Harlem Quartet

Ilmar Gavilán, violin
Melissa White, violin
Jaime Amador, viola
Matthew Zalkind, cello

Jazz at the Maverick
American Landscapes IV: New York to Paris

Saturday, July 19, 2014, 6:30 pm


Adventures of Hippocrates (2004)
Chick Corea (b. 1941)

Part 1  (Quasi tango)
Part 2  (Waltz)
Part 3  (Ballad)
Part 4  (Rock feel)
Part 5   (Quasi fugue)

Notturno from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major (1881) Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)


String Quartet No.1 (1933)
Walter Piston (1894-1976)

Allegro vivace


At the Octoroon Balls — String Quartet No. 1 (1995) Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961)

Come Long Fiddler
Mating Calls and Delta Rhythms
Creole Contradanzas
Many Gone
Hellbound Highball
Blue Lights On The Bayou
Rampart St. Row House Rag

Sunday, July 20, 4 pm

The Parnas Duo with Tim Kantor, viola

American Landscapes V: String Trio Masterworks
Music of Beethoven, Dohnányi, and
Andrew Norman (b. 1979)

next week
Saturday, July 26, 6:30 pm

Zuill Bailey, cello; Natasha Paremski, piano

The World of Richard Strauss: Kindred Paths
Music of Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, and Richard Strauss

Sunday, July 27, 4 pm

Latitude 41 Piano Trio

American Landscapes VI: Platt and Dvořák
Music of Schubert, Dvořák, and Russell Platt


Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg*


The Harlem Quartet, praised for its “panache” by The New York Times, is “bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent,” says the Cincinnati Enquirer. The quartet’s mission is to advance diversity in classical music and to engage young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire that includes works by minority composers.

Since its public debut in 2006 at Carnegie Hall, the New York-based ensemble has performed throughout the US as well as in France, the UK, Belgium, Panama, Canada, and South Africa, where under the auspices of the US State Department they spent two weeks on tour performing concerts and participating in outreach activities. The quartet completed the Professional String Quartet Residency Program at New England Conservatory in 2013, and participated in NEC's string quartet exchange program in Paris, working extensively with violinist Günter Pichler, founder of the Alban Berg Quartet.

In addition to performing on chamber music series around the world, the Harlem Quartet has collaborated with such distinguished performers as Itzhak Perlman, Ida Kavafian, Carter Brey, Paul Katz, Fred Sherry, Anthony McGill, Paquito D'Rivera, and Misha Dichter, with whom the quartet made their Kennedy Center debut in February 2013. The quartet has also worked closely with jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton, with whom they recorded the album Hot House. Following a concert tour of twenty-five major cities, the Harlem Quartet’s recording with Corea and Burton titled Mozart Goes Dancing won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition in 2013. The ensemble will continue their Hot House tour in Japan in 2014.

Each member of the Harlem Quartet is a seasoned solo
artist, having appeared with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, and other major US orchestras. The Harlem Quartet’s work with larger groups is also a significant part of their career. Their most recent collaboration was with Mei-Ann Chen and the Chicago Sinfonietta, with whom in 2012 they gave the world premiere of Bernstein’s West Side Story arranged for string quartet and orchestra by Hudson Valley Philharmonic music director Randall Craig Fleischer.

The Harlem Quartet has been featured on NBC, CNN, the Today Show, WQXR, and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. In 2009 they performed for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House, and appeared on Christmas morning on NBC’s Today Show. The quartet is regularly featured at jazz festivals around the world, including the Panama, Montreal, and Miami Nice jazz festivals.

Their 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 Strings magazine. A second CD, featuring works of Walter Piston, was released in 2010. 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. Two recording projects in collaboration with Chick Corea were completed at the end of the 2010-2011 season, and in May 2013 the quartet released a live CD that was recorded at New York City’s Merkin Hall and includes works by Mozart and Schubert.





Chick Corea is a virtuoso keyboard player and composer. He has worked in Latin, jazz, and fusion bands including those headed by Cab Calloway, Blue Mitchell, Stan Getz, Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, and Miles Davis. He has led his own groups—including Return to Forever, one of the leading fusion bands of the 1970s—and performed solo, and he has played duets with Gary Burton, Herbie Hancock, and Bobby McFerrin. Adventures of Hippocrates, written for string quartet, is his only composition without keyboard. The piece is named after a character in Ole Doc Methuselah, a collection of science fiction stories by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology (of which Corea is a member). Corea’s love of the Latin beat is evident throughout the five movements, as is his predilection for expansive melodies and complex cross-rhythms.

Alexander Borodin was the illegitimate son of a Russian prince and his mistress. Because of his father’s affection for his mother, Borodin lived a privileged life, including a good education and music lessons. He had substantial success as a researcher and professor of chemistry. When the czar’s government finally allowed women to train as doctors, Borodin championed their cause and volunteered to teach the female students chemistry.

Borodin met Mily Balakirev at a musical gathering at the home of a colleague, and soon joined the circle of Russian nationalist composers—Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Balakirev, and himself—that came to be known as the “Mighty Handful.” Traveling to Weimar with chemistry students, he met Liszt, and the two played through a four-hand arrangement of Borodin’s first symphony. As a result of this meeting, Liszt secured for Borodin both a performance of his symphony and the patronage of a Belgian noblewoman.

Borodin dedicated his String Quartet No. 2 in D Major to his wife of twenty years, Ekaterina. It evokes the memory of their meeting and falling in love. The third movement, the Notturno (Andante), is one of the composer’s best-known compositions, often played on its own. The cello takes the lead in an unmistakable profession of love, answered in kind by the first violin. As the movement progresses, the themes are intertwined in fugue-like imitation, as if they are becoming one being. The main theme enjoyed some popularity in the fifties and sixties when Robert Wright and George Forrest used it in as the basis for their song “And This is my Beloved” in the Broadway musical Kismet.

Walter Piston took piano and violin lessons as a child, and earned money playing with dance bands and orchestras as a teenager. He enlisted in the Navy when the US entered World War I, teaching himself the saxophone in a week so that he could be part of the Navy band; while in the band he learned to play all the other instruments. After the war, he studied music formally at Harvard, and then went to Paris to study under Nadia Boulanger (along with Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and many other prominent composers). He joined the faculty of Harvard on his return, teaching there from 1926 to 1960. Leroy Anderson, Elliott Carter, and Leonard Bernstein were among his students, and his books on music are still considered classic texts. Piston composed five string quartets and eight symphonies, two of which won Pulitzer Prizes. He is known for his musical craftsmanship and his combination of neoclassical and Romantic expression.

In Piston’s String Quartet No. 1, the opening Allegro contrasts a sharply accented theme (Aaron Copland praised its “acidulous” quality) with a more melodious second subject. In the slow movement (Adagio), the strings are muted and the structure is ABA, with chromatic outer sections and a dotted-rhythm fugato (fugue-like passage) as the filling. Copland referred to this movement’s “poetic mood painting.” In the finale (Allegro vivace), Piston combines a regular 2/4 meter with the irregular 5/8 for rhythmic intensity. Fast bowing and pizzicato add musical interest, and the momentum is maintained up to the climactic ending.

Wynton Marsalis is a trumpeter, composer, and educator. He serves as the Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and wrote and produced Marsalis on Music, an educational television series on jazz and classical music on PBS. He is the only artist to win Grammys for both jazz and classical recordings in one year, and was the first jazz musician to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Marsalis’ String Quartet No. 1 is titled At the Octoroon Balls. An octoroon is a person who is one-eighth African, and the term was used in the southern United States to define people and assign them societal rights and degrees of respect according to their ancestry. It was the custom for Creole men—those descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, usually of mixed French, Spanish, and African descent—to choose octoroon mistresses, and the Octoroon Ball was their grand festival.

The opening movement (Come Long Fiddler) features the violin, playing mostly without vibrato and with swooping glissandos and frequent double stops so that it sounds like a country fiddle. American folk songs are a major source of inspiration here and throughout the work. Mating Calls and Delta Rhythms is a romantic love song with contemporary harmonies. Creole Contradanzas refers to the contradance tradition of social group dancing, in which couples dance in two facing lines or a square. The music is syncopated, and would make for some lively stepping. The cello is featured in Many Gone, which uses the slave lament and spiritual as its inspiration. In Hellbound Highball, the instruments imitate the sounds and rhythms of railroad trains. Blue Lights on the Bayou is a short, impressionistic picture of the bayou at night. The finale (Rampart St. Row House Rag) is in ragtime form, with its distinctive bouncing bass and off-the-beat upper voices. A rag consists of four separate melodies played one after the other. The style was extremely popular in America at the turn of the twentieth century.

All program notes are copyright Miriam Villchur Berg. It is permissible to quote short excerpts for reviews. For permission to quote more extensive portions, or to copy,  publish, or make other use of these program notes, please contact her at miriam@hvc.rr.com. Program Notes © 2014 by Miriam Villchur Berg