Colman Chamber Series Still Strong at 85

Los Angeles history, typically laden with missions and ranchos, sometimes finds less room in its pages for subtler, more sophisticated monuments--like, say, a long-running chamber music series. Then again, there is a local series achieving a bit of fame around the country as a significant historical phenomenon.

Last year the Coleman Chamber Music Assn. in Pasadena won the Chamber Music America Award for outstanding service to the field and consequently published a short history of its 85-year existence. It is the oldest continuously operating organization in the country devoted to the performance and appreciation of chamber music.

“There was a chamber music series back in Massachusetts that started a few years before us,” explains Olive McDuffee, who for the last four years has been the manager of the Coleman Chamber Music Assn., “but they disbanded during World War II. That’s why we have the reputation of being the oldest continuing series.”

With a modest but historically portentous concert in 1904 in the Elks Lodge on the corner of Raymond Avenue and Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, pianist Alice Coleman (later Alice Coleman Batchelder) began the series, performing Schumann’s Piano Quintet with the Arnold Krauss String Quartet. She continued giving concerts each year and, by the 1920s, the performances were no longer held in people’s homes and smaller venues, developing into a permanent major concert series.


This season at Beckman Auditorium, Caltech, six Sunday afternoon concerts are offered, beginning next weekend with the Borodin Trio, their fifth appearance in 10 years for the Coleman series. On the program will be music by Arensky, Brahms and Beethoven.

“We just love them,” says McDuffee, recalling earlier appearances by the Borodin Trio. “Last time they played, they were replacing the Berg Quartet at the last minute and, flying in from London without much preparation, they delivered one of the best concerts we ever had.”

Certainly, Los Angeles cultivates more and more interest in chamber music and several other popular chamber music organizations, like the Da Camera Society, continue their success. When asked how the Coleman series stays afloat amid the competition when stationed in somewhat remote Pasadena, McDuffee exudes confidence: “There’s nothing wrong with competition, is there?

“Most of our members are from the San Gabriel Valley, but we also have members from as far away as Santa Barbara and San Clemente who travel to Pasadena for each concert,” she continues. “We also have members in the Palos Verdes area--lots of them--who don’t mind traveling here.”


Another important part of the organization, its annual competition, is now in its 43rd year and winners of the competition are often asked to perform in the concert series. Two former winners appearing this season are the Ridge Quartet and cellist Nathaniel Rosen, who will perform with pianist Leonard Pennario. Other important winners include the Colorado and Tokyo String Quartets.

“In addition to our success, we are also innovators,” McDuffee claims. “We make a special effort to promote woodwind and brass ensembles as an important part of chamber music, as well as contemporary music.”

This season, contemporary composers include Leon Kirchner and Elliott Carter. Other Coleman concerts this year: the Buswell/Parnas/Luvisi Trio with Hermann Baumann, the Juilliard Quartet and the Chicago Pro Musica.

Choreographer Awards

Robert Gilliam, John Pickett and Nia Love won the first William Couser Black Choreographers Awards--administered by Repertory Dance Theatre of Los Angeles--last weekend, receiving $1,000, $500 and $250 respectively. Denise Couser Skambraks, the sister of the late dance promoter, has established a trust fund providing the prize money, which will double each year.

Busy Dance Week

Thursday, Repertory Dance Theatre of Los Angeles performs at El Camino College. . . . At Royce Hall, UCLA, Bella Lewitzky Dance Company performs for two nights beginning this Friday. . . . Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal dances Friday evening at Pepperdine University in Malibu.