Harlem String Quartet features Cuban pianist with Vineyard connection

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Cuban pianist Aldo Lopez-Gavilan and the Island's piano man, David Stanwood. — Courtesy David Stanwood

Classical/jazz fusion with a Cuban twist takes the stage as the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society presents the Harlem String Quartet with special guest pianist Aldo López-Gavilán, direct from Cuba, at 8 pm on Monday, August 7, at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, and at 8 pm on Tuesday, August 8, at the Chilmark Community Center.

Ilmar and Aldo López-Gavilán are virtuoso brothers, born in Havana and long separated by geopolitics. Ilmar is a violinist in New York, while Aldo is famous as a jazz and classical pianist in Cuba.

The Cuban government sent Ilmar to Russia when he was 14 to study with a master violinist. He never returned, and landed a spot in the Queen of Spain’s music conservatory, eventually finding his way to the U.S., where he won first place in a music competition and became the first violinist in the Harlem Quartet, a hard-working performance group that mentors children of color in classical music.

Aldo, six years younger, stayed in Havana, and inspired by the Cuban music culture, has become acclaimed for his own original jazz compositions and classical chops. In 2016, with President Obama’s loosening of restrictions with Cuba, the two brothers finally played for the first time together in the U.S., and thanks to a Vineyard connection, they will perform here this month.

In 2013 the Harlem String quartet performed with the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society. David Stanwood, the Island’s own piano tuner, became friends with Ilmar, and, while sailing off Lake Tashmoo, Mr. Stanwood shared his own history with Cuba. Mr. Stanwood’s great-grandfather was a champion golfer and had a large engineering firm in Havana. In the early 1900s his firm built factories, docks, bridges, the national baseball stadium, the Havana train station, and the Havana Country Club.

In 1957, at age 7, Mr. Stanwood visited the country club with his family just two months before Castro took over. In 1997, David returned to Cuba to tune pianos at the old country club, which had become Cuba’s most prestigious school for the arts. The embargo-breaking brigade was featured in the BBC film “Tuning with the Enemy.” A young Aldo Lopéz-Gavilán plays piano in that film.

Recently Aldo wanted to restore his family’s Steinway piano, and Ilmar told his brother about Mr. Stanwood. Last February, Mr. Stanwood and his wife Eleanor spent a week in Havana, working on the piano and getting to know Aldo and his very musical family, while bringing the family heirloom into good playing condition. The Stanwoods wanted very much to bring Aldo to the Vineyard for a visit. Their solution: Bring the Harlem Quartet to the Island with Aldo as guest pianist.

 

David Stanwood contributed to this article.