A bright corner in Rockford

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do.

Do not wait to shed your light afar.

To the many duties ever near you now be true.

Brighten the corner where you are.

A hymn by Ina Duley Ogdon

If there was ever a couple that brightened the corners of Rockford, it was Eleanor and Peter Stanlis. Peter, for Rockfordians who may not have heard, was a personal friend of Robert Frost for 23 years and is one of the greatest living authorities on the mind of Edmund Burke. Peter’s late wife Eleanor was the heart and soul of music education in Rockford. Eleanor was a fine violinist and music teacher, and in 1985 she founded the Rockford College Music Academy. Through her own personal efforts and the work of the Academy, thousands of Rockford students were given patient and careful music instruction that enriched their lives (and the lives of their families and friends).

Those who knew Eleanor Stanlis, remember her as a fine teacher and a great lady, who did not always suffer fools gladly. I well remember when, one night at dinner in my house, I tried to argue that American and Asian musicians, as technically proficient as they might be, could rarely (actually, I think I said never) play with the sympathy and understanding of a European musician brought up within the culture that had given birth to the music. Tearing my argument to shreds with a list of brilliant Asian musicians (at one point, I felt that it was not only the argument that was going to be ripped up), she mentioned two or three names I had not heard, including (as I recall) Cho-Liang Lin.

I am happy to say, after attending the Music Academy’s benefit performance at the Coronado Theatre March 30, Eleanor was right, and I was wrong. Mr. Lin is simply one of the finest violinists I have ever heard. Playing a varied program that included Dvorak, Moszkowski, Brahms, Ravel, and Kreisler, Mr. Lin was joined by pianist Anne Epperson and (on the Moszkowski) by Eleanor’s daughter, Margaret Batjer, who is a superb violinist and her mother’s best student. Miss Epperson played Brahms’s demanding D Minor violin sonata, which is written more as a duet for piano and violin, with great authority, and the three musicians performed the Moszkowski suite as if they had been playing together all their lives, though I understand that this was the first time the three had actually performed together.

For this special Music Academy benefit, Mr. Lin quite appropriately selected the Dvorak sonatina (Opus 100), which the composer had written for his own children. The sonatina is a simple melodic work, which Mr. Lin played with such effortless delicacy and lyric grace that he completely won over the audience. Musicians on hand would have been familiar with the Dvorak, but I wonder how many had even known the name, Moritz Moszkowski, much less had ever heard a performance of his Suite for Two Violins and Piano. This suite is an easy work to enjoy at first hearing, and its sentimentality might easily have turned to schmaltz in the hands of less gifted musicians.

I looked forward to the Brahms sonata, one of the composer’s most ambitious and demanding chamber works, and I was not disappointed. Mr Lin showed that his range extended not only to the lyricism of Mozart (one of his favorite composers) and Dvorak, but easily took in the somber and passionate Brahms. His strong attack in the final Presto movement was flawless, and his playing of the tragically beautiful adagio was both classical and heartrending. It would have been worth a drive to Cleveland to hear such a performance, and Rockford music lovers who missed the concert will be kicking themselves for years.

Mr. Lin closed with a series of lovely crowd-pleasers by Ravel, Sarasate, and Fritz Kreisler, which, well, pleased the crowd. His playing of the Kreisler, especially the encore (the famous “Love Song,”) was so light and wistful, it reminded me of recordings I had heard of Kreisler himself.

All three performers donated their performances as a contribution (a very considerable contribution, too) to the Rockford College Music Academy. Mayor Doug Scott, who had proclaimed the previous week “Eleanor Stanlis Week,” was on hand to say a few appropriate words, and former Mayor Charles Box was present in the audience.

But how many of the rest of us in Rockford fully appreciate the good work being done by the Academy, which has spread a good word about Rockford throughout the music world? How many of us are sufficiently grateful for the legacy of Eleanor Stanlis?

Lin appreciates Eleanor Stanlis’ work, as he told The Rock River Times’ Editor & Publisher Frank Schier, “I’m very happy that there were so many young people in the audience of various ages, and they were so well behaved, too. To hear music played brings the essence that cannot be said verbally.

“The fact that I have known Margret [Batjer] for so long and I have met Eleanor several times makes it an honor to be here to honor her,” Lin said.

I am sure the Rockford College Music Academy is accepting donations to honor her as well. Call 226-4168 to donate to the Eleanor Thomas Stanlis Endowment for the Enchancement of the Rockford College Music Academy.

Thomas Fleming is president of The Rockford Institute and father of four music students.

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