Photo of Chapin Hall, home of the Cali School of Music

Harlem Quartet Headlines New Residencies at Cali

Groundbreaking ensemble showcases Cali School’s innovative approach to artists-in-residence

Posted in: Cali School of Music News

Ilmar Gavilán (violin), Jaime Amador (viola), Melissa White (violin) and Felix Umansky (cello) of the Harlem Quartet. (Photo by Mike Peters)
Ilmar Gavilán (violin), Jaime Amador (viola), Melissa White (violin) and Felix Umansky (cello) of the Harlem Quartet. (Photo by Mike Peters)

The John J. Cali School of Music is coming back to live performance and instruction this fall with a burst of sound, glory and ingenuity.

Cali is welcoming the Harlem Quartet as its new quartet-in-residence, introducing composer-in-residence Jessie Montgomery, and inaugurating a new weekly residency program that will include such luminaries as Wynton Marsalis and the Kronos Quartet.

“It’s a complete reimagination of what artistic residency means,” says Anthony Mazzocchi, director of the Cali School – one that is designed to tear down silos and provide innovative learning opportunities.

Harlem Quartet

“We are thrilled to welcome Harlem Quartet as our new Quartet-in-Residence,” says Mazzocchi, who notes that few universities now provide such residencies.

The quartet already has a storied history – including a performance at The White House for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009 and a highly successful tour of South Africa in 2012.

The musically versatile ensemble has performed with such distinguished artists as Itzhak Perlman, Ida Kavafian, Carter Brey, Fred Sherry, Misha Dichter, Jeremy Denk and Paquito D’Rivera. The quartet also collaborated with jazz masters Chick Corea and Gary Burton on the album Hot House, a 2013 multi-Grammy Award winning release.

Founding members Ilmar Gavilán (violin) and Melissa White (violin) are joined by Jaime Amador (viola) and Felix Umansky (cello). Although the group once shared a headquarters in Harlem, they hail from all over the hemisphere: Gavilán from Cuba, White from Michigan, Amador from Puerto Rico and Umansky from Indiana.

“We realized we have the same mission as Cali,” says Gavilán. “With the Harlem Quartet, we have been bringing the music to locations and audiences that otherwise won’t be exposed to it for various reasons like personal identification. A lot of kids didn’t have any sense that they could make a career out of music, especially classical music.”

“When we spoke to Tony [Mazzocchi], it was clear that he also has a social component to his vision of Montclair State and a desire to build a very strong local string program. That was very attractive to us.”

Besides, notes Gavilán, his name means “hawk” in Spanish, making the move to the home of the Red Hawks feel something like fate.

harlem quartet in performance


Cali is also welcoming Artist-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery, an acclaimed composer, violinist and educator.

“Jessie is one of the most talented composers and innovative artists I know,” says Mazzocchi.

Jessie Montgomery leaning on wall holding violin
Artist-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery (Photo by Jiyang Chen)

A recipient of the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award, Montgomery’s works are performed frequently worldwide by leading musicians and ensembles. Her compositions have been described as “turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life” and interweave classical music with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, language and social justice.“Music is my connection to the world,” Montgomery explains. “It guides me to understand my place in relation to others and challenges me to make clear the things I do not understand. I imagine that music is a meeting place at which all people can converse about their unique differences and common stories.”“I am honored that Jessie agreed to join us on this amazing journey this year at our school,” adds Mazzocchi.


Weekly immersive residencies

Finally, the reimagined 2021-22 professional residency program includes a rotation of 10 ensembles and solo artists on campus for weeklong visiting residencies across the academic year for the first-ever Cali Immersive Residency program.The artists bring star power, stunning technique and a range of musical genres. They include: choral octet VOCES8; the charismatic “classical-meets-rock-star-duo” Peter Dugan and Charles Yang; electro-acoustic violist Trevor New; composer and soprano Kamala Sankaram; JACK Quartet; the phenomenal Kronos Quartet, and, finally, the legendary Wynton Marsalis.“Each week long residency will contribute to an ongoing exploration of the ever-changing landscape of music today, introducing students by example to a future that will be, at times, less traditional,” says Mazzocchi. “Through the multiple opportunities to learn from guest artists, students will learn more broadly not only about music of the future but also their careers.”

Image of a flyer for promoting the The Cali Immersive Residency program
The Cali Immersive Residency program includes individual and ensemble coaching, seminars, guest lectures, public discussions, campus-wide presentations and culminate in two concerts.

The weekly residencies will each include individual and ensemble coaching, seminars, guest lectures, public discussions, campus-wide presentations and community events, and culminate in two concerts: one on campus in Leshowitz Recital Hall and one in New York City in the Merkin Concert Hall, co-presented with the Kaufman Music Center. (Tickets will be available at

“The goal of these residencies is to break students out of their silos,” explains Mazzocchi.

“Schools of music by their very nature tend to be siloed within themselves. You have music majors – performance majors, music education majors, music therapy majors. And then you have brass and woodwinds and strings. You have composition. There’s jazz and classical. And then the school of music can get siloed in and of itself from the rest of the university.”

With the residencies, Mazzocchi is looking to bring diverse students and educators together not just from the Cali School, but from across the entire University.

“I’m incredibly excited about these residencies. They’re the right fit and they make sense in every way,” says Mazzocchi. “I’m so pumped for this year.”

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann