The Hall Ensemble has decided to quit while it’s ahead.
“We have been very successful, and we thank our board, patrons and musicians for that,” said cellist Karen Hall, who founded the chamber music group 10 years ago with her husband and fellow Fort Worth Symphony musician, bassoonist Kevin Hall. “We started our season in August with funding in the bank to cover the whole season.”
But, for a variety of reasons, the Halls decided their performance at St. Andrews Episcopal Church on March 30 will be their last.
“We had a plan that was much longer range, but with everything that has happened in the last few years, we pushed that up,” said Hall. “Kevin and I, as we near retirement, have decided we cannot put forward that kind of long-range plan. We would rather let the organization end its service to the community while it is on top rather than just see it erode over the years.”
The group is composed of the Halls, violinist Jennifer Chang and violist Aleksandra Holowka, who have welcomed various guest musicians for concerts, many of whom also are in the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. It has presented more than 60 concerts during its seven-season history.
The ensemble has been unique among Fort Worth chamber music groups in that it has presented many of its concerts in homes rather than traditional concert venues.
“It allowed us to play concerts that were like the origin of chamber music, and to get to know our audience,” said Hall, who is also a founding member of the original instruments ensemble Texas Camerata.
Those concerts were so well received that the group eventually began repeating the “house” concerts at public venues, most notably the Avoca Coffee House and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT).
But, in addition to future retirement plans — the Halls plan to relocate to Hawaii — Karen Hall cited a changing, “nervous” environment for the arts in Fort Worth that has undermined her confidence in being able to keep the ensemble going.
“We have a lot of support and a lot of enthusiasm from our patrons. But, over the last several years, there is something that has dampened the spirit of the performing arts [in Fort Worth],” she said. “It has made it difficult for me, as an administrator, to plan concerts a year in advance when I am not entirely sure that my guest artists will still be here. That’s the reality of the situation.”
The obvious culprit would be the strike by the Fort Worth Symphony musicians last year, after contract talks with management broke down. But Hall said the decision to end the ensemble’s activities was made before the strike began. Hall has been a member of the FWSO since 1979.
“Kevin and I were already feeling that we could no longer plan so far into the future,” she said. “The strike just confirmed my fears.”
The ensemble will be missed because of its unique approach to concert presentation and the high quality of its performances, which were routinely rewarded with strong attendance and favorable reviews.
“There is something just magical about beautiful chamber music, and hearing it in the sort of small venue context it was originally presented in. It is just so much more intimate,” said Susan Motheral, who has presented two Hall Ensemble concerts in her home. “And I would have been glad to host another one. I love having live music in my house.”
Motheral’s enthusiasm for the Hall Ensemble (she became a host after attending other house concerts by the group) is shared by many other people but, apparently, not by all living things.
“The reactions of my cats were hilarious,” said Motheral, who is also a longtime Cliburn Concerts subscriber. “One of them was walking through the den [during a rehearsal] and the bassoon went off. You would have thought the cat was in the Vietnam War. She crouched way down to ground and went slinking out of the room. Cats are such brutal critics.”
The ensemble’s farewell concert is titled “Tres Jolie.” The performance will feature guest artists Jill Levy (harp) and Jake Fridkis (flute) in works by Debussy, Danzi and Piazzolla.
“The best thing about the Hall Ensemble was the personal contact with the patrons. It was wonderful to be able to know their names as they came through the door, and be able to perform for them specifically,” Hall said. “We like to think that we have done an amazing job of providing a little gem of musical experience to the community, and I hope somebody can take that idea over.”