerned about finding new members but it must make sure that continuing members receive priority, that new members are accepted in order of application, that everyone gets what he asks for in each of the three series, that sustaining members are listed with their proper titles and marital connections (Mother and son might not care to be shown as Dr. and Mrs. X.Y.Z.), that no old friends are left out in the cold just because they failed to mail in a cheque (“I’m really hurt: You knew I was in Outer Mongolia!”), that complimentary tickets are made available in the right number to the right people and a few reserved for friends discovered during the season (the kind owner of a borrowed harpsichord or the Consul of Ruritania entertaining the Ruritanian Chamber Orchestra). This means checking and re-checking a thousand names in several lists, matching them against stubs and cheques, addressing, stuffing and mailing at least two sets of eight hundred and more envelopes – a tedious business to which a chairman like Ardith McMillen can bring such engaging good-humour that she never lacks assistance from the membership at large, the daughters of the Ticket Chairman, the Ticket Chairman himself (Don Ourom, following Kay Blankenbach) and the ubiquitous Treasurer.
Programme printing is the responsibility of the Second Vice-President or whoever else is willing to meet ever-recurring deadlines, sometimes for three concerts in ten days, with last- minute changes in the music and programme notes perhaps lost in the mails, reading proof with an unerring eye, wheedling the printer into working over-time and getting the finished product to the theatre one day or one hour ahead of the audience.
Alice Shelton, May Henderson, Margaret Robbins have vied with one another in accuracy and dispatch, but it was Alice Shelton and Edwina Heller who gathered most of the advertisements which could serve to date the early programmes with their mysteriously beautiful women in pencil-slim skirts and fabulous jewels, flowers and furs – those luxurious Speiser furs that were paraded in the Society’s fashion shows and supplied first prizes for so many raffles. Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?
Programme notes now come unsigned, accurate and punctual from the ever-serviceable pen of Dorothy Hauschka. In earlier years they carried the names or initials of Ida Halpern, Leonard Marsh, Frank Hawkins, Welton Marquis, Harry Adaskin, Hans-Karl Piltz and, for almost twenty years, of Arnold MacLeod, a discerning and sensitive musician, too fastidious for the world at large but a charming colleague, courteous, shy and helpful. His notes, composed after reading and re-reading the scores, reflect in every meticulous sentence his delicate taste, happiest with Haydn and Mozart but scrupulously curious about Sylvano Bussotti, Alexander Goehr and their contemporaries, not his, as he used to remark with a smile which put not decades but centuries between him and them.
Publicity, which was once a major concern of Ruth Jones and Onni Ogilvy Irving, now takes care of itself, but only if an expert like Joan Marshall or Ian Shand gives it a push. The Society no longer pays for advertising, but it still depends on the Press and Radio to keep in touch with the public and even to remind its absent-minded members of the concerts to which they subscribed so well in advance. But above all it needs the music critics who have always given it not simply praise but a discriminating analysis of the music, if new, and of each performance in its exact degree of excellence.
Meeting the artists is one of the more amusing assignments but it too is a time-consuming and sometimes anxious business. The Chairman of the Transportation Committee (May Henderson, Kay Blankenbach) gets their schedule from the Chairman of the Programme Committee and assembles at the Airport enough cars to accommodate the artists, their instruments, their luggage and maybe an interpreter, manager or wife. As the other passengers come through customs there is frivolous speculation about the elegant figure in black: is not she the incomparable pianist? And that other in the richly furred overcoat, the Maestro dressed for our Canadian Winter? At last a cello surges majestically through the barriers and if it is the “Paganini” Stradivari of Bernard Greenhouse or if the violins should be the “Michelangelo” Stradivari of Zoltan Szekely and the “Santa Teresa” Guarneri of Michael Kutner, the complacent driver of a Volkswagen may find himself wishing it were a Rolls Royce to receive such freight. But if no instruments are anywhere to be seen the Committee can only ask: did the artists miss their connections? Did someone not like the colour of their passports? Did someone, somewhere, forget about re-entry visas to the United States? Twenty telephone calls may follow, to Seattle, San Francisco, New York, and another trip to the Airport, perhaps at midnight, but once the artists have been safely delivered to their hotel with cordial polyglot greetings, it is the Hall Chairman who takes over.
Whether he is Ian Davidson, Alistair MacKay or Graham Clay, it is his job to see that everything is done at the theatre for the convenience of artists and audience: the piano tuned if one is wanted, a harpsichord borrowed for Bach or electronic equipment for Leon Kirchner, sound panels, chairs and music stands set up, the lights checked, all signals set, the musicians escorted to the hall for rehearsal and performance and coffee sent down at intermission.
After the concert, the artists and the honour of the Society are in the hands of Kato Schaffer and those who have stood by her, notably May Henderson and Jane Randall. It is usual to ask in advance if the artists care to be entertained and though the answer has sometimes been No, it never seems as if even the weariest of them really wants to retire from concert hall to hotel without dinner and some honest compliments. In fact one who had just turned down a reception in his honour was heard to ask his last year’s hostess: “Don’t you have any more of your famous borsch for me?” And of course she did. In the early years when houses were large and well-staffed, the Hauschkas, the Halperns, the Parnells and others did not hesitate to invite everyone who wanted to meet the artists, but of late the hard-pressed Chairman of the Entertainment Committee has had to convince the Board that a simple supper in a modest flat may do as much for music as the most splendid party.
To find people to do all this work is the business of the Nominating Committee and the first question asked about anyone proposed for the Board is not, “how good a musician is he?” but, “will he take on this or that chore?” And if he – or she – will take them all on by turns, he will never be allowed to resign; witness Margaret Robbins who has steadfastly declined the Presidency but for twenty-one years has served as Vice-President, Treasurer or Secretary. No one can fully appreciate the Board who has not seen her sitting exquisitely erect in the drafty box-office of the Georgia Auditorium or stepping quickly across the lobby to welcome some newcomer who thought he had merely bought a season ticket and discovered that he had become a valued member of the Society. The Board has always included Doctors, lawyers, business men, professors and a high proportion of intelligent women otherwise qualified as housewives. If they collect Stradivari or play the viola da gamba, so much the better, but let them not be so professionally competent that they will lose touch with the audience. At first the professors were particularly active and the Society owes much to Sedgewick, Soward, Gage and others from the University of British Columbia. Now Doctors are in the ascendant and it adds a special charm to Board meetings to hear these busy men debate for ten or twenty minutes the propriety of spending ten or twenty dollars for some item not in the regular budget.
But it is this unflagging thrift that has kept the Society solvent even though concert revenue has never kept up with concert costs. Ticket prices have been held not merely below the commercial level but below the evident requirements of the budget and it is the Sustaining Members who make up this calculated deficit. If they have done so in increasing numbers and with notable generosity it is obviously because they like the concerts and appreciate the discretion which gives equal thanks for all donations, but also because they know that not one penny will be spent for administration, and even the outside auditor will give his services for love of music. The Society still compounds the interest on its first investments and now has a decent reserve but it has made it a point of honour not to accumulate more than this, spending anything extra on such special events as the anniversary concerts. With all due pride in the past and interest in the future, the Board knows that its first duty is to present members. They are the Society, and if this narrative has dealt mainly with the Board it is simply because the Board has records which the membership at large has not.
To what, it may be asked, does the Society owe its continued success: to the fidelity of its members? Of the 146 listed in 1950, fifty-two are still active and a similar proportion would hold for later years. To the devotion of the Board? Half of the Directors have served for twelve to twenty-five years. To the other musical societies, which have given it both cooperation and intelligent rivalry? To the Vancouver public which has such a reputation for critical acumen that visiting artists give it of their best? To the booking agents who recruit musicians the world over and bring them to the West Coast? Without Mariedi Anders there might not be ten concerts a year! To the artists who would rather play chamber music than grow rich? No soloist of equal reputation would accept the fee of even the best-paid Quartet. In twenty-five years the Society has had one hundred and seventy concerts by eighty-five groups from nineteen countries. Could one of these concerts, miraculously, be heard again, which should it be? The first of the Shostakovich cycle, when the artists themselves felt that they had never played better? The Beaux Arts Trio playing Beethoven? The Amadeus Quartet playing Schubert? The Hungarian Quartet in their first performance for the Society, or their last, or any one in between? Such pleasures are in any case unforgettable and a pledge of what is to come when some ensemble perhaps now forming plays all the Beethoven quartets for the Society’s fiftieth anniversary. Or shall we not have to wait so long?