Traditional strings with a little jazz

Organizers of UNC Charlotte's new Chamber Music Festival hope they can prove a centuries-old art form can be progressive and fresh.

The festival's three remaining concerts, which continue through Thursday, include more than traditional chamber ensemble pieces. There are also works by contemporary composers such as Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis.

Even the performers - some local talent and some from across the country - are expected to help this event "break down the image that all classical performers are elderly Caucasian people," said Christopher Barton, a staffer at UNCC and one of the festival organizers.

The idea for a classical music festival composed with strong chords of diversity started with a plan to bring The Harlem Quartet to the campus under a grant from the Chancellor's Diversity Challenge Fund.

It seemed like a perfect fit. The fund is designed to support faculty, staff, and student initiatives that promote inclusion.

Similarly, the ethnically blended Harlem Quartet's mission is to promote diversity in classical music.

The foursome is currently the resident ensemble in the New England Conservatory of Music's Professional String Quartet Program.

UNCC violin professor David Russell helped craft three additional concerts around the quartet's visit.

The other concerts will feature five faculty musicians, including Russell, and six guest performers. Charlotte Symphony and Queens University of Charlotte musicians also will perform.

Russell, who joined the UNCC Music Department faculty in 2009 as the inaugural Anne R. Belk Distinguished Professor of Music, chose performers who are diverse in age, background and musical style.

"We can't be isolated," he said. "It's very important that we stay connected to the best, highest quality that art and music have to offer."

Affordable ticket prices are one more strategy for drawing a diverse audience into the music chamber. Seats will go for $9, with discounts for seniors and students.

Sunday's concert is full of romance. The compositions by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Faure are two of the most beloved works of chamber music, Russell said.

"That is music to fall in love to," he added.

The Harlem Quartet will perform classical and contemporary works on Tuesday. The group will present a special program the following morning for a diverse group from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Students from East Mecklenburg High School, James Martin Middle School, Northwest School of the Arts and Vance High School are among the invited guests.

The final concert, on Jan. 27, presents themes from the outdoors. Russell describes it as three songs about trout, rivers, tranquility and the serenity of nature.

"It's not just a narrow offering of classical music," he said.