Playlist: Great American String Quartets
In anticipation of their free performance at the David Rubenstein Atrium on February 22, the Harlem Quartet shares its favorite "Made in the USA" string quartets, revealing the distinctly American voice—bold, eclectic, and open-minded—that has developed in classical music over the past century.
Ruth Crawford Seeger: String Quartet (1931)
An iconic American modernist string quartet. Seeger’s influence can be felt throughout the American string-quartet landscape following the publication of this work in 1931. —Ilmar Gavilán, violin
Samuel Barber: String Quartet, Op. 11 (1936)
The first and only string quartet from Barber gives us one of the most famous melodies in history via its second movement (Molto Adagio), now better known as Barber’s Adagio for Strings. —Jaime Amador, viola
Walter Piston: String Quartet No. 3 (1947)
With his String Quartet No. 3, Piston creatively incorporates the melodic and rhythmic intensity associated with the Romantic idiom into a new contemporary American string-quartet style. —Jaime Amador, viola
William Bolcom: Three Rags for String Quartet (1989)
Arranged in 1989 from his earlier piano rags, these homages to the ragtime era provide a fun, silly, thought-provoking, serious, lively, bumptious character to a genre many associate only with “The Entertainer.” —Felix Umansky, cello
John Adams: John's Book of Alleged Dances (1994)
These dances are so folksy and deliciously fun, each with their own individual grooves. The term "alleged" comes from the fact that the dance steps simply haven't been invented...yet. —Felix Umansky, cello
Wynton Marsalis: At the Octoroon Balls (1995)
This piece explores American Creole contradictions and compromises—cultural, social, and political—exemplified by life in New Orleans. The piece is organized into seven movements, evoking people, places, and events in the Crescent City. —Ilmar Gavilán, violin
Judith Lang Zaimont: The Figure (2007)
We are drawn to Zaimont’s works for their distinctively expressive, emotional, and dramatic language. This piece’s many changes in tempo, meter, and attitude push the performers to rely on intimate artistic connections with one another. —Ilmar Gavilán, violin
Caroline Shaw: Entr'acte (2011)
Caroline's sweeping textures and extremely vocal writing mixed with her utmost understanding of the string-quartet medium makes this a joy to listen to for new-music aficionados and novices alike. —Felix Umansky, cello
About the Curators
New York–based Harlem Quartet, currently serving a three-year residency at London’s Royal College of Music, has been praised for its “panache” by the New York Times and hailed in the Cincinnati Enquirer for “bringing a new attitude to classical music, one that is fresh, bracing and intelligent.” Critic Julian Haylock, reviewing a Naxos recording of string quartets by Walter Piston, called the Harlem Quartet a “formidable ensemble whose members play highly demanding scores with infectious vitality, breezy confidence and (most importantly) affectionate warmth.” Since its public debut at Carnegie Hall in 2006, the quartet has thrilled audiences in 47 states as well as in the U.K., France, Belgium, Brazil, Panama, Canada, Venezuela, and South Africa.
Harlem Quartet’s mission is to advance diversity in classical music, engaging young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire that includes works by minority composers.