NPR logo

Harlem Quartet Takes The 'A' Train In Boston

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112483401/112483819" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Harlem Quartet Takes The 'A' Train In Boston

Harlem Quartet Takes The 'A' Train In Boston

Harlem Quartet Takes The 'A' Train In Boston

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112483401/112483819" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

When I first heard about the Harlem Quartet, I admit, I was not immediately enthused. It seemed as if it might be just another group of young players on a social mission — gifted with more energy and enthusiasm than talent. I have been eating crow ever since.

Just the Music

Hear The Pieces Independently

Strayhorn (arr Chihara): The A Train

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112483401/112483224" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Ravel: String Quartet in F

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112483401/112483818" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Gavilan: 'Mi Menor Conga'

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/112483401/112483229" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
The Harlem Quartet i

The members of the Harlem Quartet (from left: Ilmar Gavilan, Desmond Neysmith, Melissa White and Juan-Miguel Hernandez) were each top prize winners at the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players. hide caption

toggle caption
The Harlem Quartet

The members of the Harlem Quartet (from left: Ilmar Gavilan, Desmond Neysmith, Melissa White and Juan-Miguel Hernandez) were each top prize winners at the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players.

From the moment they put their bows to strings in this studio performance, something extraordinary was evident. I heard an assured technique, a vibrant tone and, yes, enough energy to be harnessed as a new source of green power.

The Harlem Quartet was formed at Detroit's Sphinx Competition, which is open to all junior-high, high-school and college-age black and Latino string players residing in the U.S. The Sphinx goal is "to encourage, develop and recognize classical music talent in the black and Latino communities."

The Harlem Quartet's members come from very different communities themselves, with roots in Cuba, Canada, Britain and the U.S. From those backgrounds, and from the Sphinx influence, they cultivate a refreshing range of music. They play great tunes by iconic jazz composers, as well as traditional classical pieces. Sometimes the two intersect: In this studio session, they play Billy Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," but in an arrangement by the contemporary American composer Paul Chihara.

But the real test — dispelling forever any concern I may have had — is in Maurice Ravel's String Quartet in F. This is a fantastically challenging piece, requiring not only a constant sharp focus on the technical demands, but also a refined flexibility of tone and timbre. I am elated to say that the Harlem Quartet's performance, live in our studio, is equal to the very best we have in our library stretching back 25 years.

Listen to the previous Favorite Session, or see our full archive.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.