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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: COVID-19 breaks more new ground in concerts in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Weidner Philharmonic String Quartet

Program image.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Something new was illuminated Tuesday night under the COVID-19 moon. In that light for the first time was this: Weidner Philharmonic String Quartet.

While mounting a string quartet is saying something, Tuesday’s statement was low key.

In the run-up to the concert and in the concert, the musicians’ names were not listed. So I asked.

At the fore in music introductions was Luis Fernandez, violin, of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Music faculty.

He was joined in the livestreamed concert by Audrey Nowak, violin, a prominent teacher and player in area orchestras; Blakeley Menghini, viola, of Midsummer Music’s Griffon String Quartet of Door County and greater Green Bay; and Michael Dewhirst, cello, an associate lecturer for UWGB Music and player in a wide range of situations.

To play in a string quartet takes expertise, experience and flexibility. The four fit the bill.

Luis Fernandez, Audrey Nowak, Blakeley Menghini, Michael Dewhirst. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

Kellogg’s Cereal would call what the quartet offered a Variety Pack – only the offerings are much more substantial than Sugar Pops and Rice Krispies.

Four selections were performed as a journey from the ornate Baroque era to the prismatic 21st century. Together, the works massaged the mind – the established, the new, the seldom explored.

The players performed in concert black wear, including pandemic protocol masks.

The concert was livestreamed from Fort Howard Hall of Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Listening/viewing remains available on the center’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aXcGXgYvow.

The overall sound is solid, owing in part to the Rob and Cathy Riordan Family Foundation.

Here is the program, including impressions I wrote while listening – something of a fool’s mission because music laughs at words.

***

Program (approximately 50 minutes)

+ “Chacony in G minor for String Quartet” (arranged by Benjamin Britten) – Henry Purcell

     Dramatic, florid open. An open melancholy. Elegance. Sound is strong and firm, though execution is tense at times early on. Cello in portion seems to make a pronouncement to others, who then become more serious. Weaving of voices. Intensity trails off for a release/relaxed close.

+ “String Quartet No. 6 in D major” – Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745 – 1799)

   I. Allegro Assai

     Quick, bright, light aura. Festive. Happy. Celebratory. String notes seem to be laughing at times. Players in a stride of collaboration/musical camaraderie.

   II. Rondeau

     Image of a regal ball. Light-footed. Gorgeous gowns, men spiffy in grandiose glory of chiseled physiques and perfectly pressed jackets. Energy in air.

+ “String Quartet in G major” – Florence Price (1888-1953)

   Luis Fernandez introduces the piece with the story of Florence Price, swimming against the current and appealing to a conductor to perform her music and asking him to forget she is a woman, forget she is Black. The work is from 1929.

   Allegro

     Graceful open. Lush and warm. Yearning in violin. Seems a discord in other levels of atmosphere. Moves into firm cello voice. Flow from multiple directions. Passages of agreement, then violin is on its own in creating direction. Dramatic close.

   Andante moderato – Allegretto

     Night falls gently, peacefully. Dreamy. Comforting. Moves to an aura of a chorus together, each voice adding an embrace of its own. Shift to an interesting “story,” told with a shifting pacing of a jovial storyteller. Bit of spiritual tone. Violin plays “tears” and “aches” of heart to a past tenderness. A loved memory.  

+ “Verge for String Quartet” – Michelle McQuade Dewhirst, who composes and more as a member of the UWGB Music faculty.  

     Excited burst, with drama. Notes are shards. Rolling note on cello. Others add fragments. Violin cries long, haunting cries. Title has a certain tension. Is presented. One sequence an urban cacophony in the street. Long note that changes on violin, while cello seems to moan and other instruments lament on the side. Not sure what is impending, but it seems to be personally momentous. A dramatic arrival, important, challenging, and seems ominous but can be a positive despite the weight.

***

The Weidner Philharmonic is a product of the university. The orchestra was just getting going when COVID-19 threw everything for a loop. A bonus in all the loop de loops has been opportunity. Such as a Weidner Philharmonic String Quartet. A performance with such a configuration might not have happened except for circumstances. That’s my interpretation, which could be wrong.

Side trip: A captain of industry in Green Bay once spoke of his love for string quartet music and how he got enjoyment from it as he traveled. He was a serious hobbyist who owned one of the famous FINEST instruments. He spoke of being able to travel to any large city and find like-minded souls to play quartets – for fun and enjoyment. Another Green Bay businessman – viola was his instrument – told of playing in many string quartets locally. His repertoire included 150 such works. “Music is as important as a sermon,” he said.

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