Saturday, December 11, 2010 “You haven't lived until you have heard the Harlem Quartet play Billy Strayhorn's 'Take the “A” Train.'"

[Harlem Quartet]

Harlem Quartet makes jazzy Chamber debut
Janelle Gelfand
December 9, 2010
“The string quartet made its debut Tuesday night for Chamber Music Cincinnati with a program that started with Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 18, No. 3, included Strayhorn's theme song for Duke Ellington and ended with a wild ride by jazz musician Wynton Marsalis called 'Hellbound Highball.' The crowd at Werner Recital Hall at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music was on its feet - and not just because everything the quartet played, it played with flair and fine musicianship. In fact, they are bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent. They radiated their joy of playing in every note.

“The quartet's program was diverse, including classics by Beethoven and Borodin, two jazz numbers and a new piece by American composer Judith Lang Zaimont entitled 'The Figure.' The concert was Chamber Music Cincinnati's second annual Henry Meyer Concert, dedicated to the late LaSalle Quartet violinist and Holocaust survivor who mentored rising young quartets.

“They opened with Beethoven's Quartet in D Major, the most lyrical of the composer's set of six in Opus 18. The players communicated its gentle, sunny spirit, and played with refinement. As their solos emerged from the texture, it became clear that each is an excellent musician. Their combined sonority glowed. Zaimont's 'The Figure' (2007), in two movements, was a striking contrast. 'In Shadow' opened with dissonance, but its gestures ultimately became lyrical and the players approached its phrases with emotion. It included moments of frenzied counterpoint, punctuated by pizzicatos and once, foot stomps. Fragments of themes bounced from bow to bow like so many sparks.

“The second movement, 'In Bright Light,' grew into a soaring theme for first violinist Gavilan, its atmosphere reminiscent of Ravel. The musicians gave an exciting performance of this up-to-the-minute music. The quartet ended the first half with "Take the 'A' Train," arranged by Paul Chihara. It was fun to see each musician stand for their improvised solos, and the audience, savvy to jazz etiquette, applauded each one.

“Borodin's lush and romantic Quartet No. 2 in D Major opened the second half. Here they radiated the joy of this music with unaffected beauty. Wiancko, the quartet's newest member, took the famous melody of the 'Notturno' (used in the musical 'Kismet') with breathtaking tone on his cello. They concluded with three movements of Marsalis' seven-movement String Quartet No. 1, dubbed 'At the Octoroon Balls' after balls held for New Orleans segregated society. Like the composer, the music was sophisticated, intelligent and humorous." [Duke Ellington is profiled at]

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