Harlem Quartet brings the traditional, contemporary

Paul Wiancko
The Harlem String Quartet (from left): Ilmar Gavilan, violin; Matthew Zalkind, cello; Melissa White, violin;  Jaime Amador Medina, viola. They perform Tuesday at Harris Concert Hall at the University of Memphis.

Paul Wiancko The Harlem String Quartet (from left): Ilmar Gavilan, violin; Matthew Zalkind, cello; Melissa White, violin; Jaime Amador Medina, viola. They perform Tuesday at Harris Concert Hall at the University of Memphis.

Harlem String Quartet

8 p.m. Tuesday at Harris Concert Hall, 3775 Central Avenue in the University of Memphis Music Building. Tickets are $40. Go to concertsinternationalmemphis.org or call 901-527-3067.

The Harlem String Quartet is no stranger to Memphis. It played with Chick Corea at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre last year and with the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra at GPAC in 2008.

But Tuesday’s concert at the Harris Concert Hall at the University of Memphis is all about the young, critically acclaimed group.

The event, presented by Concerts International, offers traditional pieces by Mozart and Schubert along with contemporary works by Corea and Billy Strayhorn.

The variety of works reflects the energy and inquisitiveness of the Harlem foursome. The group started in 2006 at Carnegie Hall, performing at the Sphinx Organization’s 10th anniversary concert. Sphinx

is a Detroit-based nonprofit dedicated to developing black and Hispanic performers. The quartet was formed by Sphinx, its membership consisting of winners of the annual Sphinx Competition for string players.

And much like parents pushing their young to independence, Sphinx has encouraged performers to go out on their own. “We provide professional development and help advance careers,” says Afa Sadykhly, Sphinx’s artistic director. “Now the Harlem String Quartet has established its own career, working with its management firm as an independent group.”

The quartet has performed for President and Mrs. Obama, played the Apollo Theatre, the Library of Congress and been featured on the “Today” show and elsewhere. It’s also the resident ensemble in the New England Conservatory of Music’s Professional String Quartet Program.

“They’re an engaging group of musicians,” says Concerts International board member Bill O’Donnell. “We saw the diversity of their backgrounds and that they had interest in working with schools and young people.”

After Tuesday’s performance, the Harlem String Quartet will work with students at Humes Middle School and the Stax Music Academy.

The newest piece on Tuesday’s program is from Corea’s energetic and imaginatively titled “The Adventures of Hippocrates,” to be followed by Strayhorn’s classic “Take the A Train” that was made indelible by Duke Ellington.

Also in the concert is Mozart’s String Quartet No. 15 in D minor and Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D minor, both masterpieces and both with parallels and opposites.

“They’re in the same key,” says Julie Schap, artistic adviser of Concerts International. “And the Mozart is about birth and the Schubert about death.”

The third movement in each of the quartets, typically slow and peaceful, are instead fast dances. “They made it with the idea that they weren’t going to let you fall asleep in this movement,” joked Schap.

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