The Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet deftly navigates classical music’s European tradition by immersing audiences in repertoire by underrepresented composers. Founded in 2006 with black and Latinx string players awarded as Sphinx Competition first-place laureates, the quartet notes performances with distinguished artists in many genres like Paquito D’Rivera, Chick Corea, Itzhak Perlman, and Jeremy Denk. Harlem Quartet performs a jazz-inflected program on Sunday, April 10, at 4 p.m. in the O’Neill Hall of Music LaBar Recital Hall. Regular tickets are $32, and student tickets are $15.
The ensemble includes violinists Melissa White and Ilmar Gavilán, who left Cuba at age 14 and co-founded Harlem Quartet, violist Jaime Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky. Umansky is no stranger to the University of Notre Dame — he was a member of the 2009 Fischoff Competition grand prize-winning Linden Quartet, performing that year on the center’s Presenting Series.
The quartet showcases remarkable chemistry in a program of works from 18th-century chamber to jazz standards to new music from living composers. They open with String Quartet Concertante No. 5 in G Major by the increasingly recognized black Frenchman Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Bologne challenged and musically influenced Mozart with his mastery in violin and composing. William Grant Still’s Lyric Quartette follows. Still was a prolific composer best known for his 1931 Afro-American Symphony. The first half ends with 2012’s Strum by Jessie Montgomery, performed after final revisions in 2012 to celebrate the 15th annual Sphinx Competition, and Adonis G. Matos’s “Fugato.”
The second half opens with George Walker’s best-known work, 1946’s String Quartet No 1, “Lyric for Strings,” which he dedicated to his grandmother. In 1996, Walker was the first black American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize. The ensemble then swings into jazz with three movements from Wynton Marsalis’s At the Octoroon Balls — String Quartet No. 1, a new arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia”, and closes with a new arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
Harlem Quartet’s journey through a string of outstanding achievements by composers representing the African diaspora traces the meaningful way each made a path in art and music to succeed on their terms.