Harlem String Quartet
Ilmar Gavilán, violin
Melissa White, violin
Jaime Amador, viola
Felix Umansky, cello
“Bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent”
— Cincinnati Enquirer
New York-based HARLEM QUARTET, currently serving a three-year residency at London’s Royal College of Music, has been praised for its “panache” by The New York Times and hailed in the Cincinnati Enquirer for “bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent.” Critic Julian Haylock, reviewing a NAXOS recording of string quartets by Walter Piston, called Harlem Quartet a “formidable ensemble whose members play highly demanding scores with infectious vitality, breezy confidence and (most importantly) affectionate warmth.” Since its public debut at Carnegie Hall in 2006, the quartet has thrilled audiences in 47 states as well as in the U.K., France, Belgium, Brazil, Panama, Canada, Venezuela, and South Africa.
In addition to performing a varied menu of string quartet literature across the country and around the world, Harlem Quartet has collaborated with such distinguished artists as violinist Itzhak Perlman; cellist Carter Brey; clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera; pianist Misha Dichter; and jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton, whom they joined for their six-month “Hot House” tour that began at Tanglewood in the summer of 2012. Later that year Harlem Quartet made its debut at the Montreal Jazz Festival with another jazz virtuoso, Stanley Clarke. And most recently, the quartet performed with legendary bassist John Patitucci and with the critically acclaimed Shanghai Quartet. On that occasion, at Montclair State University in March 2017, composer William Bolcom remarked that Harlem Quartet can “perform the classics very well, but few other quartets swing correctly when playing music that requires that, and few other groups can call up so many authentic playing styles from all over the world. They’re sifting through our rich culture, bringing musical nuggets from all corners to delight their very wide audience.”
Harlem Quartet’s mission is to advance diversity in classical music, engaging young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire that includes works by minority composers. Passion for this work has made the quartet a leading ensemble in both educational and community engagement performances. In this capacity, the quartet has written several successful grants, including a Cultural Connections Artist-In-Residence grant from James Madison University and a 2016 Guarneri String Quartet grant from Chamber Music America; the latter allowed the quartet to participate in an extended performance and educational residency in Mobile, Alabama that included a close partnership with the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.
Each member of the quartet is a seasoned solo artist, having appeared with such orchestras as the Boston Pops and the Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, National, New World, and Pittsburgh symphony orchestras. Alongside its regular activities as a chamber ensemble, Harlem Quartet performs a variety of works written for solo string quartet and orchestra. In June 2012, with the Chicago Sinfonietta under Music Director Mei-Ann Chen, the quartet gave the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story as arranged for string quartet and orchestra by Randall Craig Fleischer. It reprised its performance of that score in September 2012 with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra under Fleischer’s direction, and again in December 2012 with the Santa Fe Concert Association. Chicago Sinfonietta and the quartet recorded the West Side Story arrangement, along with works for string quartet and orchestra by Michael Abels and Benjamin Lees, for the Cedille Records release Delights and Dances.
Harlem Quartet has been featured on WNBC, CNN, NBC’s Today Show, WQXR-FM, and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and it performed in 2009 for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. The quartet made its European debut in October 2009 performing at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., and returned to Europe as guest artists and faculty members of the Musica Mundi International Festival in Belgium. In early 2011 the ensemble was featured at the Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City.
The quartet’s recording career began in 2007 when White Pine Music issued Take the “A” Train, a release featuring the string quartet version of that jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn; the CD was highlighted that year in the November issue of Stringsmagazine. A second CD, featuring three string quartets by Walter Piston, was released in 2010 by Naxos. The quartet’s third recording, released in early 2011, is a collaboration with pianist Awadagin Pratt and showcases works by American composer Judith Lang Zaimont. More recently the quartet collaborated with jazz pianist Chick Corea in two recording projects, including a Grammy-winning Hot House album that included Corea’s “Mozart Goes Dancing,” which won a separate Grammy as Best Instrumental Composition.
Harlem Quartet was founded in 2006 by The Sphinx Organization, a national nonprofit dedicated to building diversity in classical music and providing access to music education in underserved communities. In 2013 the quartet completed its third and final year in the Professional String Quartet Training Program at New England Conservatory, under the tutelage of Paul Katz, Donald Weilerstein, Kim Kashkashian, Miriam Fried, and Martha Katz. The quartet is represented worldwide by Sciolino Artist Management.
Performing at Music Mountain on Sunday, July 28, 2019, 3 PM, Gordon HallTickets