1944 - 2013
I first met Steve in Bangor, Maine, in September of l966. We were both members of "Music In Maine", a Title III project bringing chamber music to schools throughout the State of Maine. Fresh out of college we were trained by "Young Audiences" - and were divided into two string quartets, a woodwind quintet and a brass quintet. All together we formed the Northeast Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Paul Vermel who also was the musical director of the entire Music in Maine ("MIM") program. Steve was concertmaster of this orchestra and first violinist in one of the quartets. He was an outstanding violinist who also performed exquisitely in recitals with harpsichordist Leonard Raver.
When MIM ended after its allocated three years, Paul Vermel was appointed conductor of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. He brought Steve in as concertmaster and, to establish a "resident" set of principal players, lured Ron, me and Paul in with a plan to form the PSSQ - Portland Symphony String Quartet. Steve led the PSO for 12 years as concertmaster, performing the great orchestral repertoire and an occasional concerto to much acclaim. I remember that music critic John Thornton was very excited about the professionalism that Steve and the PSSQ brought to the Symphony. When Paul Vermel left the Symphony to go to Champagne/Urbana and Aspen, problems arose with the new conductor and we left the Symphony for a Residency at USM. Our international touring brought us in contact with many fine young players in Latin America - and thus our "Latin Scholars" program was established with OAS and USM support. For almost a decade Steve was concertmaster of the USM Orchestra under the direction of Professor Gerry Bowder. When Colby gave us Honorary Doctor of Music degrees in 1986 they also established the PSQ as Artists in Residence - a position we held for 20 years. Steve and I worked particularly hard on the text book that the Quartet wrote for our Colby Jan Plan Course: Welcome to Chamber Music. Through all these permutations, the LARK Society kept our strong presence in Portland through an annual concert series and educational outreach.
I think that Steve placed the Quartet front and center in his professional life. Whether it was world premiers, the great masterpieces or even a few strange works that composers asked us to play, Steve loved it all. I don't think he denigrated a single work - no matter how questionable the rest of us might have consider it. In retrospect, listening to some of these old tapes, it is clear that all that work and even some tears produced an impressive performance legacy. Beyond our award winning CDs of the chamber music of Walter Piston, Ernest Bloch and George Chadwick, we can claim first performances of quartets of Karel Husa, Benjamin Lees, Daniel Godfrey, William Matthews, John Hallstrom, Peter Ré, Fredrick Koch, Norman Dello Joio, Kay Gardner, Robert Kelly, Tom Myron, Betty Warren, Peter, Elliott Schwartz and Gerry Bowder - to name a few. We also championed Charles Ives' two String Quartets and Ives' complete works for Quartet and Piano all performed for Ive's 100th anniversary at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC - "Ives Thrives" - 1974.
Teaching was always a big part of our work as individuals and as a Quartet. Steve did a yeoman's job recruiting and corresponding with students for our summer String Quartet Workshop, known affectionately as "PSQ" whether it was held at Sugarloaf, Colby or Saint Joe's. He made each student feel welcomed - as family. In the Master Classes he would occasionally work magic with an astute observation or an outrageous comment. He seemed to know how to get to the core of the problem - to turn notes into music. Students didn't just thrive under his tutelage, he often helped them find new purpose in life through their music. He told me once that he felt he was more of a psychologist/philosopher than a traditional music teacher. I'm sure that many of his students would agree.
On one of our four tours to Japan, Steve did not have to stand in the line but was allowed to use Abbot Arai's private bathroom. There he was confronted by a console of buttons and whistles and a "smart nozzle" that he pushed by mistake and wound up being douched! Steve loved to tell stories about our many adventures - and each time they expanded just a bit in color and emphasis. Jokes, too, were endless and his many accents added a special touch. We laughed sometimes until it hurt!
At a recent concert at Harvard University it felt to me that there was a real vacancy in our ensemble. It was the first quartet concert without Steve. His absence was palpable. I am grateful to Steve for all the good times, the great music, and the love that he always gave beyond measure.