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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Green Bay orchestra personable in virtual series opener

Critic At Large

Civic Symphony of Green Bay

Segment logo.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Civic Symphony of Green Bay has a certain style in its answer to the live-performance shutdown – a virtual series of performances.

The community orchestra posted its first offering in its “Fall 2020 Virtual Season” and linked it to https://youtu.be/wyeQYMFzKn8.

Here is a look-see:

Introducing the program and three-part series is Seong-Kyung Graham, music director.

She notes, “Although there are no in-person performances at this time, we are still at work trying to provide you with new ways for us to serve our community, which means we still have ongoing expenses. If you could possibly support us by going to our website, gbcivic.org, and click on ‘donate’ button or sending us a check to ‘Civic Symphony of Green Bay, P.O. Box, 302, Green Bay, WI, 54305,’ it would help us continue our mission.”

The videos are free, and people can be notified when each video is released by subscribing to the orchestra’s emails or following its Facebook page.

The segment is titled “Movement I, Introduction,” featuring string specialists Blakeley Menghini, principal violist, and Michael Dewhirst, principal cellist.

Along with performing in a home setting – of course, not of a studio aural level – each musician tells personal stories. The latter is a bonus.

Blakeley Menghini

She grew up in northern Illinois and was inspired to her career by her first viola teacher, with whom she studied from age 10 through high school. Blakeley Menghini earned a doctoral degree in viola performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2018.

She is a member of the professional Griffon String Quartet(background in a review), formed by Midsummer’s Music.

Blakeley Menghini started playing in the orchestra in 2019: “I love the environment and just the attitudes of everyone involved. I think it’s really fun to get together with everybody on Thursdays.”

She describes the difference between playing in a quartet and an orchestra: “There is no conductor in quartet playing. As a quartet violist, I have to play the part of the viola section, sometimes the part of the percussion section, sometimes the part of the oboe section or bassoon section, and I also have to play the part of maybe one-fourth of the conductor. It’s sort of like each member of the string quartet has to share the leadership where in a symphony orchestra most of the leadership falls upon the conductor and the concertmaster. I really love doing both so I get varied experiences.”

Blakeley Menghini. (Screenshot)

Her pieces:

+ Frank Bridge’s “Spring Song” – of a warm melancholy.

+ Edward Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour” – a romantic aura.

+ Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” – previously recorded with piano accompaniment and of cleaner aural quality as it embraces an atmosphere like an idyllic day, as if on a stroll when all is right with the world.

“I really love the deep sound and the lower pitch in contrast to the higher-pitched violin,” she says of the viola.

Michael Dewhirst

He is dressed casually in athletic shorts and T-shirt with his cello between his legs. As he speaks, his dog plays with a squeaky toy.

“It’s a very strange time to be a musician. You know, at least in part, we thrive on the ability to interact with each other in person and with our audiences, which often are quite numerous. It feels very strange to be sort of shouting into the void towards my I-pad to film things and to also teach online with my students in my studio. It’s just very bizarre. These are strange times, but we are going to continue to work just like we always do to improve ourselves and to continue putting art and music out there into the community.”

Michael Dewhirst grew up in New York state and has played cello for 37 years: “I started when I was 10. I wanted to play guitar, and the orchestra teacher was kind of crafty. She said, ‘Hey, we don’t have guitars, but, you know, you need to have big, strong hands to play guitar, and if you play cello, you’ll get big, strong hands.’ Here I am, a long time later, with big strong hands, and I never really learned how to play guitar.”

He also performs with the Weidner Center Philharmonic, Manitowoc Symphony, the Praise Band at Celebration Church and Vic Ferrari Symphony on the Rocks, among other entities. His playing is split: “(M)ore than half as a free-lance musician is in the rock world; other half is split between standard classical and extremely new chamber music.”

Honors came to Michael Dewhirst as a youth, notably a statewide honors month of orchestra studies which included a performance of “Pines of Rome” by Ottorino Respighi: “I remember during the last movement, called ‘Pines of the Apian Way,’ where it’s sort of a tone poem. It’s this low, insistent beat that starts off quiet. It’s pictorially depicting the Roman army victoriously returning to Rome. And so this steady march just grows and grows and grows until the brass is going insane and everyone’s playing. I was experiencing such an exhilaration, and I realized that that’s what I wanted to do. It was like, ‘Wow, this is great, this is spine-tingling, this is so exciting.’ Obviously, not every musical experience I’ve had since then is there, but you still get that flavor. And there are times when it’s just the same, and that’s why I think we’re sort of junkies. It’s sort of what we seek out as live performers, which, again, makes this time in our lives very difficult because that interaction with the audience is just not there for us.”

Michael Dewhirst. (Screenshot)

His pieces:

+ Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 2 in D Minor: Movement IV, Sarabande” – deep, thoughtful, artistic.

+ Mark Summer’s “Julie-O” (Mark Summer is a modern composer known for his percussion and pizzicato techniques combined with bowed jazz and fiddle phrasing) – hands only at the open and close – sometimes with percussive elements – with bowed section in the middle; the piece opens with a feeling of a festive, bright and lively day and closes with the mood growing quieter like coming to the end of a day.

***

Ahead in the virtual video series: “Movement II,” released in November, will focus on learning about the different instruments and sections of the orchestra. “Movement III,” released in December, will showcase some smaller ensembles from the orchestra’s volunteer musicians, who come from many backgrounds.

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