Renowned violinists highlight March 12 Mendelssohn, Eleanor Stanlis celebration

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

The Friday, March 12, concert at Court Street United Methodist Church will contain more than just a celebration of the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center and the legacy of Eleanor Stanlis. The event will feature two world-renowned violinists, Margaret Batjer and Shelby Latin Harris, who got their start here in the Forest City and studied under Stanlis. One is her daughter.

Since leaving Rockford to start their professional journeys, both women have reached world-class status and have performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in music.

The winner of the 2009-2010 Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center Adult Starr of Excellence Award will also be announced during the concert.

Margaret Batjer

Margaret Batjer is the daughter of Eleanor Stanlis, who founded the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra and the Music Academy of Rockford College. Under her mother’s guidance, Batjer was a 15-year-old Eisenhower Middle School student when she was selected to solo with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Since her break, the violinist has made significant waves in the industry and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Today, Batjer teaches at the prestigious USC Thornton School of Music, a position she’s held since 2005. From 1998 until joining the Thornton faculty, Batjer was the concert master of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

As a performer, she’s been a touring soloist, working extensively throughout Europe and the United States. Known as an elite instrumentalist, Batjer has played with the famous Accardo Quartet and performed a score of festivals and theaters such as the famous La Scala Theater. She also teaches at the prestigious USC Thornton School of Music.

As a recording artist, Batjer has made records for a score of labels such as EMI and Nuova. She’s performed and recorded with Yo-Yo Ma, and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe after being trained at the Curtis Institute of Music under famed instructors Ivan Galamian and David Cerone. Batjer also has performed with the Philadelphia and New York String Seminar orchestras and the Halle Symphony Orchestra at the Gewandhaus. She has also appeared as a soloist throughout Europe with groups including the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Halle Symphony Orchestra at the Gewandhaus. Batjer is a member of the La Jolla Music Society.

Shelby Latin Harris

Also a Rockford native, Shelby Latin Harris began playing the violin at age 2, when she started taking kid-friendly lessons at the Music Academy of Rockford College, studying under Eleanor Stanlis. Latin Harris stayed with the academy for 17 years. As a young violinist, Latin Harris attended years of music camps and spent hours practicing her craft. Latin Harris started playing violin after watching her mother, a violinist with the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.

After graduating from Auburn High School, Latin Harris, 28, earned degrees from the Indiana University Conservatory of Music. Today, she is known for her dedication and renowned musicianship throughout the United States.

For more than a decade, Shelby Latin Harris has been a member of the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra, which is based in New York City and Detroit. Aside from her work as a violinist, Latin Harris helps promote chamber and classical music among Latino and African-American youth as part of the Sphinx organization.

Measure 5, Music Academy of Rockford College Flute Choir

Measure 5 is an advanced touring and performing ensemble composed of 20 string and piano students (ages 13 to 18). The group is directed by Rachel Handlin, who also serves as concert master of the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra and string director of the Music Academy of Rockford College.

The Music Academy of Rockford College Flute Choir is led by Stephanie Pedritti. The choir and Measure 5 play several pieces, one together. The two groups will perform “Suite for the Sweets” Friday as part of the celebratory concert.

Eleanor Stanlis

Eleanor Stanlis began teaching a group of four children in 1974, eventually growing the roster to 30. She became Suzuki-certified a few years later. A music teacher at Rockford College, Stanlis and colleague Walter Whipple proposed to the administration sponsoring a community school of music. The idea spawned the Music Academy of Rockford College in 1985. She founded the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra in 1987.

Throughout her career, Stanlis has been bestowed countless honors and awards for her musical contributions to the Rockford community, including the Mendelssohn Club Starr Excellence Award, Rockford Rotary Club Service Above Self Award, Mayor’s Arts Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Rockford Area Music Industry.

Stanlis graduated from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and Hardin-Simmons University in Texas. She died in 2000.

If you go

What: 125th anniversary of the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center, and musical tribute to Eleanor Stanlis

When: Friday, March 12, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Court Street United Methodist Church, 215 N. Court St., Rockford

Tickets: $25 for adults, $15 for students. Tickets are available by calling (815) 964-9713 or visiting

Youth outreach with Margaret Batjer

Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center presents a youth outreach with Margaret Batjer, violin, at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 13, at Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center.

 From the Mar. 10-16, 2010 issue

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