Harlem String Quartet at Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society

Juan-Miguel Hernandez, Paul Wiancko, Ilmar Gavilan, with Melissa White in front.
Photo courtesy of Harlem String Quartet

Juan-Miguel Hernandez, Paul Wiancko, Ilmar Gavilan, with Melissa White in front.

The mission of the Harlem Quartet aligns nicely with that of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society (MVCMS). According to the string quartet’s website that mission is, in part, “engaging young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire.”

The effort made this summer by the MVCMS and director Delores Stevens, to provide a range of music throughout its season, as well as in its individual programs, will be well represented in their final production of the season as they present a program of Beethoven, Chick Corea, and Antonin Dvořák as performed by the acclaimed Harlem Quartet.

The quartet formed in 2006 and played their first concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. That same year they played at Carnegie Hall to rave reviews. They have gone on to play by invitation at prestigious venues throughout the world.

The piece that the quartet made their acclaimed Apollo Theater debut with was Wynton Marsalis’s first string quartet composition “At The Octoroon Balls.” The group reprised that performance when they visited the Vineyard previously as part of the MVCMS’s 2009 season. This time around they will be including a piece by jazz great Chick Corea in the evening’s repertoire and, in keeping with Ms. Stevens’ goal of mixing modern and classic composers in each of the MVCMS programs, they will start off with Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major. Covering three centuries of string music compositions, the programs (on Monday and Tuesday) will conclude with Dvořák’s Piano Quintet in A Major, with Ms. Stevens on piano.

The Harlem Quartet, whose lineup of young musicians has changed over the years, has gained critical and popular recognition. In 2009 the quartet performed with Itzhak Perlman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and they were twice invited by the Obamas to play at the White House. They are currently the resident ensemble at the New England Conservatory of Music. Each member is a seasoned solo artist having variously performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, and many other Symphonies here and abroad.

Ms. Stevens expresses admiration for the individual members, calling them all virtuosos. She is particularly excited about the violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez, who is one of the founding members of the quartet. “This violist is just stunning,” Ms. Stevens says. “He’s one of the most virtuoso violists I’ve ever heard anywhere.”

The MVCMS has done an exceptional job, not only this season, but throughout its 40-year history, of introducing Island audiences to new music and new audiences to classical music.

“We have all this music from all these nationalities being composed today, and we want to stress the different exciting concert music,” Ms. Stevens continues. She explains the wide range that chamber music can incorporate, saying, “Chamber music is really just music for up to nine people. Unlike an orchestra, with chamber music, each part is a necessary solo part. The better the players are, the more virtuosic it becomes. It’s a combination of having the blending quality of an orchestra and the virtuosity of a solo.”

Other programs this year have combined music by Brahms with contemporary compositions by Philip Glass and jazz composer Billy Childs; and modern marimba compositions with Beethoven, Bach, and Debussy.

“I try to put together many aspects of music so that it can appeal to people’s emotional side and their inquisitive side and something traditional where they feel comfortable,” says Ms. Stevens. She is pleased that the organization has managed this year to attract some new audience members, including younger fans.

The MVCMS has included jazz in a couple of their programs this year, and the Harlem Quartet is known for their mastery of the genre. The inclusion of the piece by pianist and composer Chick Corea will spotlight one of the modern legends of jazz. Many of Corea’s compositions are considered jazz standards. Ms. Stevens says of the Corea piece, “What I try to do is get a centerpiece for a program that I think is going to be truly exciting. I think the Corea gives them the opportunity to show what a string quartet can do that you’re not expecting.”

Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society presents Harlem Quartet, 8 pm, Monday, Aug. 15, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. Tuesday, Aug. 16, Chilmark Community Center. $35; $30 with Island Club Card; free for students. 508-696-8055; mvcms.vineyard.net.