Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Concert in De Pere Will Help Introduce Northeastern Wisconsin Ensemble

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Did you know Northeastern Wisconsin has its own professional resident classical music string quartet?

Known at the Griffon String Quartet, the group that has been working in the region since September will have a coming-out party of sorts this week.

A concert is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 9, in Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College. Admission is free.

The program: Ludwig van Beethoven’s “String Quartet in B-flat Major, Opus 18, No. 6,” Joan Tower’s “String Quartet No. 5 ‘White Water’” and Claude Debussy’s “String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 10.”

Members of the quartet are (from left in the photo above) Blakeley Menghini, viola; Vinicius Sant’ Ana, violin; Ryan Louie, cello; and Roy Meyer, violin.

Three of the members’ paths have led through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with Sant’ Ana taking an international route.

“These are happy, talented musicians, and we just want to get them out there,” Allyson Fleck said of the coming concert.

Fleck is executive director and assistant artistic director of Midsummer’s Music, the organization that keyed the formation of the Griffon String Quartet. Note, the small “t” is on purpose. The 17th-century sailing ship Le Griffon is part of Great Lakes maritime lore, and there is mystery about its wreck to this day.

Joining in the new musical venture are St. Norbert College of De Pere and the Green Bay Area Public Schools, notably the Fine Arts Institute of Green Bay East High School.

“St. Norbert is interested because it is starting a strings program, and this would be a way to have an artist-in-residence group,” Fleck said. “St. Norbert supports the quartet by giving the quartet rehearsal space. St. Norbert is also sponsoring the program that the quartet is presenting on March 9. St. Norbert is also going to sponsor a Strings Day, the first that it has ever done, on April 28. Local schoolchildren will be able to come and study strings for a day.

“With the Green Bay Area Public Schools, it started with Fine Arts Institute and (its inspiration) Mary Franz and the success of that program. What the schools are doing now is trying to reach more children in more schools. We’ve talked a lot about feeder schools to Washington Middle School. We’re going to be working with elementary schools that go into Washington Middle School. The quartet will be there to teach the students where the schoolteachers need supplement from to be able offer instruction. We’ll also be able to perform, educate these kids and hopefully not only will be see a strings program building but that of music appreciation, better attitudes, good attendance – all the things that go along with exposing kids to the arts into school programs.”

The project was started in a three-year structure for the purposes of fitting the standard grant-seeking process. “But our view is that this will be a permanent activity,” Fleck said.

“This three-level partnership is to bring a string quartet residency group to Brown and Door counties from September to May and to bring it to education, outreach, performance, community centers, people with disabilities, Boys and Girls Club, Door County libraries and the YMCA,” Fleck said. “We’re involved in a lot of different programs with community partners. We launched this program last September with the four musicians who are involved. The outcome is to embed them into the community.”

Coming activity includes an appearance March 8 at Bay Port High School, the concert March 9 at St. Norbert College, an appearance March 15 at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Ephraim, an appearance April 16 as part of the Einstein Series at the Boys and Girls Club of Door County in Sturgeon Bay, an appearance April 19 as part of B Double Sharp for patients with Alzheimer’s/dementia and their caregivers at Scandia in Sister Bay, the String Day appearance April 28 at St. Norbert College, an appearance May 25 at Sister Bay Pavilion and an appearance May 26 at Woodwalk Gallery in Egg Harbor.

The activities of the Griffon String Quartet are an expansion of the Midsummer’s Music mission.

“Previously, the mission of Midsummer’s Music was to bring radically appealing programs to Door County in the months of June, July, August and finishing on Labor Day,” Fleck said. “But we want to bring music to audiences of all ages throughout the year, not just the summer season.”

Made up of professional musicians, Midsummer’s Music has presented dozens of chamber music concerts each summer for 28 years in widely varied venues, primarily in Door County but at times in Brown County. Midsummer’s Music was founded by James Berkenstock (artistic director) and his wife, Jean Berkenstock.

Fleck said the hopes and expectations for the March 9 concert start with “awareness and to reach more audience.

“The students at St. Norbert are aware that the quartet is there. The students have approached the musicians, they’ve talked to them, they would like to hear them in concert – so that’s great.

“The concert is also to reach out to community members that we know do have a relationship with Midsummer’s Music but, again, just to say, ‘Hey, we’re here, not just in summer but we’re here in what we would call the off season.’

“This is a young group with a lot of interest in playing new music. The musicians are going to play traditional and classics as well, but with their age comes a lot of enthusiasm. Everybody who’s seen the quartet play thinks they just love to watch the players play; they’re so engaged. And when they write for us – like articles of interest or responses – they’re just so happy to have a string quartet as a professional job. These are happy, talented musicians, and we just want to get them out there.”

A bonus of having the players in the Griffon String Quartet on hand surfaced Friday night at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts in the “Beethoven Choral Fantasy” concert of the Dudley Birder Chorale with 224 singers and an orchestra. Performing as part of the orchestra were Louie, Menghini and Sant’ Ana.

From the website, the players’ biographies:

+ Ryan Louie, cello, is a chamber musician, orchestral player and music educator. Throughout his career, he has performed in England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Korea and, most recently, Switzerland and Taiwan, in renowned venues such as Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, the National Concert Hall of Taipei, Severance Hall, Suntory Hall, and Weill Recital Hall.

Louie’s awards include from the Cleveland Cello Society Agnew Bach Prize, Marion Feldman Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music, Long Island Arts Alliance Scholar-Artist Award of Excellence, the Associated Music Teacher’s League Henry Levine and Blanche S. Levy Award, the Mary and George Wilkins Memorial Cello Scholarship at Carnegie Mellon University, the Max Pirani Prize, the Wolfe Wolfinsohn String Quartet Prize, and the Bache Fund at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Louie has participated in the Amsterdam Cello Biënnale, Caroga Lake Music Festival, Cello Akademie Rütesheim, Great Mountain Music Festival in Pyeong Chang, Pacific Music Festival, and Palazzo Ricci Montepulciano Festival.

In conjunction with his private teaching studio, Louie has also been on the faculties of City Music Kids in Cleveland, the Chamber Music Connection in Columbus, and the Aurora School of Music in Aurora, Ohio.

Born in Queens, New York, Louie began studying the cello at age 10. He has completed degrees at Carnegie Mellon University and the Cleveland Institute of Music. His teachers include Mark Kosower, Dr. Melissa Kraut, Anne Martindale Williams, and Marion Feldman. Louie has also studied at the Manhattan School of Music and Royal Academy of Music in London. Throughout his time in Ohio, Ryan has performed regularly with the Akron, Canton, and Toledo Symphony orchestras.

+ Blakeley Menghini, viola, is a 2018 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, where she studied viola with Sally Chisholm. While earning her Doctor of Musical Arts, Menghini was a member of the Hunt Quartet, a competitive graduate group that focused on both formal performances and educational concerts for children through the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Up Close and Musical” program.

During her studies she also held a private studio in Madison and served as adjunct professor of viola and violin at Beloit College. Before moving to Wisconsin, Blakeley wrote and taught a music appreciation curriculum for the Lahr-Well Academy, a private K-12 school in Edwardsville, Illinois, and served as adjunct professor of violin and viola at Greenville University, where she also directed the school’s chamber orchestra.

Menghini has performed in master classes with Alban Gerhardt, Nobuko Imai, Laurie Smukler, the St. Lawrence Quartet, and the Arianna Quartet. She has participated in the Arianna Chamber Music Festival, the Northern Lights Chamber Music Festival, and the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Blakeley’s past teachers include Victoria Voumard (Greenville University, bachelor of arts) and Tony Devroye (Northern Illinois University, master of music and PC).

+ Roy Meyer, violin, started studies at age 4 with Kyoko Fuller at the American Suzuki Talent Education Center in Stevens Point. Meyer went on to pursue a bachelor of music in violin performance at University of Wisconsin-Madison and continued his education earning a master of music at University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. At New York University, he pursued a certificate in advance string studies before settling in Chicago. Meyer’s primary teachers have included David Perry, Carolyn Stuart, Gregory Fulkerson, Naoko Tanaka and Laurie Hamilton.

As an educator, Meyery has conducted violin master classes at the Apollo Music Festival, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Virginia Tech, SUNY New Paltz, Indiana State University, and the Aber Suzuki Center on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Meyer also served as visiting professor of violin at Illinois Wesleyan University in 2018.

With an especially passionate nature for orchestral repertoire, Meyer has been concertmaster of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra since 2015 and is a frequent substitute violinist with the Sarasota Orchestra, and Chicago Philharmonic. As a chamber musician, Meyer enjoys maintaining musical relationships with friends and performing at the Apollo Music Festival in Houston, Minnesota and at the Illinois Chamber Music Festival in Bloomington, Illinois. Film credits include: Amazon Prime’s “Mozart in the Jungle.”

+ Vinicius Sant’ Ana, violin, earned his masters of music degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018under the guidance of Soh-Hyun Altino. In 2016, Sant’ Ana received his bachelor of music degree from the University of North Dakota, where he studied with the Argentinian violinist Alejandro Drago.

As an educator, Sant’ Ana served as a violin teacher for four years at Arioso School of Music and the Northern Valley Youth Orchestras program, where he provided group and individual lessons during his studies in Grand Forks, North Dakota. While pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sant’ Ana’s Hunt Quartet Teaching Assistantship included the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Up Close & Musical” program, where the quartet makes regular visits to Dane County elementary schools, introducing K-3 students to the basic elements of music. Sant’ Ana has been teaching private violin lessons since 2007.

As a member of The University of North Dakota String Quartet and the Red River Trio, Sant’ Ana toured China, Japan, Czech Republic, Brazil and the United States.

Sant’Ana is also the recipient of awards including Sao Paulo Young Artist Competition, Grand Forks Symphony Competition and Bismarck Symphony Competition. Active as an orchestra musician, Vinicius performs regularly with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra and has performed with leading Brazilian orchestras such as the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, Mato Grosso Symphony Orchestra, and Municipal Theater Orchestra of São Paulo. As a concertmaster of the Pão de Açúcar Chamber Orchestra from 2007 to 2012, Sant’ Ana played in major concert halls of Brazil and abroad. During fall 2014, Sant’ Ana was invited by the Pão de Açúcar Chamber Orchestra to play as a soloist and concertmaster in the orchestra’s debut at Carnegie Hall.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.

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