Oldie but a goodie

Da Camera Enters its Third Decade with Concerts from the Harlem Quartet

Jazz and Cuban rhythms are the focus Saturday, with an all-Beethoven concert Sunday.

By Holly Beretto September 20, 2017

Harlem quartet indoor photo credit juan miguel hernandez mrmwmf

The chamber music and jazz evangelists at Da Camera kick off their 30th season with a broad theme, one that seems particularly affirming after something like Hurricane Harvey: “There’s No Place Like Home.” Designed to showcase music that speaks to where we come from, and how music brings us together, the season opener “From Harlem to Havana” with the Harlem Quartet looks to bridge the space between Harlem renaissance jazz and Cuban rhythms.

“We like to play the jazz repertoire at the same level of respect that we give to the standard classical repertoire,” says violinist Ilmar Gavilán. “That’s important to show that both these genres offer so much.”

The concert is a blend of familiar jazz pieces such as “The Girl from Epanema,” “A Night in Tunisia” and “Take the A Train,” as well as the evocative Grieg String Quartet No. 1 in G Minor. But it also incorporates original pieces by Aldo López-Gavilán, Gavilán’s brother.

The quartet is acclaimed for its approachable presentations and playing that combines their genuine enthusiasm and precision. A diverse group of musicians from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the American Midwest, they are also committed to education and outreach.

“We don’t want our concerts to be like museum pieces,” says Gavilán. “We like to be more friendly in our approach, introducing pieces from the stage or answering questions. This needs to be a living experience for our audiences.”

Gavilán says the selections for the concert underscore the influence jazz and Cuban music had on each other during the height of the Jazz Age and before Cuba was closed to American tourism. He thinks the juxtaposition between well-known pieces and his brother’s original compositions will demonstrate to audiences how those influences show the ways people are similar. He also thinks it’s great to be able to work with his brother: “Audiences will see two brothers coming together and sharing how the DNA of this music comes together, too.”

Originally, the performance was slated to occur at now-devastated Wortham Center. But, since the venue was forced into temporary retirement by historic flooding, "From Harlem to Havana" will move down the street to Christ Church Cathedral.

The day after, the Harlem Quartet will put on a free Sunday concert of Beethoven at the Menil Collection. Da Camera came into this world playing 17 of Beethoven's string quartets, and, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, the group re-upped this auspicious beginning with this concert, one of a series called Beethoven For All. Thirty years on the job pales in comparison to figures like Beethoven, but, hey–it's something to aspire to.

Saturday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. Tickets $25. Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas Ave. 713-524-5050. More info at dacamera.com.

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