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Daring Director Of Chamber Music Society

October 08, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

Charles Wadsworth's job as artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center carries all the excitement and danger of the circus.

Over in Ring No. 1, we find him, metaphorically speaking, armed with chair and whip to keep at bay a stable of 18 world-class players, plus numerous guest artists. Not only must egos be tamed, but performing schedules need to be carefully coordinated.

In Ring No. 2, Wadsworth perches on the high-wire, precariously guiding his troupe through a season of no fewer than 90 concerts, half in New York, half on the road (including a visit to UCLA tonight by a contingent of six, minus Wadsworth).

Finally, we focus on Ring No. 3, where Wadsworth performs an annual magic trick--miraculously raising the funds to meet a $2-million budget.

The affable administrator smiles at the complexities of his position, then points out that he gets by with more than a little help from his friends.

"We have a wonderful board of directors that gives and raises money," he says during a telephone conversation from his New York base. "And I'm lucky to have Fred Sherry to assist me with logistics in the office." Wadsworth notes that Sherry--a respected cellist who will participate at the Royce Hall concert--possesses "an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire chamber repertory."

Dealing with a past and present roster of such respected musicians as clarinetist Gervase de Peyer, mezzo Frederica Von Stade, horn player Barry Tuckwell and others is hardly a demanding task, Wadsworth says. The society requires "a special kind of artist--one who projects individual flair but is willing to listen to the ideas of others.

"The musical decision-making is a democratic process. When I sit in on a rehearsal (he plays piano and harpsichord), I am only one voice." That may be so when he sits at the keyboard, but Wadsworth, 57, is unquestioned leader in administrative matters. After all, he founded the organization nearly 20 years ago.

"Actually," he corrects, "you could call William Schuman the founder. I was called in by him in 1966 when he was president of Lincoln Center. He said, 'If we had the perfect chamber music hall here, what would you put in?'

"I thought about it and decided that I wanted to form an organization that served chamber music. I wanted a resident group of players that would develop a rapport. I insisted that they have solo credentials--a sense of individuality. I wanted to hire regular guest artists, and I wanted to commission works by composers from all sorts of backgrounds."

Much to his amazement and delight, "the center bought the whole plan." Wadsworth and members of his board "worked very hard for three years. We raised a $5-million endowment."

In 1969, Alice Tully Hall was completed. And Wadsworth's series was ready to roll. "We did 16 concerts the first year, with a budget of $250,000."

As the yearly schedule and the budget increased, the commissions similarly grew: Thus far, 50 works have received premieres at society concerts, music by such diverse composers as Darius Milhaud and Chick Corea.

Wadsworth sees other fruits of his labors: "We've brought so many people into chamber music. We've given audiences a sense that we are approachable. Even if we don't talk on stage, people pick up that we are having a good time."

Having a good time doesn't mean that Wadsworth is content to leave everything well enough alone, however. He can't fight off that urge to follow the current trend of going bicoastal.

"I would love to bring out a basic group to Los Angeles, add some local players there and have a sort of festival in Southern California. I actively pursued this around 1967 or '68 but there was no money.

"Now, costs have skyrocketed. Name players are a big factor (in drawing an audience). They have a quality that sets them apart from the good free-lancers. But they require fees commensurate with their abilities."

Could such a chamber music society ever happen in Los Angeles? Wadsworth remains skeptical. "Too many players seem to get into a comfortable way of making music. Going on stage and playing should be the most important thing at that moment.

"But for some, it's simply a cushy job. Especially in L.A. Maybe it's the climate out there."

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