Speculum Musicae has long served as one of the foremost ensembles to champion new music, in particular academic avant-garde music. While that description may be a bit limiting in defining its overall scope, considering the ensemble has performed such neo-Classical, relatively tame works as Irving Fine's 1957 Fantasia for string trio and Benjamin Britten's even more conventional 1932 Phantasy Quartet, it nevertheless conveys the general purpose of the group's mission. But Speculum Musicae is not only widely hailed for its advocacy of challenging new music, but for its virtuosic performance of it. The ensemble consists of 12 musicians who may play together or break up into smaller groups for the performance of trios, quartets, and other small-scaled compositions. Speculum has long been associated with the works of Elliott Carter, George Crumb, and, later on, Poul Ruders. IT has made numerous recordings over the years, with the bulk of them available from Bridge Records. For most of its 40-plus years, Speculum has regularly toured across the U.S. and Europe and also served as ensemble-in-residence at several universities, including Columbia, Harvard, and Brandeis.
Speculum Musicae was formed in New York City in 1971. Among the group's founding members were cellist Fred Sherry (who also would often conduct) and oboist Joel Marangella. Despite numerous personnel changes over the years, the ensemble's collective virtuosity has remained intact. Members of the 2009 ensemble included violinist Curtis Macomber, violist Maureen Gallagher, cellist David Huckaby, clarinetist Allen Blustine, and pianist Aleck Karis. After forming, Speculum quickly made headway: among its earliest recordings was an acclaimed 1974 LP of Donald Martino's Notturno and Charles Wuorinen's Speculum Speculi, on Nonesuch.
By the early '80s, the ensemble was widely recognized for its groundbreaking work and superb musicianship. Its 10th anniversary season concluded with a highly praised Alice Tully Hall concert (1981) that included two commissioned world premieres: David Koblitz's Tokens on the Dream Exchange and Gerald Busby's Glyphs. In 1997 the American Composers Alliance presented Speculum with its annual Laurel Leaf Award, given in recognition of a group or individual's efforts to promote American music. In both 2003 and 2004 the ensemble was nominated for a Grammy, the first, along with soprano Susan Narucki, for Carter's Tempo e Tempi, and the second for Carter's Oboe Quartet. Among Speculum's later recordings is the 2010 Centaur CD, From Sofia to Seoul, which includes various works by David Evan Jones.