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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Griffon strings’ holiday concert colors Bach and favorites

Critic At Large

Midsummer’s Music’s Griffon String Quartet

Vinicius Sant’Ana (violin), Ryan Louie (cello) and Blakeley Menghini (viola) perform the holiday concert as The Griffon Quartet. (Midsummer’s Music photo)

SISTER BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – By rights, the recorded holiday offering of The Griffon String Quartet should have started at the end – a Zoom-like session with the musicians giving a few hints on what makes them tick.

The Griffon is a classical music ensemble devoted to performing and teaching primarily in Door and Brown counties. Instead of the word “a,” the phase “the only” may be more appropriate.

At present, the group’s holiday concert is on YouTube via its parent organization, Midsummer’s Music, which may be found at Listening is free, with donations accepted.

The quartet is temporarily three: Vinicius Sant’Ana (violin), Blakeley Menghini (viola) and Ryan Louie (cello).

In the concert portion of the 46-minute video, they perform two works in Union Congregational Church in Green Bay:

One. Ten of the “Goldberg Variations” by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged by Dmitry Sitkovetsky.

In the introduction, Ryan Louie tells of how pianist Glenn Gould resuscitated the work. Ryan Louie also speaks of how string shadings are different than those of the piano.

A few of my thoughts from the listening: Individual variations are like performing lace, like muscularly vigorous, like a regal aura, like a scurrying thought, like an easing into gracefulness, like a conversation first between two and eventually between an energized three, like a layered musical tapestry and, finally, like an atmosphere of reverence befitting the setting for the performance.

Two: “Christmas Lights,” a medley arranged by Catherine McMichael – “Deck the Halls,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Toyland” and “Jingle Bells.”

The instrumentation adds scope to the music. The nuances of the cello, violin and viola can go more places than human voice can sing, plus humans can’t really sing pizzicato.  New dimensions thrive on complex textures. The arrangement is artistic.

After the performance, the members of the group ask three questions of one another. The topics are musical inspiration during the pandemic, favorite moments with the ensemble and new hobbies during the pandemic.

Personalities come to the fore. Mutual admiration and respect are present. Ryan Louie comments on “an amazing coincidence that this happened.”

Listeners find out how the group enjoys going out to eat together at a specific restaurant after teaching Tuesdays at the Fine Arts Institute of Green Bay East High, Vinnie Sant’Ana started playing ping-pong with his brother in-law, Blakeley and her husband try to go on daily walks and she picked up watercolor painting, while Ryan and his girlfriend have taken to cooking recipes from other countries in a systematic sequence – by the alphabet.

Much more is in the personal/personality part of the recording – putting a human face to elaborate music played from notes on printed pages.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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