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The Chamber Music Society of Detroit has done it again – the organization that has emerged, through cameramusic, as the nation's leading online presenter of superbly produced online concerts and recitals, offered yet another outstanding evening of art music, this time centered on the Havana-born brothers Gavilán, which is to say violinist Ilmar Gavilán, a founder of the world-famous Harlem Quartet, and pianist/composer Aldo López-Gavilán, who has pursued his career – till now – largely in Cuba.
We met the Harlem folks over a decade ago, when the ensemble was in its sixth year of existence; they'd performed in Brevard the year before that. It didn't take long before they were playing all over North Carolina, and repeatedly, too. (The ensemble's most recent visit was a memorable joint appearance with Imani Winds, at the start of what was to have been the latter ensemble's multi-year residency at Duke, interrupted by the pandemic.) It's been a particular pleasure to hear these splendid artists over time in richly varied programs – and to get to know them personally, along the way. Thus we've learned, specifically, about Ilmar's background, his removal as a teenager to Russia for study, accompanied by his mother, while his younger brother stayed home; his father's work as a composer, whose music has been heard here in both formal and informal settings, during the Harlem's several extended visits to the capital; and much more. But we didn't know much about his brother till this combo engagement, streamed world-wide, which involved the heartwarming documentary Los Hermanos, apparently being re-released later this month. (A preview is here.) See it to be reminded of our government's insane anti-Cuba policies over the years. See it to be reminded that music is the universal language. See it and rejoice at the eventual professional reunion of two truly amazing artists whose separation seems to have enhanced their affection for each other (and their comparably remarkable families) and honed their art to a new peak, as demonstrated in the concert currently on view.* And when you see it, you will have your experience of the recital the brothers played significantly enhanced.
The program, given in the Flagstar Strand Theatre in Pontiac, consisted entirely of music by Aldo, all originally for piano – and wow! that guy can play! – and all in turn arranged for violin and piano by Ilmar – ditto. This was the duo's first live performance post-vaccination, and they – and we – cherished it. With one exception, the lineup followed what was published at the CMSD site – that exception was the second piece, announced as "Caipiriname," replaced by a saucy samba, "Zambita." And there was an encore, a dreamy fantasy based on Debussy's "Clair de lune." Otherwise it was all López-Gavilán, all the time, the pieces alternately introduced, often charmingly, and all lovingly brought to vibrant life by two guys whose joy at making this music together was so infections it hopped into cyberspace and extended all the way to the large-screen TV in our den. (Technically, the presenter has mastered the score, as it were – there were no glitches, no, not one.)
These are the names of the pieces, listed here so readers may look them up online or check them off when they get the companion CD: Eclypse, Zambita, Hermanos (Brothers), Epilogo, Arboles en el aire (Trees in the Sky), Waltz, Quick Tune, Viernes de Ciudad (City Friday), and Pan con Timba (which is not to be confused with a Cuban sandwich – the title refers instead to a dance). Some would have been completely at home at the Blue Note, others would have gone well with a French impressionistic program. The rhythms and tempi varied, as did the emotions and moods. This was overall a rich amalgam of sounds, all stemming from Aldo's background in the classics and then in turn richly informed by his life in Cuba, where art – 'tis said – is everything. And did we say that every single piece is a winner?
The playing was incisive, energetic, heartfelt, edge-of-the-seat engaging. They're both virtuosi. They both dazzled. And during the 75-minute program, neither ever ran out of steam. You may catch it online till May 15. The film is available only thru today, but look for it in due course – you won't be disappointed.
Three cheers for these great artists, creative and re-creative. Till we have fully normalized relations with Cuba, this may well be the next best thing.
Go here to purchase access to the film (thru 5/9) and the concert (thru 5/15): https://cameramusic.ticketspice.com/cmsd-gavilan
There's lots and lots of music by these artists on YouTube so just go there, enter their names, and enjoy.
The concert was presented as indicated in the opening paragraph and marketed online in North Carolina by Chamber Music Raleigh.
*I can speak personally of the geo-political craziness, from this side of the lengthy divide: during the '60s I visited several times a major naval base in Cuba that served as the principal intensive training facility for the US Atlantic Fleet – its name has now been eternally sullied because a tiny portion of the compound is used as a prison for "terrorists." I remember walking to the main gate and looking longingly over the fence. Americans were not permitted to pass over to the other side….