Thursday, February 4, 2010

Detroit Free Press: 'Harlem Quartet in the spotlight'

[Harlem Quartet]
Posted: Feb. 4, 2010

“The 13th annual Sphinx Competition for black and Latino string players, which culminates with Sunday's finals concert featuring the Harlem Quartet and the Sphinx Symphony conducted by Anthony Elliott, has become a signature event in classical music. But beyond the competition -- which doles out more than $100,000 in prizes and scholarships, along with performance opportunities with some of America's top orchestras -- the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization oversees an empire of education, residency and artistic programs that are dedicated to promoting minority involvement in classical music.”

The Harlem Quartet, a string quartet made up of former first-place laureates, has become an especially visible and potent symbol of the Sphinx mission to advance diversity in classical music and engage young and new audiences. The quartet -- violinists Ilmar Gavilán and Lansing native Melissa White, violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez and cellist Desmond Neysmith -- has toured widely. It appeared at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival in 2009 and will return for the 2010 festival in June.

What is most notable about the quartet is the range of its repertoire, which includes works from the standard literature as well as out-of-the-way 20th-Century works by American neoclassicist Walter Piston and Spanish nationalist Joaquin Turina and jazz-inspired pieces by Wynton Marsalis and Billy Strayhorn. The group's recording of three Piston quartets is available as a download from Naxos at, with a CD of the performance expected this year. At Sunday's finals concert, the quartet will team with the Sphinx Symphony for the world premiere of Michael Abels' Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra. Abels has a long history with Sphinx, which commissioned a piece from him in 2007. [The Founder/President of The Sphinx Organization is violinist Aaron P. Dworkin (b. 1970), who is profiled at]

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