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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Griffon String Quartet engages with uncommon works in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College department of music

Roy Meyer, violin, from left; Vinicius Sant’ Ana, violin; Ryan Louie, cello; and Blakeley Menghini, viola, form Griffon String Quartet. They appeared on “Local 5 Live.” (WFRV-TV)

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV)

Imagine sitting in a rowboat. You are on a river, and you are letting the water take its course. It a pleasant day. Warm, dry air wafts across your brow. An idyllic romantic aura embraces you. As the boat carries downstream, the river changes personality. The shore line narrows, and the boat speeds up. In deep water, you feel the water’s muscle beneath you. The boat drifts beneath trees, and the mood darkens. Suddenly away from the limbs and leaves, the sun is intense. And so the journey goes, ever changing, complex personality upon commanding mood upon shift and torque and push/pull.

Paul Hindemith never thought of that when he wrote his first string quartet composition as a teenager. But at least one mind imagined that in a performance Friday night by Griffon String Quartet.

Music is music, a language unto itself.

Give the ol’ noggin free rein, and it can make a whole lot out of incredibly intertwined notes on a page performed by eight hands manipulating four instruments with 16 strings altogether. And played excellently/elegantly, mind you.

Griffon String Quartet performed in Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College on a “weird” day.

Violin player Roy Meyer termed it so from the stage.

Indeed, many finishing touches on evaporating sports, performance and school schedules had been pronounced officially a few hours before concert time. Coronavirus took a whack out of so, so much.

One nick was of Griffon String Quartet’s plan to include a pianist on this first of a series of four concerts in four days. The pianist’s travel plans had been scuttled. A work had to be struck from the Griffon String Quartet program.

Another nick was of the audience size. In the first place, it was to be limited to 40 persons for coronavirus reasons. The way it was, 15 people were in the hall, and four of them were the musicians.

Here’s the rub, though. The quartet had a novel reason to proceed. The performance of two selections was livestreamed to Facebook, and the performance will appear on the website of Griffon String Quartet’s parent: midsummersmusic.com.

Griffon String Quartet is a presence on the Northeastern Wisconsin fine arts scene as a collaborative entity of Midsummer’s Music of Door County, the Fine Arts Institute at Green Bay East High School and the St. Norbert College music department. Since 2018, the quartet has played concerts, taught and made promotional gigs, and sometimes individual players performed as part of area orchestras. In other words, the quartet is embedded.

The idea/project will continue, Allyson Fleck, executive director of Midsummer’s Music, said following Friday’s performance.

One thing was immediately apparent from the performance by Roy Meyer (violin), Vinicius Sant’ Ana (second violin), Ryan Louie (cello) and Blakeley Menghini (viola) is Dudley Birder Hall is rich in sound.

As music is music, live performance is live performance – an entity unto itself and an inspiring experience.

In live performance, there is no hiding the fact that Griffon String Quartet is solid… and fun to watch as body language and glances are part of visual action.

Selections were from roads less traveled.

Blakeley Menghini introduced “Strum” with a kind of eagerness – being that composer Jessie Montgomery plays violin in a string quartet and knows what-for about the genre. Blakeley Menghini said there is something special about a piece written by a quartet musician.

One mind conjured this during the listening: The cello speaks deeply, pensively, as if something dramatic in life has happened and it is now reflecting with the other instruments. Sound surges, as if remembering an important, bright event. Remembrances have varied textures as instruments are strummed or plucked, sometimes giving a frenetic feel. The piece is 10 or so complex, exploring minutes.

Roy Meyer, after noting the weirdness of the day, told of composer Paul Hindemith and his experience in the military (1917-1918) and the quartet composition Hindemith already had under his belt.

This work is close to the standard quartet realm, yet with a personality of its own.

The first movement is envisioned in the opening paragraph of this article. Such descriptions may be considered hogwash, but they are of an imagination, which is enriching and enjoyable to Numero Uno (in general terms).

Second movement: Hesitant, cautious steps as if in reverence at a funeral. A lighter tone arrives, as if of forgiveness or redemption versus grief/sadness. The march of pallbearers arrives and fades.

Third movement: Big flurries of scampering lightness and quickness are sandwiched around a bit of teenage mischief by Paul Hindemith. Through the first violin, he seems to strike a pose amid his impressionistic colorings, saying, “Now, look at me, I am going to play something noble, so listen up.” The friskiness reappears in the final note, a “dum” played with great flourish on a single stroke of the musicians’ bows raised high in unison.

Fourth movement: Imagine a home that’s grand almost to the point of grandiose. The master is of military bearing, a hero of legendary exploits. He is making a homecoming, and his lovely wife is greeting him with a sunny and warm smile. Vigor fills the air.

Music is music, the mind is the mind.

***

Program

“Strum” – Jessie Montgomery

“Quartet No. 1 in C Major, Opus 2” – Paul Hindemith

   Allegro brillante

   In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente

   Scherzo: Molto vivace

   Allegro ma non troppo

Musicians

Ryan Louie, cello

Blakeley Menghini, viola

Roy Meyer, violin

Vinicius Sant’ Ana, violin

***

NOTE: These schedule performances have been canceled in the due to coronavirus precautions: March 14, First Presbyterian Church, Green Bay; March 15, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Ephraim; and March 16, Swy, next to Third Avenue Playhouse, Sturgeon Bay.

VENUE: Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College is located in the former St. Boniface Church at the corner of Fourth and Grant streets in De Pere. It’s a multi-purpose space. For Griffon String Quartet, the hall seating is set up for approximately 200 persons, although the audience capacity was limited to 40 persons for coronavirus considerations. The walls and towering arches of the former church are painted cream white. Above are acoustical clouds. The raised stage is spacious and airy. Dudley Birder Hall was dedicated in January 2013. The St. Boniface building dates to the late 1800s and is a landmark for its classical exterior and clock tower.

THE PERSON: Known for an outgoing personality, enthusiasm and attention to detail, Dudley Birder started on the St. Norbert faculty in 1958 and produced musicals for the college and community into 2017 and concerts into 2018. He officially retires June 1, 2018. After Birder retired from teaching, he continued as conductor of the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College and artistic director of Music Theatre of St. Norbert College. He founded Music Theatre in 1962.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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