Memories leap over the years for Henry J. Bruman, professor emeritus at UCLA. So do idealism and the desire to give back what was bequeathed to him more than half a century ago by another music-minded spirit.
"It was 1936," says the former head of the geography department, "and I was a graduate student at Berkeley when the Budapest String Quartet came to campus. Going to those concerts changed my life. I had never heard all the Beethoven quartets before. Suddenly, a whole universe opened to me."
Not everyone is lucky enough to experience that sort of epiphany. And Bruman has let neither the moment nor the impulse to repeat it dissipate.
Now the 79-year-old professor, who thinks of himself as "a benevolent campus grandfather," carries on the tradition, underwriting--along with the UCLA Center for the Arts and the music department--the Chamber Music Festival that bears his name.
The 10 free noon concerts, beginning tomorrow and running through Aug. 6, take place Mondays and Thursdays at Schoenberg Hall. They feature local professional musicians--a number of them from the Los Angeles Philharmonic--whose relatively uncluttered summertime schedules allow for such busman's holidays.
And since the concert business, apart from Hollywood Bowl, virtually shuts down at this time, the festival offers audiences a welcome opportunity too.
"I had in mind that retirees and other community members would attend," Bruman says. "But the students are the primary beneficiaries, the ones who stand to widen their horizons. Some of them have never been exposed to fine music before. And with cutbacks in public school programs, an option like this becomes all the more desirable."
Such high purpose often finds sponsorship--usually from civic-minded philanthropists with millions to spare.
But a university professor?
"Financing for me is not so serious. My means are a matter of good investments made long ago. And half the budget involves other people's money, so to speak."
Bruman, referring to real estate acquired before the market boom, explains that his $300,000 pledge--in the form of an apartment he turned over to the university--is supplemented by other UCLA funding.
Apart from providing cultural enrichment to the town-and-gown Westwood community, the student-run project offers valuable arts training in public relations and concert programming. Thus the project gets a double return on its investment.
But these bonuses do not materialize on their own. And Bruman eagerly credits free-lance flutist Amanda Walker--who is in charge of the festival's artists, repertoire and publicity--with making the series, now in its fifth season, a success.
"I've learned an enormous amount," says Walker, who received her master's degree last month. She quickly points out that playing chamber music is a labor of love for most of those she negotiates with, so their acceptance of her offers is par for the course.
Her own concert (July 23) features L.A. Philharmonic principal cellist Daniel Rothmuller.
"All they had to do is ask," says Rothmuller, reached in London, where he was playing chamber music. " 'How would you like to play some Brahms trios?' was the question. And, of course, there was no chance I would refuse."
In addition to performing at his Philharmonic first desk (shared by Ronald Leonard) he belongs to the 15-year-old chamber group, An die Musik, based in New York. As with many other musicians, chamber music is his passion.
"It is the subtlest, most intensely intimate form of music making," he says, "the place where three or four instrumentalists work out the deepest process of a score."
He readily admits that the standard fee, slightly upward of $200, was no consideration, nor has it ever been. (Early on, his singer-father advised that a music career is not for those who dream of wealth.)
But, Walker concedes, some musicians decline to play for this nominal fee. A national TV platform such as "The Tonight Show," which also pays merely an honorarium, offers high visibility. But publicity is not one of the festival's benefits.
It is a chance to explore beloved repertory before a guaranteed audience. Baritone John Atkins, a singer with the Music Center Opera, says to do a vocal recital of his choice--featuring Ravel's "Don Quichotte" songs--is a rare opportunity.
"And since I earn my regular living during the opera season and have the summer virtually free, this invitation was a windfall. It came with the understanding that I could do what I do as a musician, and the organizers would do their part as sponsor."
Faculty pianist Johanna Harris, the senior collaborator on the series, also sees intangible benefits.
"What makes chamber music so uplifting," she says, "is its basis in the experience of sharing. There is a great deal of mutual admiration implicit in the act of making music on this small scale--something so wholesome and so humane and so loving that we must cherish it."