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Local link: Quartet makes Bethel connection through cellist’s friendship with Newton pastor

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN.--Although the Arianna String Quartet is based in St. Louis, there’s a definite local connection for this spring’s guest artists in the Greer Lecture Series at Bethel College. Cellist Kurt Baldwin, the only remaining founding member of the quartet, is a childhood friend of Eric Massanari, pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton.

It’s because of that connection that Arianna will be performing and giving master classes at Bethel on Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19, as well as playing at Shalom on Sunday, March 20.

Baldwin was in 4th grade when his family moved to Iowa City, Iowa. On the first day of school, he discovered that the boy sitting in front of him also lived just around the corner. The two have been friends ever since.

Since Massanari is a violinist, "We played in quartets in high school," Baldwin recalls. "We even did a concert in Austria, on a high school trip.

"I spent half my childhood at Eric’s house," Baldwin continues, "and he spent half his at mine. When Arianna plays in Michigan near where Eric’s parents live, they come to hear us, and it’s always great to catch up."

It happens that Bethel professor of music Karen Schlabaugh, who coordinates the Greer Lecture Series, is a member of Shalom Mennonite Church. A couple of years ago, Massanari says, "I mentioned to Karen that I knew of this quartet that enjoyed performing and doing master classes, and that if Bethel ever wanted a high quality string quartet for that kind of event, Arianna would be great."

Last summer, Massanari and his family were visiting Baldwin in St. Louis. They looked at the dates for which Arianna was scheduled to be at Bethel and realized it was the weekend of Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday in the Christian year.

One of Arianna’s favorite pieces to play is Haydn’s "The Seven Last Words of Christ." "We play it at least once a year, often several times," Baldwin says.

The quartet could come and play in Shalom’s worship service before heading back to St. Louis on Sunday, Baldwin told Massanari, who says, "I jumped at the chance."

"It will be an opportunity to see Eric at work," Baldwin says, "and another chance for us to collaborate.

"Arianna has done ‘The Seven Last Words’ in a number of churches," he continues, "and it’s been part of many different sorts of presentations. There have been pastors who used it as a springboard for their message and others who just let the music speak."

There are both choral and instrumental arrangements of "The Seven Last Words of Christ." The performance at Shalom will be mostly instrumental music interspersed with readings.

The Arianna String Quartet was founded in 1992. The name "Arianna" comes from the title of one of Claudio Monteverdi’s first operas (from 1608), because "we try to emulate the beauty of vocal music," Baldwin says.

Since its founding, Arianna has won several prestigious national awards and has made successful debuts at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and Suntory Hall in Tokyo. They have played with Isaac Stern in Carnegie Hall master classes and have been heard on Canada’s CBC radio and National Public Radio’s "Performance Today" as well as in performances all over North America and in France and Japan.

After three years in residence at Eastern Michigan University, the Arianna String Quartet was appointed artist-teachers and string quartet in residence at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Arianna violinist John McGrosso has appeared as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony and the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Juilliard, and a performer’s certificate from Northern Illinois University. McGrosso was a member of the Saint Louis Symphony from 1992-99.

Violinist David Gillham, the newest member of Arianna, holds his bachelor’s degree from the University of Manitoba, master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory and performer’s diploma from Indiana University. Since 1998, he has been performing with his wife, pianist Chiharu Iinuma, including recent concerts in China, Canada and the United States. In 2003, Gillham received the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee medal in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the arts.

Robert Meyer, viola, studied at the Manhattan School of Music as a high school student, and holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Rice University in Houston, Texas. An experienced and versatile chamber musician, Meyer was a founding member of the New Fromm Players, a contemporary music ensemble in residence at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass. From 2001-2003, he performed as Assistant Principal Violist of the Richmond Symphony, where he was active in the symphony’s outreach programs.

Kurt Baldwin began playing cello at age 12 in the Iowa City public schools music program. He studied at Augustana College, received his bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory and earned a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory. He also holds a performer’s certificate from Northern Illinois University. As a founding member of the Arianna String Quartet, Baldwin has won grand prizes in the Fischoff, Coleman and Carmel competitions, and has given concerts throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, France and Japan. For several summers, Baldwin was the principal cellist of the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the United States.

The Arianna String Quartet will give a presentation on string quartet literature on Fri., March 18, at 1 p.m., will perform that evening at 7:30 p.m., and will give master classes on Saturday, March 19, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., all in the Administration Building chapel on the Bethel College campus. These events are part of the Greer Lecture Series.

The late Dr. Robert C. Goering, a native of Moundridge and a 1948 graduate of Bethel College, and his wife Amparo Goering, Wichita, initiated the Greer Fine Arts Endowment at Bethel College in 1979 in memory of Milford E. Greer, Jr., a native of Geuda Springs, Kan., and a close friend of the Goerings. Greer was interested in literature and music and excelled as an artist. He died in an auto accident in 1972 at age 45. The Greer Lecture Series brings visiting artists and scholars in the areas of music, visual arts or theater to the Bethel campus.

In addition, Arianna will present Haydn’s "The Seven Last Words of Christ" at Shalom Mennonite Church, 800 E. First Street in Newton, in the Sunday morning worship service on March 20, which begins at 10:45.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, call (316) 284-5269.

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