Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Green Bay orchestra finds renewal in famed works

Critic At Large

Civic Symphony of Green Bay

Concert image.

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – The essence of live performance was spoken of and displayed as the Civic Symphony of Green Bay presented the first concert of its 2021 season Saturday night.

Because of COVID-19 protocols of St. Norbert College, masks were required of the audience in Walter Theatre of Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts.

Because of new possibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concert was livestreamed to homes (or wherever).

Seong-Kyung Graham started her 17th year as conductor and artistic director by leading the orchestra in a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a traditional season-opener for many orchestras.

From there, popular and lustrous works flowed. It was a sweet concert with interesting moments.

+ Guest artist/violinist Samantha George in musical byplay with the orchestra’s cellist Ryan Louie in the “Winter” section of the beloved “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi.

Samantha George is a keen performer from the professional and teaching ranks (Lawrence University in Appleton), and Ryan Louie is, too, as a member of this area’s Griffon String Quartet. Their musical back-and-forth was like an Olympics figure-skating show – glistening tight curves on ice. Two of Ryan Louie’s Griffon String Quartet colleagues also play in the orchestra, joining a blend of skilled musicians from the community.

+ Notes about the survival of the organization.

It’s been a HARD time for the performing arts, and co-president Dan Marbes from the stage commended how this orchestra “discovered passion and resiliency within the organization.”

+ A long train running.

Saturday’s concert was the first in 595 days for the orchestra, Dan Marbes said.

Imagine a railroad crossing and sitting in a car and watching a train passing that’s 595 cars long. It’s the same kind of feeling, only worse, for performing arts folks.

+ A new place.

Walter Theatre is a new performance space for the organization. The orchestra will return there two more times this season.

It may be cozy on stage for a full orchestra, but the hall is built for fine arts performances.

+ The need for live.

Host Paul Oleksy emphasized the aura that live performance creates for listening – which is more than listening.

He compared it to a walk in the woods. It’s an experience that’s impossible to recreate. You can only see, hear and feel stuff if you are walking in the woods… or at a concert, he said.

It’s the opening seconds of Aaron Copland’s super-popular “Fanfare for the Common Man” with the percussive explosion jolting your brain to excitement, followed by the momentous dramatics of the trumpets. Paul Oleksy said that ran chills up his spine. Indeed.

It’s Samantha George, in the middle of the adored “The Four Seasons,” lofting her eyes upward and playing magnificently as if the notes were vapors in the air.

It’s Samantha George, as conductor for the work, as she sidles over to concertmaster Audrey Nowak to finesse just the right coordinated notes the two must play for just the right result.

That is not the stuff of recordings. It’s the fun and fascination of live – why orchestra concerts exist.

You get to feel the diverse majesty of “Appalachian Spring” or the bracing vitality of “The Four Seasons” – in this case performed very very well.

+ A fresh treat.

The only work on the program not from the golden phalanx of classical music popularity was Eric Whitacre’s “October,” chosen to embrace the season and month.

It flows with grace and beauty – wonders of nature in notes.

+ Exiting.

My thought is, “That was wonderful – hearing those classics again as they were meant to be heard and played by motivated musicians.”


Program: “Fall for All”

Conductor: Seong-Kyung Graham

Host: Paul Oleksy

Guest artist: Samantha George, violin

Part I

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

“Fanfare for the Common Man” – Aaron Copland

“Appalachian Spring: Suite for 13 Instruments” – Aaron Copland

Part II

“Autumn” from “The Four Seasons” – Antonio Vivaldi

       Samantha George, violin


   Adagio molto


“Winter” from “The Four Seasons” – Antonio Vivaldi

       Samantha George, violin

   Allegro non molto




Orchestra (season)

+ First violin: Audrey Nowak, concertmaster; Charlotte Bogda, Chris Williams, Diane Wallace, TJ Lutz, Samuel Bieneman, Anatole Wiering, Natalie Sturicz-Heiges

+ Second violin: Ji-Yeon Lee, principal; Claire Sternkopf, Patricia Wilson, Hannah Loveless, Barbara Akins, Mary Beth Williams, John Kolar

+ Viola: Blakeley Menghini, principal; Cyndee Giebler, Jill Vickers, Karin Barth, Kaleb Kohlmeyer, Caitlin Kirchner, Rebecca Proefrock

+ Cello: Ryan Louie, principal; Adam Korber, James Wagner, Steve Born, David Giebler, Mary Kozak, Leslie Unger

+ Bass: Lee Klemens, principal; Jane Kanestrom, James Wilke, Amy Warmenhoven

+ Flute: Rose Van Himbergen, principal

+ Clarinet: Timberly Kazmarek Marbes, principal

+ Bassoon: Rachel Richards, principal

+ Horn: William Klumb, principal; Barbara Fondow, Andrew Parks, Lisa Niermann

+ Trumpet: Dan Marbes, principal; Carisa Lueck, Adam Gaines

+ Trombone: William Burroughs, principal; Doak Baker, Tim Kiefer

+ Tuba: Tim Kozlovsky

+ Harpsichord: David Giebler

+ Piano: Lauren Pritzl

+ Percussion: Mindy Popke, principal; Aiden Trinker, Lauren Pritzl


NEXT: “Classics for the Community,” in person and livestreamed, 3 p.m. Nov. 14, at Green Bay Community Church.

THE VENUE: The 724-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

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