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Highly regarded quartet to make return appearance at Bethel

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Arianna String Quartet, making a return appearance at Bethel College, will fill the Administration Building chapel with the sounds of Beethoven, Stock and Tchaikovsky.

The St. Louis-based quartet, which was last in Newton and North Newton in spring 2005, will perform Sunday, March 11, at 3 p.m. The concert, part of the Greer Endowment for visiting artists at Bethel College, is free and open to the public.

The Arianna String Quartet has traveled all over North America as well as in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America, including critically acclaimed debuts at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. They have also made radio appearances on Canada’s CBC, several times as part of Chicago’s prestigious Dame Myra Hess Series and on National Public Radio’s “Performance Today.”

The group is comprised of John McGrosso and David Gillham on violin, Joanna Mendoza on viola and Kurt Baldwin on cello. The quartet was founded in 1992 and its name comes from the title of one of Claudio Monteverdi’s first operas, because “we try to emulate the beauty of vocal music,” Baldwin says.

McGrosso has appeared as a soloist with the Chicago and Saint Louis Symphony Orchestras. He has both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Juilliard School. He has been hailed as “first class, with a robust sound and technique that seems to come from the center of the person” by the Boston Globe. McGrosso has been the first violinist of the Arianna String Quartet since 1998.

Gillham holds his bachelor’s degree from the University of Manitoba and master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory. 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.

Mendoza, the most recent addition to the quartet, has been praised by New York Stringer magazine for her “lush, sonorous and assertive tone.” Recent appearances include master classes and recitals at Renmin University in Beijing, China, the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin. Originally from Milwaukee, Mendoza earned her degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Juilliard School.

Baldwin began playing cello at age 12 in the Iowa City public schools music program – which, incidentally, led to a personal connection for him in the Newton community, with Eric Massanari, pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church.

Baldwin studied at Augustana College and received his bachelor’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory, with a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory. He is the last remaining founding member of the Arianna String Quartet and is associate professor of music at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where the quartet has been in residence since 2000.

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, he was principal cellist of the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the United States.

The Arianna String Quartet initially visited Bethel in 2005 when, in addition to giving a concert in the Ad Building chapel, they performed Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ” at Shalom Mennonite Church.

“At the time of the quartet’s first visit, we were interested in featuring both strings and chamber music,” said Bethel Professor of Music Karen Bauman Schlabaugh. “They were brought to Bethel primarily because of the high level of their artistry. We heard about them in part because Kurt Baldwin was a high school friend of Eric Massanari.”

The quartet’s return this year is due to the proximity to Bethel in their performance schedule.

“The quartet is in residence in St. Louis,” Schlabaugh said, “and is scheduled to perform in the Kansas City area [March 9]. Since they were going to be close by, we were able to easily tie the two engagements together. We are excited that they will be presenting both a concert and convocation [Monday, March 12].”

For their Bethel appearance on Sunday, March 11, the quartet will perform Quartet in F minor, Op. 95 "Serioso" by Beethoven, the Ninth String Quartet by David Stock (composed in 2011) and Quartet No. 3 in E-flat minor, Op. 30 by Tchaikovsky.

The performance is part of the Greer Visiting Artist Series. The first Greer Lecture for 2011-12 was printmaker and collaborative artist John Hitchcock, who gave a lecture and a printmaking workshop and whose work was on display in the Fine Arts Center Gallery during February.

“The Greer Fine Arts Endowment funds events in music, art and theater and includes a variety of events,” Schlabaugh said. “Music events normally involve a performance as well as a session [with] students. Recent Greer events in music have brought jazz artist Bob Mintzer and composer Paul Rudy to Bethel for residencies.”

The Greer Endowment helps bring artists to Bethel to perform and speak throughout the year. The late Dr. Robert C. and Amparo Goering of Wichita established the endowment in memory of their friend Milford E. Greer, Jr., a native of Kansas who was interested in the arts and excelled in them. In addition to Schlabaugh, the Greer trustees, who plan the endowed programs, are John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts, and David Long, associate professor of art.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

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