SAN DIEGO — The particulars of patronage may change, but musicians are always looking for someone to foot the bill. In the 18th Century, prestige-conscious princes kept a respectable supply of instrumentalists on the palace payroll. Today, universities are among the primary patrons of the musical arts.
At San Diego State University, the Stauffer Wind Quintet is completing its first semester in residence. Like their liveried 18th-Century counterparts, they turned to the "court composer" for fresh music, although in this case the court composer turned out to be the music department chairman rather than a peruked kapellmeister .
For their Sunday evening concert in SDSU's Smith Recital Hall, the quintet will premiere Merle Hogg's First Wind Quintet.
"Merle wrote the piece for our group," explained the quintet's clarinetist, Marian Liebowitz, "and he was thinking of each instrumentalist when he wrote the parts."
Technically, the performance will not be a world premiere, since the quintet tried it out at a concert they recently performed in Ramona's high school auditorium. "We felt we had to give it a run-through in concert just to see how it felt," Liebowitz said.
Members of the Stauffer Quintet all teach at SDSU, although Liebowitz is the only full-time faculty member. The other quintet members are flutist Linda Lukas, oboist Peggy Michel, French hornist George Cable and bassoonist Dennis Michel. While Dennis Michel and Lukas were both members of the San Diego Symphony, the quintet was not set up as a safety net for a few symphony players.
"We put this proposal in (to the university) when the symphony was still flourishing," said Liebowitz, who also occasionally played with the now-defunct orchestra when an extra clarinet was needed. "We were all committed to this a year ago, and if and when the symphony goes back to work, we will still be a quintet."
Of course, the symphony impasse adds a note of uncertainty to Liebowitz's planning for the quintet's future. The longer the orchestra is dormant, "the more we're likely to be forgotten entirely as a musical community. Many of our colleagues are beginning to leave--that's really frightening," she said.
Liebowitz experienced a classic case of mixed emotions when Lukas did not win the principal flute chair for which she auditioned in Baltimore last month. "You want your friends to get jobs," she said, "but you hate to see them go."
When the quintet is out on the circuit playing for high school audiences--one of the functions of the university residency--they encounter another negative effect of this problem. While college students are far enough along with their musical studies not to be completely discouraged by the symphony debacle, the lessons of the symphony collapse have not been lost on the parents of high school and junior high school students.
"I get a lot of parents saying, 'Well I don't want my child to go into music, because obviously they can't make a living at it.' Then I get very discouraged," Liebowitz said.
Members of the quintet have been impressed, however, by the musical sophistication of some of their high school auditors during question periods at their informal performances.
"We played a work by Gyorgy Ligeti on one of our last concerts, and one of the movements is in 7/8 meter," Liebowitz said. "When we asked the students to identify the meter, somebody just shot up a hand and said, '7/8.' "
Not that the quintet is out to make musicians out of such eager respondents. "It's OK, too, if they become amateur musicians," Liebowitz said. "And it's OK if they just love music and support it--that's what we're after."
Sunday's Stauffer Quintet program will include a guest appearance by saxophonist James Rotter in "Printemps" for six wind instruments by the contemporary French composer Henri Tomasi. A member of the Harvey Pittel Saxophone Quartet, the Los Angeles-based musician is also a lecturer in saxophone at SDSU. In addition to Hogg's new work, the ensemble will play quintets by Anton Reicha and Carl Nielsen.