in: Reviews

July 23, 2014

Harlem Comes to Woodstock

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Ilmar Gavilan, and Melissa White, violins, Jaime Amador, viola and Matthew Zalkind, cello, have been the Harlem Quartet since 2006. They played at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock on Saturday evening. The program was “Adventures Of Hippocrates” by Chick Corea, the “Notturno” from Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2, Walter Piston’s String Quartet No. 1, “Take the A Train” by Duke Ellington, and Wynton Marsalis’s “At The Octoroon Balls”.

Corea’s piece is jazzy, combining rich harmonics with “friendly” dissonances. The five sections are dance modes in fast tempos. I have no idea whether this music will be long lived, but it’s a successful effort of combining classical techniques with today’s nosh pits.

Harlem Quartet (file photo)

Harlem Quartet (file photo)

I’d thought the Borodin “Notturno” was going to be just a change of pace, but Harlem showed with its brilliant sound and manner that it belongs with the rest of the program. This evening was incorrectly billed as “Jazz at the Maverick.” I would call it what it was: “Music at the Maverick.”

Ellington’s “A Train” was a totally free improvisation. The Storyville bands and any contemporary groups have nothing on Harlem when it comes to improvising, listening to each other and picking up ideas, then expanding them. Harlem was astoundingly brilliant; they blew me and the rest of the audience away.

The Piston quartet isn’t played often; it’s not a favorite of mine but it’s an important American piece of the early 30’s. Piston was an important teacher and major American composer of his time and he deserves to be remembered better. It was performed with understanding of the style and feeling of that composer.

Wynton Marsalis’s String Quartet No. 1 is based on folk songs and rhythms, expanded and developed to what used to be called “classical dimensions”, as opposed to the simpler and more accurate “new music.” It is in seven sections, different rhythms marking each, and a few ‘sound effects’ that I didn’t care for.

These musicians are wonderful! Their sound is bright, solidly precise and dynamically wide ranging, always balanced with the music, and clearly they have a good time performing. I wondered what they’d be like playing Bartók and Schubert. The violist informed me that both composers are in their repertoire.

Jay Wenk studied Composition at Juilliard on the GI Bill, for five years,  learning was that he was a lousy composer, but his love for and interest in music have never diminished.

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