Harlem Quartet Brings Classical Music to Chautauqua’s Family Entertainment Series

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Ilmar Gavilán’s parents — both musicians — filled his childhood home with classical music.

Gavilán said he does not take that for granted. With the primary mission of bringing classical music to kids who lack that same exposure, Gavilán helped form the Harlem Quartet in 2006.

At 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday in Smith Wilkes Hall, the Harlem Quartet will bring that mission to the Family Entertainment Series.

The quartet, composed of Gavilán, Melissa White, Jaime Amador and Felix Umansky, attracts a young and varied audience by straying from a solely classical music repertoire, Gavilán said.

The band took their name from the New York City neighborhood that gave life to the Harlem Renaissance.

“We like to think that the work we do — bringing classical music to schools in Harlem and around the world — is in line with this cultural renaissance Harlem represents for African-Americans,” the ensemble wrote on its website.

The group, which Gavilán described as approachable, incorporates jazz into their programs. He said jazz requires the same amount of discipline as classical music.

Gavilán said those concerts act as keys for young people to open many more doors, as both audience members and musicians themselves.

“If you listen to it when you are young, it is very likely that you will be interested in playing,” Gavilán said.

To make the show “communicative,” Gavilán said the Harlem Quartet speaks to the audience, ensuring certain key aspects of the pieces and composers are described with words as well.

“We don’t just play like part of an exhibit in a museum,” Gavilán said. “We impersonate the music with a lot of passion and very vividly.”

The Harlem Quartet collaborated with jazz greats Chick Corea and Gary Burton to create the Grammy award-winning “Hot House” recording in 2013.

A decade since the Harlem Quartet’s founding, it has not only played concerts across several countries, but also participated in outreach activities with support of the U.S. State Department.

The group also played Monday in the Logan Chamber Music Series with Gavilán’s brother, Aldo Lopez-Gavilán.

Julia Mericle

The author Julia Mericle

Julia Mericle is a journalism/mass communication and English student at St. Bonaventure University in the class of ’17. She is reporting on the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Contact her at