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Artists-in-residence at London's Royal Academy of Music, the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet engages audiences with its "panache" (The New York Times) and its fresh, elegant performances. The ensemble performs masterworks by Beethoven and Schubert, plus Gabriela Lena Frank's musical travelogue of Peru.

"The Harlem Quartet is exemplary." —Strings


Venue: University of Maryland Baltimore County's Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall


    Harlem Quartet

    Ilmar Gavilan, violin
    Melissa White, violin
    Jaime Amador, viola
    Felix Umansky, cello

     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 www.samnyc.us.

    "They took my breath away in the same way that the bullfighter or bull would at the moment of truth." —The Boston Music Intelligencer

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95, "Serioso"

Gabriela Lena Frank (b. 1972)


Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, Op. 29, No. 1, D. 804, "Rosamunde"

View Notes

The winter of 1824 when Franz Schubert wrote both his String Quartet in A Minor, “Rosamunde,” and the Quartet in D Minor, “Death and the Maiden,” (which the Jerusalem String Quartet will play here in February) was one of the darkest times of his life. And yet paradoxically it was also one of his most creatively productive. A few years earlier, he had contracted syphilis, the scourge of many prominent 19th-century composers; now in the winter of 1823-24, he was enduring secondary infections from the disease that affected his voice and even made playing the piano extremely painful for him. In a letter to a friend Leopold Kupelwieser written in March, Schubert poured out his anguish. “I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again … imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the felicity of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain, at best, whom enthusiasm … for all things beautiful threatens to forsake, and I ask you, is he not a miserable, unhappy being? … I may well sing every day now, for each night on retiring to bed, I hope I may not wake again, and each morning … recalls yesterday’s grief.” And in his diary that month, he wrote: “What I produce now is due to my understanding of music and to my sorrows.”

            There was another recent event that was also tormenting him. In December 1823, the play Rosamunde, for which he’d composed a lovely collection of incidental music, was trashed by the critics and closed after only two performances. For years, Schubert had been unsuccessfully trying to make his mark in the worlds of opera and theatrical music. After the Rosamunde debacle, he gave up the fight and decided to concentrate his energy on instrumental music. His choice of the string quartet was partly inspired by his recent acquaintance with Ignaz Schuppanzigh, founder and first violinist of the great professional quartet that had introduced many of Beethoven’s string quartets to the world.

            Undoubtedly, Schubert would have been chagrined to know that the heartbreakingly beautiful Quartet in A Minor is now nicknamed “Rosamunde,” because its second movement is built around a melody from his entr’acte music for the play’s third act. But this is not the Quartet’s only reference to a previous work; in movements one and three, there are also quotations from two of his songs, whose words provide clues to the psychological states underpinning the work.

            In the despairing letter to Kupelwieser, Schubert quoted two lines by Goethe found in his famous early song “Gretchen am Spinnrade”: “My peace is gone, my heart is heavy, I find it never, nevermore.” As the first movement begins, we hear a rocking figure in the second violin that closely resembles the piano accompaniment to that song. Above it, the first violin sings a descending melody of utter desolation. A shuddering figure in the viola and cello quietly intensifies the pain. Fluctuating between A minor and A major, the harmonies throw a pattern of light and shadows over the music. A more forceful, protesting idea then intervenes, leading eventually to the second theme, introduced by the second violin but shared with the first. In C major, it is slightly more hopeful than the first theme, but closely related to it. The protesting transitional music, now with vehement trills, soon bedevils it and drives this opening exposition section to its conclusion.

            Schubert reduces his opening theme to it first three descending notes to introduce the development section. The second violin’s rocking pattern from “Gretchen” now grows into an anguished wail. Though not long, this development is one of extraordinary musical and emotional power, with all elements of the principal theme worked out with contrapuntal and harmonic richness. In the final coda after the recapitulation, Schubert refuses to let the music move to the expected major mode and instead retains the key of A minor and the melancholy principal theme to close the movement as it began.

            The gentle theme from Rosamunde — and especially its persistent rhythm — dominates the Andante second movement in C major. On the theme’s return in the middle of the movement, Schubert carries it into an surprisingly intense phase of fierce counterpoint. Also important throughout is the rippling accompaniment in the second violin, somewhat reminiscent of the first movement, which gradually infiltrates the entire texture, especially in the closing coda.

            Schubert also gives us a potent clue to the emotional meaning of the remarkable third-movement Minuet in A minor. In 1819, he had set part of Schiller’s poem “Die Götter Griechenlands” (“The Gods of Greece”) as a song by the same title: a song that yearns for a lost golden age. Opening this minuet, he quotes its opening phrase in the cello: “Schöne Welt, wo bist du?” (“Beautiful world, where are you?”). This quote and the overall tone of this melancholy dance seems to express the composer’s longing to return to the lost happiness of his youth before illness had blighted his hopes. The rhythm of the question haunts the music, even introducing its contrasting trio section in A major, apparently a memory of that lost time of innocence.

            The finale in A major seems to move away from the dejection of the previous movements. In sonata form, its opening theme resembles an old-fashioned peasant dance. But even now all is not well, and a second theme emphasizing jagged dotted rhythms moves unexpectedly away from the major to the key of C-sharp minor. And it culminates in a burst of shrieking dissonance on those dotted rhythms. Although the closing coda is delicate and fragmented, the Quartet ends with two emphatic fortissimo chords, perhaps Schubert’s resolute dismissal of his melancholia.

Program Subject to Change Without Notice