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Harlem Chamber Players heighten accessibility

9/7/2011, 5:22 p.m.
Harlem Chamber Players heighten accessibility

The Harlem Chamber Players are first when it comes to bringing high-caliber, affordable and accessible live chamber music directly to the people of Harlem.

Their acclaimed chamber music series, Music at St. Mary's, sustains and maintains an audience for classical music "inside the greater cultural landscape of Harlem, which includes jazz, dance, theater, literature, the visual arts and contemporary pop culture," says clarinetist Liz Player, founder and artistic director of the Harlem Chamber Players.

The first must-see concert, hosted by historian Eric K. Washington, is Sunday, Sept. 18 at St. Mary's Episcopal Church (located at 126th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue).

"St. Mary's is an incredibly intimate and comfortable space, and the acoustics are really good," says Player.

The concert features Brahms' "Clarinet Quintet." "We love our fantastic violist Richard Brice," she says. "We always try to find beautiful music to show off his playing."

Guest vocalist mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sebron will sing Brahms' "Two Songs, Op. 91," with Evelyn Golz on piano and Richard Brice joining for the obbligato viola part. "Amadi Azikiwe, a violist and violinist, will play the early Mozart "B-flat Quintet," which I think makes a nice contrast to the somber music of Brahms," says Player.

Additionally, you can speak with these artists at the "Meet the Artists" reception held after every concert.

Music at St. Mary's began in 2008 as a partnership between Player and violist Charles Dalton, who met while performing in the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Symphony's annual Black History Month gala concert at Carnegie Hall.

Inspired by the founder of the NYCHA Symphony Orchestra, Janet Wolfe, Player and Dalton created a summer music festival in the neighborhood of Manhattanville/West Harlem. The Rev. Dr. Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary's, wishing to cultivate the enthusiasm generated by those multi-ethnic, multi-cultural chamber music events, sponsored the creation of a permanent series. Wolfe signed on as a founding board member, and at 97 years old, she's still one of Harlem Chamber Players' biggest donors. "I hope to continue in her vein, creating opportunities for classically trained minority musicians," says Player.

The second concert in the series, Nov. 13's "An Afternoon of Bach," features "Brandenburg Concerto No. 6," with Richard Brice and Amadi Azikiwe from the Ritz Chamber Players (based in Jacksonville, Fla.), and "Brandenburg Concert No. 5," with pianist Evelyn Golz, an original member of the Harlem Chamber Players.

"My good friend Lisa Arkis is playing flute, and Suzanne Ornstein will be joining us for the first time as solo violinist. Violinist Ashley Horne opens the concert with the 'Violin Concerto in A-minor,'" says Player.

Feb. 26 is the Harlem Chamber Players' fourth annual Black History Month celebration, hosted by WQXR radio personality Terrance McKnight and a must-see lineup featuring conductor Tali Makell and soprano Andrea Bradford, who returns to sing spirituals with Wayne Sanders, the director of Opera Ebony, on piano.

Last season, Player received an email from Wilmer Wise saying, "If you ever need a trumpet player, call me."

"Wilmer is a real heavyweight," said Player, and she seized the opportunity to program him for the spring finale concert on April 29, 2012. Wise will perform in Saint-Saens' Septet for trumpet, piano, string quartet and bass.

Initially, Player admits she had reservations about instituting a chamber music series, but she's encouraged by the growing community response.

"Our audience is growing," she says, "We program only the most beautiful chamber pieces that we think the audience will love and select the musicians who bring out the best in the music. We try to keep it real."

Tickets are just $10 to $15, but anyone unable to afford that price is welcome to come to the church to listen for free. Season subscriptions are also available for a limited time. Contact (212) 866-1492 or info@harlemchamberplayers.org.

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