Harlem Quartet jazzes up the classics

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Beats from Cuba and Brazil mixed with the classics when the internationally acclaimed Harlem Quartet performed at Memorial Chapel on February 19. The Grammy Award–winning group was founded in Harlem in 2006 and has since become known for its versatility in incorporating diverse styles of music into their performances.

With Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White on violin, Jaime Amador on viola, and Felix Umanky on cello, the groups started off their performance with one of Mozart’s most famous quartets, String Quartet No. 17 “The Hunt” in B-flat major, K. 458. They followed this with one of the world’s most famous jazz hits, the Brazilian chart-topper “The Girl from Ipanema.”

“The Harlem String Quartet’s performance was, in a word, breathtaking,” said Erin Hoffman ’19. “As a violist in the Colgate Chamber Players, I pay particular attention to the way instrumentalists interact with one another during performances, and I was astounded by the quartet’s unwavering synchronization.”

The Harlem Quartet’s next piece, “Guaguanco,” was named after and inspired by the eponymous Cuban rhythm and dance. The musicians added percussion to the piece by tapping on their instruments during this song, composed by Guido Gavilán.

Hoffman was especially impressed by how the quartet played their last piece, String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27, by Edvard Grieg. “It was amazing to hear how the group could flit between themes in perfect unison. They made their music come alive,” she said.

The final notes of this piece brought everyone in the chapel to their feet for a standing ovation, encouraging the quartet to return to the stage for an encore performance of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” the song that first started their foray into jazz.