They also won the first Naumburg chamber music award in 1972 and made some landmark recordings, including Donald Martino's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Notturno," in which quiet taps, scrapes and whistles coalesce into a passage of eerie, nocturnal beauty. (The recording, released by Nonesuch in 1974, has not been reissued on CD.)
The group has not lost its competitive edge in 25 years, even as its members have gotten older or left (all three founders have since moved on), new ensembles have challenged its supremacy and some of the works it championed have become familiar repertoire, to musicians, if not to audiences. But the times have changed, and so has the image reflected in the mirror of music.
About the same time the Berlin Wall came down, some of the musicians in the ensemble began agitating for more catholic programming. Recently, the music of David Lang, a thirtysomething standard-bearer of the "downtown" school, has been included in Speculum programs, and today, the group's membership is even said to have divided opinions about the music of Milton Babbitt, the king of complexity and one of Speculum's chief protectors.
"We still want to be known for playing the most difficult music, but we don't seek out music because it's difficult," said violinist Curtis Macomber, a member since 1989. "We play any good music."