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Harlem Quartet Chosen

Harlem Quartet Chosen as next ensemble in NEC's presitigious Professional String Quartet Training Program.

Harlem Quartet Chosen as Next Resident Ensemble in NEC's Professional String Quartet Training Program

Ensemble Comprising Laureates from the Sphinx Competition has a Mission to Advance Diversity in Classical Music

Performed at White House in December and Featured on Today Show on Christmas Morning

The Harlem Quartet (Ilmar Gavilán, Melissa White, violin; Juan-Miguel Hernandez, viola; Desmond Neysmith, cello), a Sphinx ensemble, has been named the next resident ensemble in NEC's prestigious Professional String Quartet Training Program, directed by cellist Paul Katz. Comprising first-place laureates of the annual Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players, the Harlem Quartet will come to NEC in September 2010 to begin a program that has shaped the artistic development of some of America’s most important young quartets, including the prize-winning Kuss, Biava, Jupiter, Parker, and Ariel Quartets.

The Professional String Quartet Training program offers two years of intensive training and coaching for exceptional groups that show the talent and commitment necessary to pursue a concert career. Groups selected for the program work with Katz (in photo below) as well as NEC’s other distinguished strings and chamber music faculty. They receive top-quality training in all aspects of musicianship and career development, including private studio lessons, chamber music coaching, annual performances at NEC's Jordan Hall, and opportunities to play in the community. On completion of the program, they receive NEC’s professional certificate in the art of string quartet playing, plus additional degrees or diplomas for which they have qualified. Throughout the program, members receive a full tuition waiver, and a living stipend for each semester of full-time study.

The Harlem Quartet was established in 2006 and made its acclaimed debut that year at Sphinx’s 10th anniversary gala concert in Carnegie Hall. Since that time it has dedicated itself to advancing diversity in classical music and engaging young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire, particularly works by minority composers. The quartet has returned to Carnegie on numerous occasions, including a performance in January 2007 as participants in the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' Young Performers Career Advancement Program and an October 2008 appearance with Paul Katz at the annual Sphinx gala. It made its debut at Harlem's legendary Apollo Theatre with a well-received performance of Wynton Marsalis's string quartet At the Octoroon Balls. In collaboration with cellist Carter Brey, it performed in December 2008 at the Library of Congress in a concert employing the Library’s matched collection of Stradivari instruments and including Schubert’s Cello Quintet.

The quartet has performed in cities and towns across the United States, and in 2009 made its London debut at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. It opened its 2009-10 season returning as featured soloists on the national Sphinx Chamber Orchestra Tour, making thirteen stops coast-to-coast including Carnegie Hall, Oberlin College, and California State University. In December it played two performances at the White House for guests of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, and made an appearance Christmas morning on NBC's Today Show. In 2009 the quartet also performed by invitation with Itzhak Perlman at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In January 2010 at Symphony Space in New York City, the quartet participated in a Chamber Music America concert celebrating the music of Chick Corea.  Upcoming activities include concerts with pianist Misha Dichter, clarinetist Anthony McGill, and the Chicago Sinfonietta under Paul Freeman; and summer residencies at Oberlin Conservatory, Roosevelt University, Brevard Music Festival, Great Lakes Music Festival, and Belgium’s Musica Mundi Chamber Music Course and Festival.

The Harlem Quartet’s debut CD Take the “A” Train, featuring music by Wynton Marsalis, Billy Strayhorn, and others, was released in 2007 on the White Pine Music label. A Naxos disc including music by Walter Piston is due out in 2010.  During the 2010-11 season the quartet will collaborate with pianist Awadagin Pratt in recording a CD of music by Judith Lang Zaimont. The distinguished Cuban-American composer Tania León is writing a work for the quartet, with completion anticipated in 2010. 
The Harlem Quartet is co-managed by the Sphinx organization and the New York-based firm Sciolino Artist Management.


First Violinist Ilmar Gavilán is a native of Cuba, where he began his studies at the Havana Conservatory of Music. At the age of 14 he was selected for advanced studies at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, and he furthered his training at the Reina Sofia School of Music in Spain and the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Mr. Gavilán's mentors have included Glenn Dicterow, Zachar Bron, Maia Glizarova, and Abraham Stern. He has had private lessons with Yehudi Menuhin, Ruggiero Ricci and Isaac Stern. Mr. Gavilán is currently a Doctor of Music candidate at Rutgers University, where he is mentored by Arnold Steinhardt.

He has performed concertos with the Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Saint Louis symphony orchestras, and has made solo appearances in Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, Spain, Portugal, and Moscow. Mr. Gavilán is a prizewinner in the Sphinx Competition, the Lipinsky-Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poland, and the International Henryk Szeryng Violin Competition. He made his U.S. recording debut with Aires Y Leyendas, released in 2002; his 2008 recording Gavilán Plays Gavilán includes music composed by his father, Guido Gavilán. Ilmar Gavilán is currently concertmaster of the Philadelphia Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra and performs as a regular substitute musician for the New Jersey Symphony.

Second Violinist MelissaWhite is a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Jaime Laredo and Ida Kavafian. She recently completed her master’s degree at NEC as a student of Donald Weilerstein. The First Place Junior Division Laureate of the 4th Annual Sphinx Competition, Ms. White has appeared as soloist with many U.S. orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Pops, the Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Colorado, Detroit, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and San Antonio Symphonies, the Chicago Sinfonietta, and the New York Symphonic Ensemble. She will make her appearance with the Lansing Symphony Orchestra in spring 2011.

In addition to her work with the Harlem Quartet, Ms. White is a member of the Ritz Chamber Players in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Musicians in New York. In May 2004 and 2005 she was a featured performer at the Hilton Head International Young Musician's Festival, a chamber music series hosted by noted pianist Christopher O'Riley. In 2006, she performed live as a member of the Ritz Chamber Players at the nationally televised NAACP Image Awards, and was named as Harmony Scholar by the Panasonic Corporation. She recently won the prestigious Isaac Stern Award at the 2010 Sphinx Competition for outstanding musicianship and artistry. Melissa White is an alum of From the Top, in fact we just featured her again this season as part of our anniversary celebration.

Violist Juan- Miguel Hernandez won first prize in the International Johannes Brahms Competition in September 2009. He received the Gold Achievement Award of the 9th National Sphinx Competition 2006 presented by JPMorgan Chase. Mr. Hernandez was a first- and second-prize winner in the National Canadian Music Competitions, as well as a winner in the Sillery Music Competition and the Clermont-Pepin Music Competition.

He has made solo performances with the Atlanta and Colorado Symphonies and the Rochester Philharmonic, among others. His performance was characterized by the Atlanta Journal Constitution as “…tender, lyrical, loaded with personality.”  Among numerous solo recitals and solo appearances with orchestras, he was invited to play in two gala concerts at the Pollak Hall in Montreal. He has played with several orchestras, including the Westmount Youth Orchestra and the Colburn Orchestra, and was selected as a showcased artist in the I Palpiti Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Eduard Schmieder. In 2004, Mr. Hernandez gave his first recital for national broadcast by Radio-Canada. He also appeared on local network television for the viola show hosted by Paul Coletti in Canada.

Born in Canada in 1985, Mr. Hernandez began violin lessons at the age of seven and switched to viola at twelve. Following studies at the music high school Pierre-Laporte and with Madeleine Mercy and Jean MacRae at the College Vincent-D'Indy in Montreal, he enrolled at the Colburn Conservatory in Los Angeles, where he received further training under Paul Coletti. Mr. Hernandez has participated in prestigious summer music festivals such as Banff and Domaine Forget in Canada and Colorado Springs in the U.S. Besides the Harlem Quartet, he is a member of the Trio Lamoureux-Hernandez-Pelletier.

Cellist Desmond Neysmith received his Bachelor of Music at the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied with Steven Doane, and furthered his training at the Royal Northern College of Music under the tutelage of Karine Georgian. He is the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including The Countess of Munster Trust, Musicians Benevolent Fund, Myra Hess Fund, The Emmanual Hurwitz Chamber Music Charitable Trust, the Dorothy Grinstead Fund, and the KPMG Martin Musical Scholarship Fund. Mr. Neysmith was awarded First prize at the 2000 Texaco Sphinx Competition.

He has appeared as soloist with many leading U.S. orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Atlanta, Baltimore, Hartford and New World symphonies, and the Orquesta Sinaloa Sinfónica de las Artes in Culiacán, Mexico.

Curious and wide-ranging in his musical and artistic tastes, Mr. Neysmith has always been interested in other genres of performance. With his music theatre company, The Gogmagogs, he has toured Asia, Europe, and the U.S. He took his musical theatre experience to a whole new level in the West End (London) production of Bent by Martin Sherman, where he played a straight acting role in addition to narrating, co-writing, and performing the score for solo cello.

For further information on the Professional String Quartet Training Program, click here.

For more information on the Sphinx Organization, click here.

For more information on the Harlem Quartet, click here .

For information on Sciolino Artist Management, click here.


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions.  On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, Contemporary Improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Collaboration Programs, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music and jazz.

NEC presents more than 600 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, 106-year old, beautifully restored concert hall. These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz and opera scenes. Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.


The Sphinx Organization is the national nonprofit arts and youth development organization based in Detroit and New York. Founded by 2005 MacArthur Fellow
Aaron Dworkin, Sphinx envisions a world in which classical music reflects cultural diversity and plays in a role in the everyday lives of youths.

The mission of the Sphinx Organization is to increase Black and Latino participation in music schools, as professional musicians, and as classical music audiences; to administer youth development initiatives in underserved communities through music education; and to promote the creation, performance, and preservation of works by Black and Latino composers.

 In 1998, the organization hosted the first annual Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players. The competition quickly gained the attention of many notable musicians, including the late Isaac Stern, who attended the 1998 Sphinx Competition and invited several Sphinx Laureates to his studio for private coachings.

Today, the Sphinx Organization’s programming reaches 85,000 young people across the country each year and broadcast audiences of more than 2 million annually. As the organization has grown, so has its acclaim. Sphinx has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, People magazine, Symphony magazine, the Detroit Free Press, and on National Public Radio and NBC’s The Today Show. 

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Public Relations Manager
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115