When Peter Benoliel retired after a 40 year career with Quaker Chemical, including 26 years as its CEO, he immersed himself in a far different activity − chamber music.
His instrument is the violin − he started lessons at age 8 − and he had enjoyed playing chamber music even during his busy years as CEO.
One major outlet was a program called Adult Chamber Players. It’s part of Settlement Music School’s wide-ranging activities for music students of all ages.
This program is open to intermediate and advanced adult musicians − most of them seniors − who get together in ensembles to play chamber music.
There are no teachers, no performances, no audiences. Instead these amateur musicians play varied pieces by Mozart, Bach, and other greats for the sheer love of it.
“It’s usually different musicians each week and different ensembles, “ said Benoliel, now 85. “It can be a piano trio, a string quartet or other grouping.”
He faithfully attends music sessions once or twice a week. They are offered at Settlement headquarters in Queen Village, but also in Wynnefield and Willow Grove. Benoliel goes to all three, depending on his schedule.
Benoliel enjoys this so much that he and other enthusiasts also get together on their own in addition to attending the Settlement sessions.
“I meet regularly at my home with two different string quartets and two different trios,” he said. That adds up to 12 musicians besides Benoliel who are hungry for even more opportunities to play music in small groups.
Even though it’s for pleasure, Benoliel has deep respect for the music and feels challenged whenever he picks up his violin.
“Every piece of music put in front of me is a challenge, whether I know it well or it’s new,” he said.
He cites an example of a piece he and his group recently played − Mozart’s Piano Trio in B Flat.
“I love it!” he said. “And I’ve played it a number of times. And, as amateur musicians, we played very well. But the whole time I wished I could play it even better. The greater the piece, the more challenging.”
Besides playing with his varied ensembles, Benoliel practices daily at home, usually for two hours. Often his wife, Willo Carey, listens attentively.
“I love music!” said Carey, Manager of Donor Relations at WHYY. “I always enjoy listening to Peter practice.”
A special highlight is when she can listen to Benoliel playing his violin while his grandson Ben Hamilton plays the piano.
“They play together whenever Ben comes home from college,” said Carey. “It’s a wonderful connection,”
Even when he was a busy CEO, Benoliel enjoyed playing chamber music whenever he could.
“I started playing in the late l960s but I only played about 12 times a year. I didn’t have time for more,” he said .
He soon found a novel way to combine his love of chamber music with his business travels. He joined the Associated Chamber Music Players.
“It’s a worldwide organization of mostly non professional musicians,” he said. Members get listed in a global directory which includes their contact information and their instruments.
The organization opened new doors for the busy CEO.
“I was doing a lot of travel for my job, and my idea was, ‘I’m overseas often, so wouldn’t it be fun to play with other members when I’m traveling?’”
Indeed it was. “I made friends and played with musicians all over the world,” he said.
The globe-trotting violinist from Delco was even invited to become a honorary member of the Japanese Chamber Music Society.
“I traveled to Japan twice a year and made friends in Tokyo and Osaka,” he said. “And every time I went, I would play with these friends. Then some of the players said, ‘We want to make you an honorary member of our society.’”
Of course, he accepted, and is still proud of this honor. When one of the musicians he played with in Japan wrote a book about amateur musicians in Japan, three pages were devoted to the violinist from the U.S.
Benoliel’s commitment to music extends beyond playing in chamber music groups. He’s also provided leadership to varied music institutions. His current roles include serving as former chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Emeritus Trustee of the Curtis Institute of Music and Chairman Emeritus of Settlement Music School. Because of his leadership at Settlement, he knew all about the Adult Chamber Players even before he joined.
The experience of playing chamber music with other devoted amateur musicians is a pleasure like no other. At age 85, Benoliel’s enthusiasm and energy for this activity has not dimmed at all. He approaches his chamber music activities with youthful enthusiasm.
So is music the fountain of youth?
“I do think it helps to keep you young,” he said. “The secret of aging is staying engaged- whatever the activity. And I think music feeds the soul in a way that very few activities do. Without music − and my wife − I would be dead next week!”