Program Notes

Harlem Quartet
with Aldo López-Gavilán

Ilmar Gavilán, violin
Melissa White, violin
Jaime Amador, viola
Felix Umansky, cello

PROGRAM

Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Opus 44 | Robert Schumann ( 1810–1856)
I. Allegro brillante
II. In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente
III. Scherzo: Molto vivace
IV. Allegro ma non troppo
 

Intermission

Viernes de Ciudad | Aldo López-Gavilán (born 1979)
Talking to the Universe | López-Gavilán
Eclipse | López-Gavilán
Aegean Dreams | López-Gavilán
Pan con Timba | López-Gavilán 

Harlem Quartet

New York-based Harlem Quartet has been praised for its “panache” by The New York Times and hailed in the Cincinnati Enquirer for “bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent.” Since its public debut in 2006 at Carnegie Hall, the ensemble has thrilled audiences and students in 47 states as well as in the U.K., France, Belgium, Brazil, Panama, Canada, Venezuela, Japan, Ethiopia, and South Africa.

Harlem Quartet was founded in 2006 by The Sphinx Organization, a national nonprofit dedicated to building diversity in classical music and providing access to music education in underserved communities. In 2013 the quartet completed its third and final year in the Professional String Quartet Training Program at New England Conservatory, under the tutelage of Paul Katz, Donald Weilerstein, Kim Kashkashian, Miriam Fried, and Martha Katz.

Harlem Quartet has been featured on WNBC, CNN, NBC’s Today Show, WQXR-FM, and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and it performed in 2009 for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. The quartet made its European debut in October 2009 performing at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the U.K., and returned to Europe as guest artists and faculty members of the Musica Mundi International Festival in Belgium. In early 2011 the ensemble was featured at the Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City. Harlem Quartet’s programming combines standard string quartet literature with jazz, Latin, and contemporary works. Its collaborative approach to performance is continually broadening the ensemble’s repertoire and audience reach through partnerships with other musicians from the classical and jazz worlds. It also maintains an ongoing commitment to residency activity and education.

The quartet began a multi-year residency with London’s Royal College of Music in 2018. Since 2015 it has led an annual workshop at Music Mountain in Falls Village, Connecticut. In 2021 it was named inaugural Grissom Artist in Residence at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. And a residency at New Jersey’s Montclair State University begins in the 2021-22 season. Recent and upcoming concert highlights include appearances with bassist John Patitucci at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) and Chamber Music Concerts (Ashland, Oregon); with pianist Michael Brown at Friends of Chamber Music (Denver, Colorado); and with Cuban pianist/composer Aldo López-Gavilán at venues across the U.S.

The quartet’s recording career began in 2007 with Take the “A” Train, a release featuring the string quartet version of that jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn. It collaborated with jazz pianist Chick Corea in a Grammy-winning Hot House album that included Corea’s “Mozart Goes Dancing,” which won a separate Grammy as Best Instrumental Composition. Its latest release, a July 2020 album called Cross Pollination, features works by Debussy, William Bolcom, Dizzy Gillespie, and Guido López-Gavilán.

Aldo López-Gavilán

López-Gavilán was born in Cuba to a family of internationally acclaimed classical musicians, his father a conductor and composer, his mother a concert pianist. At the age of five, he had written his first musical composition. His mother introduced the budding prodigy to the piano at the age of four, and he began formal piano studies at seven. His first international triumph came at the age of eleven when he won a Danny Kaye International Children’s Award, organized by UNICEF. He made his professional debut at age twelve with the Matanzas Symphony Orchestra and later went on to perform Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with the National Symphonic Orchestra of Cuba. Parallel to his classical abilities, López-Gavilán developed remarkable skills in improvisation. He was invited to perform in the world-famous Havana Jazz Festival with the legendary Chucho Valdés, who called him “simply a genius, a star.”

During the past decade, López-Gavilán’s collaborators have included some of the greatest artists in the classical, popular music, and jazz fields. The late conductor Claudio Abbado invited him to perform with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in 2006, in a special concert dedicated to the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Maestro Abbado subsequently invited him to perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Caracas and Havana.

A milestone in López-Gavilán’s professional and personal life came in early 2015, when he partnered with Harlem Quartet—co-founded by his brother Ilmar, the quartet’s first violinist—for concerts in Calgary, Seattle, and Phoenix. Since December 2014, when a new era in the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba was announced, López-Gavilán has played a continually active role in the cultural exchange between the two countries. In April 2016, through Obama’s President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, he was part of the group of Cuban musicians who collaborated in Cuba with such renowned U.S. artists as Joshua Bell, Usher, Dave Matthews, and Smokey Robinson.

Under Joshua Bell’s direction, López-Gavilán aided in organizing Seasons of Cuba, a PBS Special that took place at Lincoln Center in December 2016, celebrating a new era of cultural diplomacy with a vibrant program ranging from Vivaldi classics to Piazzolla tangos and beyond. Some of the prestigious artists joining Bell and López-Gavilán were Dave Matthews, the Chamber Orchestra of Havana, singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, and soprano Larisa Martínez.

López-Gavilán and his jazz trio made their Canadian debut in March 2020 with two memorable concerts: one at the Isabel Bader Centre in Kingston, ON, and one at Toronto’s Jazz Bistro. These were the last live concerts López-Gavilán played before COVID-19 brought such activity to a temporary halt. But he has continued composing and performing for his fans in Cuba and worldwide, taking part in several virtual concerts such as Festival Napa Valley’s One Night, Many Voices, which also featured Joshua Bell, sopranos Larisa Martínez and Nadine Sierra, tenor Michael Fabiano, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. López-Gavilán closed the event with a swinging jazz performance by his band direct from Havana.

PROGRAM NOTES

Robert Schumann (June 8, 1810–July 29,1856) had aspirations to become a virtuoso pianist until suffering a hand injury. At that point he changed his focus to composition. He composed exclusively for the piano until 1840, the year he married Clara Wieck. Clara was the daughter of Schumann’s piano teacher, and was an accomplished concert pianist and composer. During their marriage, Schumann started composing for voice and orchestra. He composed his Piano Quintet in E-Flat, Op. 44 in 1842 and dedicated it to Clara, who premiered it. Many historians refer to 1842 as Schumann’s “Chamber Music Year,” and Opus 44 is often lauded as his greatest chamber music work.

His later life is the subject of much speculation. He was institutionalized following a suicide attempt in 1854. He had been experiencing depression, manic episodes, and what might have been auditory hallucinations for ten years. He eventually grew afraid he would harm Clara and she was not allowed to visit him until two days before his death in 1856. During his years in Dr. Franz Richarz’s sanatorium in Endenich, he was regularly visited by his protégé Johannes Brahms. After Schumann’s death, Clara became the authoritative editor of her husband’s works for Breitkopf & Härtel.

The Piano Quintet in E-Flat, Op. 44 is in four movements which are the standard fast, slow, scherzo, fast pattern. Movement I is marked Allegro brillante. Allegro means cheerful and brillante means glittering. Schumann’s playful primary theme in this movement displays these qualities with enthusiasm. It also reappears in the final movement in fugue with that movement’s own theme.

Movement II, In modo d’una marcia. Un poco largamente – Agitato, is often referred to as a funeral march (marcia). This melancholy theme in c minor features broad (largamente) strokes with agitated (agitato) dotted rhythms that feel hesitant but also add tension to move the theme forward. These slow movements are intended to offer contrast to the piece as a whole.

Movement III, Scherzo: Molto vivace, is intended to be the opposite of the previous movement. Scherzo is Italian for joke. Scherzo movements are typically lively, brisk, and in a triple meter. They often have a three-part form with a central, contrasting trio. This lively and brisk movement starts with Trio I, in G-flat Major, the major third of the home key and is a lyrical canon for violin and viola. Trio II is a heavily accented moto perpetuo whose 2/4 meter and restlessly modulating, mostly minor tonality add sharp contrast to the 6/8 and relative stability of the trios before and after. After the third and final appearance of the scherzo, a brief coda based on the scales concludes the movement, slipping in a recall of Trio I in the final bars.

Movement IV, Allegro ma non troppo, literally means fast, but not too much. This final movement’s theme is reminiscent of the first movement. This movement begins in the key of g minor, the minor fifth of the second movement’s c minor theme, and takes its time moving back to E-Flat major, the tonic. This adds tension, interest, and time to develop the thematic material before the final chords of the piece.

Viernes de Ciudad is meant to depict the course of a day from dawn to dusk in London, a metropolitan city with diverse cultures and neighborhoods. It starts in a Middle Eastern part of town in early morning, cruises through an Irish area, and ends at a late-night pub where people from different cultures are having a good time together, symbolizing our shared humanity. It features an impassioned violin solo and employs a complex, exhilarating counterpoint that gradually increases in energy as the piece progresses.

Talking to the Universe, also the title of one of Aldo’s earlier albums, originated as a solo piano work. It then evolved into a piece for piano and jazz band, then to one for piano, jazz band, and orchestra. It aims to convey the emotions of a person sending a “message in a bottle” out to the universe, and the ensuing vibrancy and wholeness that comes with feeling at one with the cosmos. The quintet version captures these intimate and yearning qualities, employing complex and exhilarating counterpoint that gradually increases in energy as the piece progresses.

Eclipse, originally for violin and piano, is a very personal piece written for Aldo’s brother Ilmar. It addresses vulnerability and the emotional toll taken by the two brothers’ involuntary separation due to outside political circumstances as Ilmar went to the United States while Aldo remained in Cuba.

Pan con Timba, whose title means “bread with unknown something,” is consistently joyful and contagiously optimistic. It reflects the classic mood of post-revolutionary Cuba: the younger generation, faced with scarcity and economic hardship, refused to indulge in self-pity and instead embraced humor as a psychological lifting device. This form of humor has become an essential part of the current Cuban identity. Pan con Timba features such rhythmic characteristics as the quintessentially Cuban form of ostinato known as “tumbao,” and also intertwines elements of various dance styles popular in contemporary Cuba.