Harlem Quartet plays with Chicago Sinfonietta
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media June 7, 2012 11:16AM
‘Chicago Sinfonietta with The Harlem Quartet’
♦ June 16
♦ Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville
♦ Tickets, $45-$10
♦ (630) 637-7469
Updated: June 7, 2012 11:16AM
Special guest star The Harlem Quartet joins the Chicago Sinfonietta for its final performance of the season at North Central College.
The orchestra will do a world premier of a new arrangement of Roger Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” sponsored by the Bernstein estate, at the 8 p.m. June 16 performance in North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville.
“That anchors the theme of the program,” said the Sinfonietta’s music director Mei-Ann Chen. “We will begin the program with a love story from Shakespeare’s literature, Mendelssohn’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ So we thought we’d anchor the program with a love theme.”
This will be her first time working with The Harlem Quartet, who are Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White, violin; Juan-Miguel Hernandez, viola; and Paul Wiancko, cello. The quartet returns to the Sinfonietta for Michael Abels’ “Delights and Dances.” Commissioned by the Sphinx Organization and premiered by the Harlem Quartet in 2007, it celebrates and promotes African-American and Latino culture.
“It’s really a fun piece of music,” she said. “It showcases each instrument in the quartet, all four soloists. We’ve got four young, really engaging, rising stars in the classical music world. They are very engaging in terms of their style. To have the four of them perform a piece that is very dear to their heart … it’s really a crowd-pleaser piece.”
Also on the docket is Benjamin Lees’ “Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra.” The quartet is the heat beat of the piece, she said. While the Abels piece might be a crowd-pleaser, Chen called this the “ultimate musical test.”
“There are mixed meters in the piece,” she said. “Meaning you might be in (one rhythm) and two seconds later you are in completely different rhythmic pattern. Which is a challenge … But it’s absolutely a jam in the repertoire. Benjamin Lees grew up in a generation in American composers where going to Europe to study was the trend. And he did that. But when he got back to America, he decided not to go in the Americana route. He felt that his calling as a composer was to continue to develop more in the classical form than in the popular route. His music really pushed the envelope. He doesn’t make it easy for anybody. He has created this intense journey from beginning to end.”
Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” incorporates elements of the original text to help set the tone for the music, she said. Naperville Mayor George Pradel joins the orchestra as the narrator for the North Central College performance.
“It’s a way for us to say how honored we are to have a presence in Naperville,” she said.
After the concert series, the Chicago Sinfonietta and Harlem Quartet will continue their partnership and record a new album for Cedille Records, to be released in spring 2013. It is the first commercial album by the orchestra in 10 years and is also Chen’s first recording.
The album will include Lees’ Concerto, Abels’ “Delights and Dances” and Fleischer’s arrangement of “West Side Story.”
“I thought it was a neat idea if my first commercial disc with the Sinfonietta to feature and tie in all this collaboration together,” she said. “It’s a lot of different pieces of the puzzle falling into place for me. It’s my first commercial disc, so I’m very honored.”