Harlem Symphony Orchestra Chamber

The Harlem Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players, formed in 2004, features eight musicians who play a variety of instruments.

Like the neighborhood that gives it its name, the Harlem Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players demonstrate self-expression and diversity.

Created in 2004, the Harlem Symphony Orchestra highlights the historic contributions and visibility of black orchestral musicians. The small group of eight orchestral musicians played a large variety of instruments including the violin and French horn. 

The concert brought out a small, but attentive crowd to its performance Wednesday night at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, where the group performed memorable works by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, James H. Lee III and Ernst von Dohnanyi.

The biggest surprise of the event was the performers’ ability to make classical music appealing to everyone. The Harlem Symphony Orchestra transformed the ideal classical music to something more exciting, aggressive and emotional. 

Amadi Azikiwe, the music director of the Harlem Symphony Orchestra and JMU faculty member, said the main motive of this orchestra is to show the layers of self-expression of blacks. Just as blacks transformed art and music during the Harlem Renaissance, this orchestral group plays classical music in a refreshing way. 

Hillary Hooker, a senior music education and performance major, attended a master class with the performers before the event.

“Just seeing the artistry that they advocated for brought to life on stage was amazingly inspiring,” Hooker said.

The group opened the event with a performance of  Quintet for Strings in B Flat Major Op. 87, composed by Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Thrilling and fast-paced, each song built suspense. This occurred throughout the entire concert, each song engaging the audience in the sometimes dark-toned pieces. 

The highlight of the concert was the composition “The Appointed Time,” composed by Lee. Born in 1975, Lee composed this piece 12 years ago while attending the University of Michigan. With the pieces “As He Was Led into the Wilderness” and “This Could Be Yours if You Bow Down,” this composition could be described in one word: epic. That might sound like an exaggeration, but it was great to hear classical music composed in such a modern way.

With the sharp and heavy play of the string instruments, Lee’s composition painted a story for the audience, with each piece having a haunting feel to it. With “Stones and Bread” and “Throw Yourself Down,” it ranged from slow-paced melodies to thrilling, aggressive climaxes. The overall composition had a sinister, yet bittersweet tone and feeling of a heroic tragedy.

The night’s final song, von Dohnayni’s Sextet in C Major Op. 37, brought the performance to a close with a brilliant finale. Along with the string instruments, this composition’s additional piano and clarinet, added in soothing jazz to the classical music. The most memorable performance was by pianist Kevin Sharpe, who played the piano smoothly to each countermelody. 

Sharpe will play again at Forbes Center in March as a solo artist.


Contact Johnathan Rivera at riverajx@dukes.jmu.edu