Aldo Lopez Gavilan and Harlem Quartet bring new approach to classical music

Cuban pianist Aldo Lopez Gavilan recently played a series of concerts in several north American cities with the Harlem Quartet, a group of musicians that have sought to diversify the appeal of classical music by playing traditional classical pieces alongside different musical genres, such as jazz.

Harlem Quartet Aldo Lopez Gavilan
Pianist Aldo and violinist Ilmar López-Gavilán, brothers from Cuba, along with Ilmar’s group, the Harlem Quartet

Lopez Gavilan draws on influences from a mix of musical styles. His background and formal training was in classical music, having been born in to a family of classical musicians in Cuba and taking up the piano as a child prodigy at age four. He went on to win his first award at aged 11 and make is professional debut in concert at 12. Among his appearances was a performance of Prokofiev’s piano concerto no 1 with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra.

But he has arguably become more well known for his jazz exploits. He made a name for himself playing at the renowned Havana Jazz Festival and has since recorded six studio albums. Over the past month, he has participated in two marathon jazz piano concerts in Miami and Washington DC.

Beyond the family ties (Lopez Gavilan’s brother, Ilmar, is the Harlem Quartet’s first violin), this musical background was well suited to a collaboration with the Harlem Quartet. The quartet was formed with the aim of diversifying classical music, both through its members and by playing works by minority composers. The choice of the name was made in recognition of the role played by Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s, when it acted as a pull to many African Americans seeking a better life in the north after escaping from segregation in the southern states of the US. The quartet felt that drawing on the artistic and cultural legacy of the Harlem renaissance would be a powerful way to carry out the cultural shift in classical music it hopes to help bring about today. The made their debut at Carnegie Hall in 2006, and have performed with world leading musicians such as violinist Itzhak Perlman.

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