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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Lustrous notes of live, in-person artistry grace Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Griffon String Quartet

A peek at Saturday’s performance by, from left, Vinicius Sant’ Ana, Ryan Louie and Blakeley Menghini in SWY event space in Sturgeon Bay. (Warren Gerds)

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Ludwig strides in – 28 and in command of what he is doing.

“Let’s have at it,” he says.

Ludwig is a figure of strength.

Vigor pulses through his veins.

He excites.

He radiates.

He entices.

He is a force.

In reality, there is no Ludwig.

That Ludwig, age 28, was then – 1798 or so.

This aura of Ludwig is the now of Saturday May 29, 2021, in a place named SWY.

He – Ludwig van Beethoven – is present in music notes at an event that is a performance beyond a musical performance.

Ludwig and his music and the performers and the ambiance and the significance and the embrace of live performance generate a wave of earnest applause and cheers amid a standing ovation.

Very nice.

Refreshing after 14 months of maybes and a whole lot of nos.

The last time Griffon String Quartet performed live and in person, the setting was Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College in De Pere. The date, March 13, 2020, the day the HAMMER of the COVID-19 pandemic fell around the world.

In between, one player departed, live performance departed and the remaining three presented bon-bons of performances on the Internet as a way of keeping on keeping on and keeping its name out there.

A whole lot of searching had to be going on.

Add-ons to the online performances reveal the real-people personalities of Ryan Louie (cello), Blakeley Menghini (viola) and Vinicius Sant’ Ana (violin).

The three and their Midsummer’s Music foundational organization pursue a concept unique in Northeastern Wisconsin – a performing/teaching professional ensemble that operates in Door County and greater Green Bay.

When one wheel fell off the ensemble’s wagon last year, the remaining three were game to continue in the string trio genre. New adventures.

The ensemble will become four again in coming weeks as the three complete a hiring process. That was announced during Saturday’s event, which included other stuff:

+ The statement of what “live” means.

Instead of the muted images on a computer screen of the group’s recent performances, the black of the musicians’ concert wear bolted into eyeballs. The sound flew crisply into ears, instead of something nice but “other” from a computer not-really-very-nifty audio system.

+ The presence of musicians who know what for.

Each gave background on each composer, the tenor of the music to be played and elements to listen for – and then they delivered the refined, complex and demanding music with clarity in definite and defined performance.

+ Humanity.

Other living, breathing human beings were present to share the experience, to feel and react. What a concept, given the months of the distancing of electronics.

+ Each musician savored the event.

A sample from Blakeley Menghini: “Wow. It feels so good… It is a privilege and honor to play… Thank you for being here. It means a lot.”

+ Sound is lively in the space, an art gallery with no art on the walls at the moment.

Crisp. The front entrance area is all glass, yet street sounds remain outside, thanks to modern windows.




Ryan Louie, cello

Blakeley Menghini, viola

Vinicius Sant’ Ana, violin

++ “Baryton Trio” – Franz Josef Haydn

Created in the introduction is audience members are guests of a royal family in an intimate setting. Haydn would be playing viola. Music flows from sweetly regal to dance-like to a lively three-way conversatiom.

++ “String Trio w. 460” – Heitor Villa-Lobos

A highlight: The viola and cello pulse as the violin embraces a “song.”

++ “Divertimento K. 563” Allegro movement Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The introduction invites the picture of Mozart on viola and a sense of wonder at the virtuosity of his challenging creation. At times, the instruments speak in unified voice and sometimes their voices are heard as if from different sections of a grand garden.

++ “String Trio in G Major, Opus 9/1” – Ludwig van Beethoven

The thing is grand and playful and comforting and bright, all the while with strength and energy leading to a mad attack at the end.


Repeat performances (same program): Donald and Carol Kress Pavilion, Egg Harbor: 3 p.m. May 30; Woodwalk Gallery, Egg Harbor: 5 p.m. June 6



THE VENUE: SWY is located at 231 N. Third Ave. in downtown Sturgeon Bay. “S” “W”  “Y” are a person’s initials. With white walls and ceiling, its primary function is a visual art gallery. With exposed ventilation pipe running the length of the ceiling, exposed lighting coverage and two foot-square beams, the space has a loft feel. The floor is laminate wood. On the ceiling are eight six-lightbulb fixtures, with other fixtures for lighting artwork. The space is open and flexible, as for use of folding chairs for performances. The address once was that of the Door County Advocate newspaper, adjacent to Third Avenue Playhouse. A previous use of the address was stated as that of a grocery.

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