Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Birmingham News: 'Harlem Quartet: At the Heart of Diversity'

[The Harlem Quartet, from left, Ilmar Gavilan, Desmond Neysmith, Melissa White and Juan-Miguel Hernandez, was organized in 2006. Each has won the Sphinx Competition for young Black & Latino string players and they are about to release their second CD. They perform Thursday in a concert presented by the Birmingham Chamber Music Society.] 

Posted by Michael Huebner – Birmingham News February 1, 2009 5:30 AM
“In its mission to involve more Latinos and African-Americans in classical music, the Sphinx Organization has spawned a string quartet that's quickly gaining respect in the competitive chamber music market. The Harlem Quartet, a group of 23- to 30-year-olds that plays in Birmingham on Thursday [details below], was assembled in 2006 by Sphinx founder Aaron Dworkin. Unlike most string quartets, who link up through educational, professional or family ties or through auditions, the Harlem was assembled from first place solo winners in the annual Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players.

Every year since 1996, the Michigan-based Sphinx Organization has held the competition with the goal of breaking cultural stereotypes. First violinist Ilmar Galivan won in 2001. 'Everyone in the quartet has won the competition, in separate years,' said Galivan. 'When we won this competition, the thought of being in a quartet wasn't remotely in anyone's mind.' Brought up in Cuba, Galivan studied violin at the Havana Conservatory until he was 14, then studied in Moscow, Spain and New York, picking up pointers from such luminaries as Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci, Isaac Stern and Glenn Dichterow. Other quartet members have equally impressive solo credentials.”

But the quartet's diversity goes beyond ethnicity. Its repertoire draws from classic quartet composers such as Brahms, Haydn, Mozart and Ravel, but sprinkles in modernists such as Walter Piston and Judith Lang Zaimont. More telling are quartets by Guido Galivan (Ilmar's father) and a Duke Ellington arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's 'Take the A Train' (the title track of the quartet's first CD). Wynton Marsalis' 'Octoroon Balls,' a work that explores the social and cultural contradictions of Creole life in New Orleans. Composed in 1995 for the Orion Quartet, it was the first classical composition by the jazz great, and it has taken on special significance for the group."  [Full Post]  [The Founder/President of The Sphinx Organization is violinist Aaron P. Dworkin, who is profiled at]

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