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Harlem Quartet was founded in 2006 by the Sphinx Organization. The original four members were all first prize laureates of the Sphinx Competition. The Organization wanted to create a group comprised of first place laureates to achieve the overall mission of bringing classical music to inner-city school children.
The group’s name, Harlem Quartet, was given to them by the Sphinx Organization. It comes from the neighborhood in New York City that holds such a rich piece of American history – The Harlem Renaissance. During the 1920s, Harlem became a beacon of hope where educated African Americans migrated looking for better opportunities in the North. They like to think that the work they do–bringing classical music to schools in Harlem and around the world–is in line with this cultural renaissance Harlem represents for African-Americans.
Since its public debut in 2006 at Carnegie Hall, the New York-based ensemble has performed throughout the U.S. as well as in France, the U.K., Belgium, Panama, Canada, and recently in South Africa, where under the auspices of the U.S. State Department in May 2012 they spent two weeks on tour performing concerts and participating in outreach activities.
The Harlem Quartet has been featured on WNBC, CNN, the Today Show, WQXR-FM, and the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. In 2009 they performed for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House and appeared Christmas morning on NBC’s Today Show.
For the first four years Harlem Quartet was together, they had an office in Harlem where they rehearsed daily. They were conceived as an instrument to realize a much bigger goal than themselves: to diversify and create new audiences for classical music. They found that including jazz repertoire made their concerts more appealing younger audiences and they enjoyed presenting both genres. What started as a tool to be more accessible to the kids, developed to a true affinity for jazz. Subsequently they started incorporating more jazz repertoire to their regular concerts to the point that it shaped their artistic identity as a group. Thanks to this stylistically bilingual quality, Harlem Quartet went in a recording studio with jazz legends Chick Corea and Gary Burton. As it turned out the track they recorded together, “Mozart Goes Dancing”, was awarded a Grammy in 2013!
In addition to performing on chamber music series around the world, Harlem Quartet has collaborated with such distinguished performers as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Ida Kavafian, cellist Carter Brey, Paul Katz and clarinetist Anthony McGill and Paquito D’Rivera.