We all face the steady march of the clock, and after 27 years as professor of violin and leader of the Pro Arte Quartet, Norman Paulu intends to pull up stakes at the end of the current season and retire. He's only 64, but as he told me with a chuckle, "Sooner seems better than later." Although his plans for the future have not fully crystallized yet, Paulu doesn't plan to quit playing, although he does expect to leave Madison.
One reason for the move is that Paulu has been working for some time at two half-time jobs (teaching and the Pro Arte) that together add up to two full-time jobs, in terms of their time and energy commitments. "I'm looking forward to having more time for myself," he says, "and perhaps to travel and study. We don't get sabbatical leaves at Wisconsin, and though I certainly expect to continue my life as a musician, whether in a playing position or a teaching position, I wouldn't consider something combining both, as I've done here."
When I remarked that the change seemed unfortunate, now that the Pro Arte seemed to have found a solid new identity in the full musical integration of the present personnel, Paulu responded: "Of course I could easily have stayed on another five years, but that would be in essence a kind of postponement. It makes more sense for the others to seek a new member who like themselves is young, so they can all grow into their mature years together as an ensemble." One must admit this makes excellent sense. Jae-Kyung Kim, Sally Chisholm, and Parry Karp are all relatively young, superbly gifted players, and the addition of a violinist in their own age bracket could, under fortunate circumstances, lead to the Pro Arte once again achieving the world-class status it formerly enjoyed.
Originally a Belgian ensemble, the Pro Arte, under the leadership of Rudolf Kolisch, was a major cultural force here throughout the 40s and 50s and well into the 60s. Then for reasons that have never been fully explained in the clear light of day, a rift developed that was never healed. When Paulu arrived, Kolisch having left to teach at the New England Conservatory, he joined Tom Moore, Richard Blum, and Lowell Creitz. "This was a very exciting time," Paulu says, "for Kolisch had never been an orchestral player, while I had been and could bring those ideas to the group." (Paulu had come here from an Oklahoma orchestra and was later the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra for a number of years.) Then Martha Blum took over as quartet's second violin, Parry Karp became the cellist, and there was a long period of relative stability. More recently, with the Blums retired from the quartet, Kim and Chisholm again injected new ideas and personalities into the ensemble.
This last season for Paulu will feature the 15 quartets of Shostakovich in a series of five concerts. "I was more than happy to do Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms quartets," Paulu told me, "and at first we shied away from Shostakovich as rather shallow, composing at the behest of the Soviet government. Only later did we begin to see what masterpieces these works really are." I observed that they are also no mean feat to play. Paulu agreed at once: "Oh yes, they are very tough, and I think in places the first violin part is especially demanding." I asked him to sum up what his Pro Arte period had brought him as a musician. "It's been a completely satisfying experience for me," he said. "I've had the chance to meet and work with people I admire and respect." Whatever the future may hold, one could hardly leave on a nicer note than that, I think.
Isthmus, September, 1993
Copyright 1993 Jess Anderson