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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘The Griffon presented by Midsummer’s Music’ enlightens

Critic At Large

Griffon String Quartet as a trio

Performing are, from left, Vinicius Sant’Ana, violin; Ryan Louie, cello; and Blakeley Menghini, viola. (Warren Gerds screenshot)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – With the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the unusual is usual these days.

The Griffon String Quartet is accustomed to the unusual from even before the wheels came off so many wagons.

Sunday afternoon, the ensemble was seen in a virtual concert performing as a trio, the sounds being akin to dessert in classical music.

Performed were two movements from two works, the first from 1902 and the second from 1788.

The musicians – Vinicius Sant’Ana on violin, Blakeley Menghini on viola and Ryan Louie on cello – performed in black concertwear, complete with black masks. Their setting is seen above – devoid of furnishings, perhaps for sound purposes.

The online presentation took place in two parts, both of which can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/MidsummersMusic/. The first includes introductions of the works and then the performances. The second contains background on the group and the performers by way of Allyson Fleck, executive director of Midsummer’s Music, which fosters the ensemble and much more in the region.

Music being music, music speaks it own language. Here is the program including my interpretation of what is played, in words:

+ “Serenade in C Major, Op. 10, movements I and II” – Ernst von Dohnányi

   The first movement opens robustly. It continues with certain vigor and strength. Sturdy.

   The second movement includes, in part, the feelings of romantic gentleness and of a churning physicality, then shifts to a flow with sweetness, capped by a tender finale by violin. Warm.

+ “Divertimento K.563, movements I and IV” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

   The first movement is genteel with a flow. A rhythm is like spoken poetry, though from three voices. Another impression is of three conversations at once, with a general enthusiasm about something the three have experienced from three perspectives – let’s say the arrival of a storm. The fourth movement continues the music-is-music complex web of individual playing, not always meshing but sometimes headed in the same direction – different yet fitting together. Wolfgang is a gang of intricacies.  

Discussion group. (Screenshot)

In the Zoom-like conversation/interviews after the performance, Allyson Fleck notes a belief that the ensemble may be the first residency of its kind in the nation. The well-trained and deft players were hired from different places to form a quartet in 2018 to perform in varied venues in Northeastern Wisconsin and beyond and to teach in Door and Brown counties. The quartet decides its programs.

Allyson Fleck asks the musicians individual questions, each in his or her home.

Blakeley Menghini talks about how a quartet (or trio) has no conductor and how this ensemble’s players make decisions together. She notes that a colleague said playing in the group “is like having multiple teachers in the room” to present new ideas.

Ryan Louie talks about how the group is in the process of hiring a violinist to fill a vacancy, with candidates interviewed online from such places as Los Angles, Louisiana, Cleveland and Chicago.

Vinicius Sant’Ana talks about teaching – online – students such as those in Green Bay Washington Middle School’s orchestra and admiring their dedication and organization. He says he feels humbled by how they are keeping up in hard times.

Allyson Fleck asks the players about how they will be spending Thanksgiving Day. It will be couples-only for the three (with one brother-in-law) along with a combined seven cats.

The concert is pleasant, and the discussion afterward is engaging.

Virtual programs ahead: Dec. 20 at 3 p.m., The Griffon will perform works from its classical repertoire and holiday favorites. Additional virtual performances are planned in March and May 2021.

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

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