May 4, 2018
Palm Beach Daily News
If you’ve attended one of the Chamber Music Society of Palm Beach’s concerts at The Breakers, you know they’re elegant affairs — with cocktails and lavish hors d’oeuvres in the courtyard followed by an hour-long performance in the aptly named Gold Room.
That’s a far cry from the venues the society will introduce with the Harlem Quartet’s five-day sojourn. The society’s first extended residency will begin with a performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Brightline high-speed rail station in West Palm Beach.
With any luck, pop music fans on their way to SunFest and other riders will linger for the show, said Michael Finn, the society’s executive and artistic director. “I always like to say a string quartet can hold its own against any rock band,” he said.
The residency also will include a 6 p.m. concert Thursday at The Blind Monk, a wine and beer tapas bar in West Palm Beach. Organized by oboist James Austin Smith, it’s part of an initiative dubbed Circle the society hopes to expand on next season.
“It’s all about exposure and getting new faces to know what we’re about,” Finn said. “I believe there’s a big audience in West Palm Beach we’re not drawing in Palm Beach.”
Younger people on limited budgets aren’t likely to shell out the $195 it costs for a single ticket to a reception and hour-long concert at The Breakers, he said. Two glasses of wine or beer, appetizers and a half-hour concert at The Blind Monk sell for $45.
The society’s concerts at Rosarian Academy and other West Palm Beach venues, which don’t include a reception, cost just $30. Even so, they typically don’t attract young adults.
The event at The Blind Monk “really is a social and communal experience with chamber music,” said Smith, who will perform with two members of the quartet at the bar.
The program will range from an oboe and violin duet by contemporary composer Louis Andriessen to Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for violin and cello based on a theme by George Frideric Handel.
The quartet also will perform four concerts in schools, one at MorseLife senior living center and a public concert at 7 p.m. Monday at Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach.
The Harlem Quartet has been crossing boundaries since it was created in 2006 by the Sphinx Competition, which recognizes and develops black and Latino classical string players.
The group’s original mission was to conduct music programs in inner-city schools. The musicians quickly learned that a diet of Mozart and Beethoven wouldn’t cut it.
To retain youngsters’ attention they began introducing jazz into their performances. “We became good at holding kids’ attention by joking around and switching pace rapidly,” said violinist Ilmar Gavilan.
Watch the Harlem Quartet’s Take the A Train music video here.
Eventually, the quartet — which also includes violinist Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador and cellist Felix Umansky — evolved into a hybrid jazz-classical ensemble. It’s so comfortable with jazz that it’s recorded two albums with jazz pianist Chick Corea, including a Grammy Award-winning song, Mozart Goes Dancing, with Corea and jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton.
The public concert at Rosarian will include a Claude Debussy string quartet, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s The Girl from Ipanema, Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia and Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in A minor (Rosamunde).
And at Brightline? We’re not sure, but we do know it will include Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train.