Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Charles has (almost) left the building

After Thursday’s chamber music concert at the Columbia Museum of Art, host Charles Wadsworth – like another legendary musician – will leave the building. He’s retiring from the concert tour which brings him and some very fine musicians to Columbia, Camden, Savannah and other spots. (Wadsworth, who turns 80 next month, is also retiring from the Spoleto Festival USA and a festival in Colombia, South America.)

Will the audience leave with him?

Of course people come for the music played by the likes of cellist and co-host Edward Arron, pianists Stephen Prutsman and Jeremy Denk, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, clarinetist Todd Palmer and others, but many come for Wadsworth. Like Spoleto, he’s a brand they can trust and they like his long-winded stories.

While I’m fond of Wadsworth, and it’s hard not to be, I get a little tired of the stories and jokes. For me it gets in the way of the music.

But the complaint I hear most often about the concerts is that they are too expensive and too stodgy.

I disagree.

The concerts are informative and informal. If anything Wadsworth’s ramblings make them a little too loose limbed. The playing is almost always exciting.

At $30 for museum members ticket prices are not out of the normal price range for high-quality music. Since the Koger Center years ago eliminated concerts by out-of-town musicians this series is the only place to hear this kind of music on this level in this city. Yes, the USC School of Music brings in guest artists as does the S.C. Philharmonic and USC Symphony, but those are not their reasons for being. And musicians at the school and in the orchestras like to hear great musicians as well.

Edward Arron, right, takes over programming and hosting in the fall and doesn’t plan major changes. (The lineup will be announced in June.) Organizer of a series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Arron has recruited new musicians to the series fold who have provided fresh voices. There’s no reason to think the music won’t be just as good or better. After all Arron’s Met series is considered one of the best in New York.

But can the series survive Wadsworth’s departure?

Those of us who believe the music is bigger than the maestro hope so.

The concert is at 7 p.m. Thursday and features Prutsman, Wadsworth, Arron, Eric Ruske, horn, and Jesse Mills, violin, playing music by Dvork, Brahms, Glazunov, Arensky and Prutsman. $30 for members; $35; $10 students tickets available Thursday only.

(803) 799-2810.

Read my interview with Wadsworth and Arron in this week’s Free Times, available around Columbia or at

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