The Harlem Quartet is on a mission: to advance diversity in classical music.
But the Quartet – comprised of violinists Ilmar Gavilán and Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador and cellist Felix Umansky – quickly learned that in order to diversify the audience for classical music, they first needed to diversify their own repertoire.
The classically-trained musicians initially had trouble adopting jazz as a second language: “First, we really sounded like opera singers trying to do a pop song,” Ilmar Gavilán told Lois Reitzes on “City Lights.” Clearly, however, they were able to adjust. The Harlem Quartet’s recording with jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton of “Mozart Goes Dancing” won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition in 2013.
While the Quartet continues to record and tour, their main objective is outreach. They’ve learned from years of experience how to introduce kids to classical music: by keeping their selections short, switching genres between classical and jazz, being high-energy and relating to the kids’ own lives.
“The kids are the most honest audience, so if you don’t grab them right away, they will just let you know,” Gavilán said.
That outreach continues tonight when the Harlem Quartet kicks off the Atlanta Music Project’s Summer Series, a three-week summer music festival and school.
The Harlem Quartet performs tonight at 7 at Sylvan Hills Middle School in the historic Sylvan Hills neighborhood of Southwest Atlanta.
The AMP Summer Series concert series continues on Wednesday, June 14, when the faculty of the AMP Summer Series will share the stage with students in a side-by-side concert. Monday, June 19, brings an evening of chamber music, featuring instrumental and vocal ensembles.
Conductor Verena Lucia-Anders leads the AMP Summer Series Festival Choir in its final concert on Wednesday, June 21, and conductor Jason Ikeem Rodgers leads the AMP Summer Series Festival Orchestra on Thursday, June 22.