LiveConnections is a magnet music/arts collective that crosses musical boundaries and brings together artists from different genres for their concert series and continued community engagement. On February 25 at World Café Live in Philadelphia, they presented the stellar Harlem Quartet and Cuban composer and percussionist extraordinaire Arturo Stable, for a concert that included a piece commissioned by LiveConnections.
The Harlem Quartet ensemble- violinists IImar Gavilán and Melissa White, cellist Felix Umansky and violist Jaime Amador- all accomplished jazz and classical musicians and proponents of contemporary classical fusion, have performed in concert halls all over the globe, not to mention playing at the Obama White House in 2009. World Café Live has a festive club atmosphere and regularly brings together diverse audiences and on this night included many fans of Ms. White who trained at the Curtis Institute of Music.
The group opened with a smoldering Afro-Cuban dance piece ‘Guaguano’ by Cuban composer Guido Gavilan that built around jazz progressions and chamber orchestra classicism. Umansky’s cello holding a bass line samba behind Gavilán, White and Amado’s lush strings that give way to witty pizzicato, and then the players drumming on the bodies of their (suddenly) percussive instruments.
As rhythmically infectious as ‘Guaguano’ is, the group obviously had just as much fun vaulting their precision technical prowess performing Mozart String Quartet No. 17 otherwise known as “The Hunt” a four movement work that Umansky introduced as a hot dance piece from the 17th century and they seemed to have equal fun playing it and meanwhile all of this ensemble’s technical artistry was in the room. The troupe’s interlocks, textures and orchestral drive present throughout.
Arturo Stable introduced the second set by first playing a 20-minute live and frequently thrilling solo percussion piece he titled “Thunderous Inner Vibrations.” Stable introduced the piece by telling the audience even though he could play the drums all day he didn’t want to try the attention span of the audience on a 20- minute solo piece. He usually has his band with him, so he was, for the first time, using a partial recorded playback track of his regular band. And the soundtrack also had a narrative track with musicians talking about creative impulse and universal truths among artists. A big theme in which Stable had much to musically say performing on his forest of percussion instruments that took up half the World Café stage and included congas, bongos, triple djembe, marimba, snares and jazz kit.
The Harlem Quartet joined him for the ambitious premiere of “El Fénix Negro” (The Black Phoenix), for its World Premiere, a commission by LiveConnections. Stable composed a mosaic of Cuban percussion, jazz- classical fusion and muscled Afro-Caribbean folkloric classicism. Atmospheric and dynamic string passages by Stable that highlights HQ’s chamber ensemble synergy and adventurous musical spirit. Stable’s interludes on cajon and other percussive instruments, was not without some static moments, but without doubt virtuosic.
The day before their performance the Quartet and Stable participated in LiveConnections Bridge Sessions interacting with 150 Philadelphia public school students as part of a celebration of Black History Month. At a time when the arts and arts education are the first things on the chopping block for funding LiveConnections and these artists are as committed as ever to keeping the fine performing arts alive and advocating music education, needed more than ever in the current political environment that hostilely undervalues arts education in the US.