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Harlem Quartet

Peak Performances

What defines the Harlem Quartet? Superb musicianship, a genre-bending repertoire, and performances that audiences describe as pure delight. Founded with a mission to advance diversity in classical music and engage new audiences with works by minority composers, this versatile ensemble easily transitions from classical music to jazzier fare. Its virtuosity and range are on full display in this program of works by Mozart, Bolcom, jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, Latin American composers Rafael Hernández Marín and Abelardo Valdés, and a grand finale
by contemporary music giant Osvaldo Golijov featuring the Shanghai Quartet and legendary jazz bassist John Patitucci.

String Quartet no. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 458
“The Hunt”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

A Night in Tunisia
John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie
arr. Dave Glenn, Harlem Quartet, Aldo López-Gavilán

El Cumbanchero
Rafael Hernández Marín
arr. Nick Aponte, Harlem Quartet, Aldo López-Gavilán

Abelardo Valdés
arr. Nick Aponte, Harlem Quartet, Aldo López-Gavilán

Three Rags for String Quartet
William Bolcom

Last Round
Osvaldo Golijov
with the Shanghai Quartet and John Patitucci, bass


harlem meets havana video
quartet in f minor
in g minor video



The Cultural Engagement program in Montclair State University’s Office of Arts and Cultural Programming involves students, faculty, and community members in creative and intellectually stimulating education events that connect audiences with artists from around the globe. All engagement events are free and open to the public. Click here to see our full list of engagement events for this season.



National Medal of Arts, Pulitzer Prize, and Grammy Award-winner William Bolcom (born May 26, 1938) is an American composer of chamber, operatic, vocal, choral, and symphonic music.

Born in Seattle, Washington, he began composition studies at the age of 11 with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall at the University of Washington while continuing piano lessons with Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobson. He later studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College while working on his Master of Arts degree, with Leland Smith at Stanford University while working on his D.M.A., and with Olivier Messiaen and Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2éme Prix de Composition.

He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan’s School of Music in 1973, was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition in 1994, and retired in 2008 after 35 years.

Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano, and his setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience on the Naxos label won four Grammy Awards in 2005.

As a pianist Bolcom has performed and recorded his own work frequently in collaboration with his wife and musical partner, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Their primary specialties in both concerts and recordings are cabaret songs, show tunes, and American popular songs of the 20th century. They have recorded 25 albums together – Autumn Leaves was released in 2015.

As a composer, Bolcom has written four violin sonatas; nine symphonies; three operas (McTeague, A View from the Bridge and A Wedding), plus several musical theater operas; eleven string quartets; two film scores (Hester Street and Illuminata); incidental music for stage plays, including Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass; fanfares and occasional pieces; and an extensive catalogue of chamber, choral, and vocal works.

Bolcom’s setting of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a full evening’s work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra, culminated 25 years of work on the piece. The April 8, 2004, performance in the recently-renovated Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was recorded by Naxos. The CD won four Grammy Awards in 2005: Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, Best Classical Album, and Producer of the Year, Classical.

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was one of the most in influential and well-known jazz musicians of all time. Over the course of Gillespie’s 70-year career, he popularized jazz for American mainstream audiences and created and expanded the genre to incorporate elements of other forms of music, especially those originating in Cuba, Latin America, and the Caribbean. As a composer, he is known for Latin-tinged compositions such as A Night in Tunisia.

Osvaldo Golijov grew up in an Eastern European Jewish household in Argentina surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla. His close collaborations with the St. Lawrence and Kronos quartets in the 1990s, the premiere of his St. Mark Passion in 2000, the Grammy Award-winning recording of his opera Aindamar and a sold-out festival at Lincoln Center celebrating his work in 2006, and a steady stream of commissions and premieres have assured his place in the contemporary music canon. Golijov is Loyola Chair of Music at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Rafael Hernández Marín, also known as El Jibarito, is considered the greatest Puerto Rican composer of all time and one of the most celebrated in Latin America because his popular songs resonated throughout the region. A leading figure of Puerto Rican folk music, he left a legacy of more than 3,000 musical compositions of many different genres.

Mozart ranks alongside Bach
and Beethoven as one of the greatest composers in the Western tradition. His music exemplifies the Classical style with its emphasis on form and balance. He composed in every genre, from dances for Vienna’s balls to opera for its Imperial Theater, and his more than 600 surviving
works amply testify to his genius. (laphil.com)

Abelardo Valdés (1911–1958) was the beloved leader of a highly popular Cuban dance orchestra that bore the same name as the danzón he composed, Almendra (almonds). During the period of its greatest fame, in the 1940s and ’50s, ballroom dancers flocked to the orchestra’s live performances of its extensive repertoire, which their devoted public also knew from the many albums that it recorded.

Legendary bassist and three-time Grammy Award winnerJohn Patitucci has performed throughout the world with his own band and with jazz luminaries Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Pat Matheny, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, Nancy Wilson, and many others. The New York Times has praised his “rich, room-filling sonority” and “dazzling technique.”


The Harlem Quartet, praised for its “panache” by The New York Times, is “bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent,” says The Cincinnati Enquirer. The quartet’s mission is to advance diversity in classical music, engaging young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire that includes works by minority composers.

Since its public debut in 2006 at Carnegie Hall, the New York-based ensemble has performed throughout the US as well as in France, the UK, Belgium, Panama, Canada, and in South Africa, where under the auspices of the US State Department they spent two weeks on tour performing concerts and participating in outreach activities. The Quartet completed the Professional String Quartet Residency Program at New England Conservatory in 2013, and participated in NEC’s string quartet exchange program in Paris, working extensively with violinist Günter Pichler.

In addition to performing in chamber music series around the world, Harlem Quartet has collaborated with such distinguished performers as Itzhak Perlman, Ida Kavafian, Carter Brey, Paul Katz, Fred Sherry, Anthony McGill, Paquito D’Rivera, and Misha Dichter (with whom the quartet made their Kennedy Center debut in February 2013). Harlem Quartet has also worked closely with jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton, with whom the quartet recorded the album titled Hot House. Following a concert tour of 25 major cities, the Harlem Quartet’s recording with Corea and Burton entitled Mozart Goes Dancing won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition in February 2013.

Each member of the quartet is a seasoned solo artist, having appeared with such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, and the Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, National, Utah, Puerto Rico, Juilliard, New World, and Pittsburgh symphony orchestras. In June 2012, the Harlem Quartet collaborated with Music Director Mei-Ann Chen and the Chicago Sinfonietta to give the world premiere of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story arranged for string quartet and orchestra by Randall Craig Fleischer. A recording of the West Side Story arrangement, along with works for string quartet and orchestra by Michael Abels and Benjamin Lees, is available from Cedille Records.

The Harlem Quartet has been featured on WNBC, CNN, The Today Show, WQXR-FM, and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. In 2009 the quartet performed for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House and appeared Christmas morning on NBC’s The Today Show. The Harlem Quartet made its European debut in October 2009 performing at the residence of the US ambassador to the UK, and returned to Europe as guest artists and faculty members of the Musica Mundi International Festival in Belgium. Harlem Quartet is regularly featured at jazz festivals around the world, including the Panama Jazz Festival in Panama City, Montreal Jazz Festival, and Miami Nice Jazz Festival.

The quartet’s recording career began in 2007 when White Pine Music issued Take the A Train, a release featuring the string quartet version of that jazz standard by Billy Strayhorn; the CD was highlighted that year in the November issue of Strings magazine. A second CD, featuring works of Walter Piston, was released in 2010 by Naxos. The quartet’s third recording, released in early 2011, is a collaboration with pianist Awadagin Pratt and showcases works by American composer Judith Lang Zaimont. And two recording projects in collaboration with Chick Corea were completed at the end of the 2010-11 season. In May 2013, the quartet released a live CD from New York City’s Merkin Hall with works by Mozart and Schubert.

Violinist Ilmar Gavilán, a native of Havana, Cuba, has had a remarkable performing career that has taken him all over the world. This fascinating journey ranges from performing for world leaders such as President Obama at the White House and Queen Sofia of Spain at The Royal Palace of Madrid to performing with top stature artists of diverse styles such as Itzhak Perlman and Chick Corea.

As a soloist, Mr. Gavilán has performed concertos with the Atlanta, New Jersey, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Hartford, Nashville, Ann Arbor, Santa Monica, Phoenix, Denver, Louisiana, Anchorage, Santa Fe, Havana, Mexico City, and Venezuela Symphonies and played recitals in England, Russia, Spain and Portugal.

An avid chamber musician, Mr. Gavilán has performed with Itzhak Perlman, Arnold Steinhardt, Ida Kavafian, Carter Brey, Paul Katz, Fred Sherry, Anthony McGill, and Misha Dicter. He has participated in numerous chamber music festivals including Tanglewood, Ravinia and Angel Fire.

Jazz and Afro-Cuban music found a shining place in Mr. Gavilán’s musical life. Alongside his accomplished classical music career he has enjoyed the privilege of performing with jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton. This collaboration earned him a Grammy Award for the recording of the Hot House album as member of the Harlem Quartet. Mr. Gavilán also performed and commercially released albums with Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, and Dafnis Prieto. Other jazz collaborations include performances with Stanley Clark, Lee Konitz, Henry Threadgill, and Doc Severinsen. Mr. Gavilán has been presented in iconic jazz venues such as The Blue Note in New York, and the Montreal, Detroit, Panama, and Saalfelden jazz festivals.

As a recording artist, Mr. Gavilán has numerous recordings with the Harlem Quartet as a founding member. His US solo recording debut Aires y Leyendas and his latest solo album Por el Mar, solely comprised of music composed by his father Guido Lopéz-Gavilán including a violin concerto dedicated to him, are available on Amazon and iTunes.

Mr. Gavilán is an experienced educator, having taught for several years at Juilliard School’s Music Advancement Program. In addition to private students, he has also taught chamber music and given master classes worldwide, most prominently at Música Mundi in Belgium, Soweto Music Academy in South Africa, Eumak Journal Festival in South Korea, and “El Sistema” in several youth orchestras throughout out Venezuela. In the US, Mr. Gavilán has given master classes at Brevard Summer Institute, Eastman School of Music, Interlochen Arts Academy, Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Berklee School of Music, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Mr. Gavilán’s own academic journey began at the Manuel Saumell Conservatory in his native Havana. Having won all national competitions in which he participated, Ilmar Gavilán was selected for advanced studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow at the age of 14. Through the personal recommendation and royal scholarship of Queen Sofia of Spain, studies took him to the Reina Sofia School of Music in Spain where he studied with Zakhar Bron.

Later studies brought Mr. Gavilán to the Manhattan School of Music in New York City where he studied with Glen Dicterow. As a founding member of the Harlem Quartet, Mr. Gavilán received a Graduate Diploma in Quartet Performance from the New England Conservatory in Boston. His mentors there included Donald Weilerstein and Miriam Fried. In addition, Mr. Gavilán received private lessons from legendary Yehudi Menuhin, Isaac Stern and Ruggiero Ricci. Mr. Gavilán has achieved doctoral candidacy at Rutgers University under the mentorship of Arnold Steinhardt.

Mr. Gavilán won first prize at the Sphinx Competition, as well as top honors at the Lipinski-Wieniaswski and the Henryk Szeryng International violin competitions.

Ilmar Gavilán was born to a prominent musical family. His father Guido is a widely recognized composer and conductor, his mother Teresita is a respected pianist and pedagogue. Aldo, his younger brother, is a celebrated pianist and composer, particularly known for his phenomenal improvisations in classical and jazz styles. Ilmar Gavilán’s unique, passionate, and brilliant performances reveal the fulfillment of his heritage and early promise. Today he has a beautiful family of his own and enjoys ocean-related activities.

American violinist Melissa White has enchanted audiences around the world as both a soloist and chamber musician. A First Prize winner of the Sphinx Competition, Ms. White has received critical acclaim for solo performances with some of America’s leading orchestras, including those of Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Colorado, as well as the Boston Pops.

Internationally, she has appeared as a soloist with the Colombian Youth Orchestra in a tour of Columbia as well as in Poland with the Philharmonia Dolnoslaska under the direction of Piotr Gajewski. She has also appeared in recital in Baku, Azerbaijan and, in April 2016, served as interim concertmaster in performances and recordings with the Louisville Orchestra.

As a founding member of the highly acclaimed Harlem Quartet, Ms. White’s passion and artistry have contributed to performances that have been hailed for their “panache” by The New York Times and as “bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent” by The Cincinnati Inquirer. Together with the Harlem Quartet, Ms. White has performed with luminaries such as Itzhak Perlman, Ida Kavafian, Paul Katz and Anthony McGill, and in many of the country’s most prestigious performance spaces, including Carnegie Hall, at the White House in a performance for the President and First Lady, as well as at the Kennedy Center in collaboration with Misha Dichter. Ms. White’s passion for chamber music has recently expanded to sharing the stage with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, most recently joining the world-renowned conductorless chamber orchestra for a tour of Japan.

Always looking to push and expand musical boundaries, Ms. White has also collaborated closely with several leading jazz musicians including Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Gary Burton. Following an extended international tour with Corea and Burton, her recording with the Harlem Quartet and the jazz duo entitled Mozart Goes Dancing won three Grammy Awards, including one for Best Instrumental Composition, in February 2013.

In addition to her musical role with the Harlem Quartet, Ms. White also serves as the ensemble’s in-house grant writer. In this capacity, she has written several successful grants, including James Madison University’s Cultural Connections Artist-In-Residence Grant and a 2016 Chamber Music America Residency Grant which was designated the Guarneri String Quartet residency grant. This award will allow the Harlem Quartet to partake in an extended residency in Mobile, Alabama that will include a close partnership with the Mobile Symphony Orchestra.

Ms. White holds performance degrees from both the Curtis Institute of Music as well as the New England Conservatory of Music and has studied with Jaime Laredo, Ida Kavafian, Donald Weilerstein and Miriam Fried. Her current instrument, “Matilda,” was commissioned as part of a Sphinx MPower Artist Grant in 2014 by the American violin maker Ryan Soltis.

When she doesn’t have a violin in her hands, Ms. White is an advanced practitioner of Bikram Yoga and enjoys taking photos while exploring the many wonderful places around the world that her music has allowed her to visit.

Known for his unique and vibrant sound, violist Jaime Amador has distinguished himself among the latest generation of musicians to emerge from Puerto Rico. Born in San Juan, Jaime Amador began his career at the Children String Program of the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music. He continued his studies at the Juilliard School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, and the New England Conservatory under the guidance of Toby Appel, Isaac Malkin, and Kim Kashkashian. He has participated in several master classes with renowned artists, such as Pinchas Zukerman, Yuri Bashmet, Roberto Díaz, Michael Tree, Gérard Caussé, Hellen Callus, Paul Neubauer, Pamela Frank, Sylvia Rosemberg, and Hartmut Rhode, to name a few.

Before joining the Harlem Quartet in 2012, Mr. Amador had a successful career as a member of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. In 2007, he won first prize at the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra Solo Competition for his interpretation of Béla Bártok’s concerto for viola and orchestra. The newspaper El Nuevo Día praised his performance as “outstanding, having displayed sound technical mastery and a sobriety most appropriate to the nature of the piece. From the moment the viola alone is introduced, this young musician exuded confidence and aplomb, which was mirrored in the precision of his execution throughout the entire performance.”

As a chamber musician, Mr. Amador has played in prestigious venues in the United States and Europe, such as Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York, Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and the Kurhaus in Baden-Baden. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with Chick Corea, Ida Kavafian, Fred Sherry, Emanuel Borok, Mikhail Kopelman, David Geber, Michael Lewin, Misha Dichter, Emilio Colón, Vanessa Pérez, Mykola Suk, and Eric Himy, among others.

Mr. Amador has participated in important international music festivals at the Meadowmount School of Music, where he was teaching assistant to Eugene Becker, Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Escuela Superior de Música Reina Sofía in Santander, Academy of Music in New Jersey, the Norfolk Music Festival in Connecticut, and the Carl Flescsh Akademie in Baden-Baden. Most recently, he participated in the 30th anniversary celebration of the highly acclaimed chamber music festival, Music from Angel Fire, as a member of the Harlem Quartet.

Mr. Amador’s interest in educating new generation of musicians has led him to direct the String Department at the 2011 FOSJA Youth Festival in San Juan. In addition to master classes in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States, Mr. Amador has made outreach programs a priority, bringing music to those with limited opportunities and to a society in need of healing through the arts. Jaime Amador plays a Ryan Soltis 2010 viola.

Praised for his “sublime” playing by Cleveland Classical, cellist Felix Umansky is a frequently sought-after recitalist, chamber musician, and pedagogue. His versatile career has taken him all over Europe and North America where he has performed in some of the most prestigious concert halls including Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center, the Krannert Center, and the Kennedy Center.

Prior to joining the world-renowned Harlem Quartet, Mr. Umansky spent six seasons as a founding member of the award-winning Linden String Quartet. Accolades with the Linden include first prizes in the 2009 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, 2009 Coleman Chamber Ensemble Competition, 2010 Hugo Kauder Competition, and 2010 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition, as well as the ProQuartet Prize at the 2011 Borciani International String Quartet Competition, and an honorable mention at the Banff International String Quartet Competition in 2013.

One of Mr. Umansky’s missions as a performer is to bring a wide range of classical music to as many people as possible. In addition to performing in concert halls, he has been seen and heard playing everything from Bach to works written just yesterday in settings such as libraries, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and even performances on the street. An avid supporter of contemporary music, Mr. Umansky has performed and premiered works by numerous living composers such as William Bolcom, John Corigliano, Kelly-Marie Murphy, Vivian Fung, John Harbison, Chen Yi, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Chick Corea, among many others.

Mr. Umansky has been an artist-in-residence at Yale University and the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts. He has also performed and given master classes at the University of Idaho, University of Iowa, University of Wyoming, and Utah State University. His festival appearances include Aspen, La Jolla, Music Mountain, Perlman Music Program, Music at Port Milford (Ontario), Highlands-Cashiers (NC), Madison (GA), and Amelia Island.

A native of Carmel, Indiana, Mr. Umansky holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and an Artist Diploma from Yale University. His teachers have included Richard Aaron, Desmond Hoebig, Clive Greensmith, Janos Starker, and Polina Umansky. In his free time, he enjoys exploring New York City as well as traveling with his wife, violinist Amy Schroeder.




In The News

RONNI REICH, PEAK PERFORMANCES’ 2016–17 SEASON MAGAZINE: “William Bolcom: Embracing All Terrain”
“At the festival, the Harlem Quartet will play a selection of Bolcom’s rags, arranged for string quartet, alongside Latin and jazz standards and a Mozart work.”

VIVIAN SCHWEITZER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Young, Black and Latino in a Concert for Diversity”
“The audience showed its appreciation with thunderous applause before, after and sometimes during each work. … The Harlem Quartet played with panache.”

SEATTLE TIMES: “A Cuban Classical-Jazz Mix, Straight from Havana”
“North Americans visiting musical conservatories in Havana can’t help but notice that in Cuba, music education is less segmented than it is here. Student performances for guests can include classical, jazz, Afro-Cuban, bolero, salsa and pop — all in one recital.”

“Peak Performances Executive Director Jedediah Wheeler conceived the All Terrain String Festival to celebrate the richness and range of the string quartet landscape. The festival is remarkably broad not only in its lineup, but also in the program of music comprising each concert. It opens, on March 31, with the Harlem Quartet, which aims to advance diversity in classical music, in part by performing works by minority composers in multiple genres.”