By Leah Jones, Features Editor
As the lightening flickered outside, the “Perfect Storm” raged inside the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the Arianna Strong Quartet’s opening performance on September 9. John McGrosso, violin, Julia Sakharova, violin, Joanna Mendoza, viola, and Kurt Baldwin, cello, have been full-time faculty at the University of Missouri–St. Louis since 2000, and are the ensemble-in-residence at the Touhill. The group formed in 1992 and has since performed on five continents and collaborated with many other world-class musicians.
Patron Al Levine simply stated, “They are the best.” Guest musician Richard Young, viola, agreed during the intermission. “They’re one of the best quartets in the world. And I hope you know how lucky you are,” he said to the crowd.
Despite being one of the best quartets in the world, Baldwin made the shocking announcement that due to the recent budget cuts at UMSL, the quartet had to “prove [their] value to the university.” If they are unable to raise enough money through ticket sales and memberships, Baldwin said that the four musicians would personally have to pay for the hall to continue performing there for the 2017-2018 school year.
“Are we ready for them to leave?” Young asked the somber audience.
Despite the dreary news and weather, the performance shone. The group performed “Quartet in A minor, Opera 13” by Felix Mendelssohn first. The piece is divided into four movements: “Adagio; Allegro vivace,” “Adagio non lento,” “Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto; Allegro di molto,” and “Presto; Adagio non lento.” Like many storms, the first movement picked up speed quickly. The musicians swayed with their instruments, resembling trees thrashed about by strong winds. The sequins on Sakharova’s gold dress and Mendoza’s silver dress flashed like lightning. The middle two movements formed the eye of the hurricane. Calm and serene, the violins pattered soft notes, and the cello plucked under them. The final movement picked up with the momentum from the first movement, bringing the opera around full circle.
The quartet played “String Quartet Number 3 ‘Mishima’,” by Phillip Glass next. The piece ebbed and flowed between lighter parts and deeper parts. Glass wrote the song for the 1985 film, “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” directed by Paul Schrader, which is about the Japanese writer, playwright, and activist Yukio Mishima. The titles of the movements in this piece reflect the parts of Mishima’s life: “1957: Award Montage,” “November 25 – Ichigaya,” “1962: Body Building,” “Grandmother and Kimitake,” “Blood Oath,” and “Mishima/Closing.”
For their final piece, the Arianna String Quartet played Beethoven’s “String Quintet in C Major, Opera 29 ‘Storm’.” Young joined the group with a viola to form the quintet. Young, who also plays the violin, has played all over the world, received three Grammy nominations, teaches, and is involved in social outreach and volunteer programs.
The audience thundered a standing ovation when the performance ended and the musicians took their final bows. Armand Kuenzel, junior, biochemistry said. “I love classical music… I thought it [the show] was great.”
Baldwin said that he hopes that the Arianna String Quartet can remain at UMSL despite the looming budgetary clouds. “Our home means so much to us,” he said. “There’s no atmosphere like the one you create.”
For the 2017-2018 year, the Arianna String Quartet requires $6000 per concert. Tax-deductible contributions can be made with checks made payable to the University of Missouri-St. Louis (memo: Arianna Strong Quartet Gift Account), or through a credit card or check to their fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas.
To find out more about the Arianna String Quartet, go to www.ariannaquartet.com