Since their debut at Carnegie Hall in 2004, the Sphinx Virtuosi, led by the Catalyst Quartet, has been recognized as one of the nation’s most dynamic professional chamber orchestras. Comprised of 18 of the nation’s top Black and Latino classical soloists, these alumni of the internationally renowned Sphinx Competition come together each fall as cultural ambassadors to reach new audiences.

Their 2016 program, Latin Voyages: Viajes Latinos takes listeners on a journey from the tantalizing Argentine tango to the nocturnal imagery of Mexico, featuring a grand tribute to the great Piazzolla, with a final invitation to Catalan dance. Explore the palette of the string medium through works from celebrated composers of Latin heritage, and celebrate the intricate mosaic of sounds and colors that pay homage to a diverse musical culture.

Sphinx Virtuosi is a co-presentation with The Schubert Club, the Ordway, and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Sphinx Virtuosi

Sphinx Virtuosi group; credit: Kevin KennedyThe Sphinx Virtuosi, led by the Catalyst Quartet, is one of the nation’s most dynamic professional chamber orchestras. Composed of 18 of the nation’s top Black and Latino classical soloists, these alumni of the internationally renowned Sphinx Competition come together each fall as cultural ambassadors to reach new audiences. This unique ensemble earned rave reviews from The New York Times during its highly acclaimed debut at Carnegie Hall in December 2004. Allan Kozin described their performance as “First-rate in every way” and “the ensemble produced a more beautiful, precise and carefully shaped sound than some fully professional orchestras that come through Carnegie Hall in the course of the year.”
Continue Reading

The Sphinx Virtuosi have returned to Carnegie Hall annually since 2006 performing to sold-out halls and earning outstanding reviews from The New York Times each year. At once a bridge between minority communities and the classical music establishment, the Sphinx Virtuosi continue to garner critical acclaim during their annual national tours to many of the leading venues around the country.

Inspired by Sphinx’s overarching mission, the Sphinx Virtuosi works to advance diversity in classical music while engaging young and new audiences through performances of varied repertoire. Masterpieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi and Mozart are performed alongside the more seldom presented works by composers of color, including Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, George Walker, Michael Abels and Astor Piazzolla, among others.

The four principals of the Sphinx Virtuosi are members of the Catalyst Quartet, which has independently garnered acclaim in performances around the world (Karla Donehew Perez and Jessie Montgomery, violin; Paul Laraia, viola; and Karlos Rodriguez, cello). Members of the Sphinx Virtuosi have performed as soloists with America’s major orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras. Members also hold professional orchestral positions, and several have been named Laureates of other prestigious international competitions, including the Queen Elizabeth and Yehudi Menuhin. Roster members have completed and continue to pursue their advanced studies at the nation’s top music schools, including Juilliard, Curtis, Eastman, Peabody, Harvard, and the University of Michigan.

The Sphinx Virtuosi’s first recording was released in 2011 on the White Pine label and features music of Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Gabriela Lena Frank and George Walker.

Catalyst Quartet

Hailed by the New York Times at their Carnegie Hall debut as “invariably energetic and finely burnished… playing with earthy vigor,” the Catalyst Quartet, prize winners of the Gianni Bergamo Classical Music Award 2012 (Switzerland) is comprised of top Laureates and alumni of the internationally acclaimed Sphinx Competition with the 2015 winner of the Seoul International Music Competition. Known for “rhythmic energy, polyphonic clarity and tight ensemble-playing”, the quartet has toured domestically and abroad including sold out performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, at Chicago’s Harris Theater, Miami’s New World Center, and Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall.
Continue Reading

The Catalyst Quartet has held concert residencies at institutions such as the University of Washington, University of Michigan, Rice University, Houston’s Society for the Performing Arts, University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, and Pennsylvania State University. International residencies where they perform and give master classes have included the In Harmony Project in England, the University of South Africa, and the Teatro de Bellas Artes in Colombia.

The Catalyst Quartet have been invited guest artists at important music festivals such as Mainly Mozart in San Diego, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Sitka Music Festival, Juneau Jazz and Classics, Strings Music Festival, and the Grand Canyon Music Festival. In 2014, they opened the Festival del Sole in Napa, CA with violinist Joshua Bell and also participated in England’s Aldeburgh Music Foundation’s String Quartet Residency with two performances at Britten’s Jubilee Hall. Recent seasons have brought international touring in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and expanded U.S. tours in Virginia, Minnesota, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and California. The Catalyst’s New York City presence has included concerts on the cafe series of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University’s Miller Theater, Barge Music, and Schneider Concerts at the New School. In February 2016 they presented six concerts with Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The Bach/Gould Project – Catalyst Quartet’s debut recording featuring the members’ own arrangement of J.S. Bach’s monumental Goldberg Variations paired with Glenn Gould’s seminal String Quartet – was released in April 2015 on the Azica label. The quartet is also featured on the release STRUM, the string works of composer/violinist Jessie Montgomery. The quartet has performed on numerous television and radio broadcasts including multiple contributions to American Public Media – Performance Today, and have been featured in The Strad and Strings Magazine.

Founded by the Sphinx Organization they completed their fifth national tour in October 2015 with the Sphinx Virtuosi as their featured ensemble. The Catalyst Quartet serves as principal faculty for the Sphinx Performance Academy at Oberlin College and Roosevelt University.

Date & Venue

Sunday, October 30, 2016, 3pm
Ordway Concert Hall


Libertango-Astor Piazzolla, arr. Thomas Kalb
Primera Suite Argentina-Alberto Williams
Metro Chabacano-Javier Álvarez
Prélude Ibérique-César Espejo (featuring Hannah White, violin)
Bachianas Brasileiras no.5, Aria-Heitor Villa-Lobos, arr. Catalyst Quartet (featuring Catalyst Quartet)
La muerte del Ángel-Astor Piazzolla, arr. Catalyst Quartet (featuring Catalyst Quartet)
Last Round for Two String Quartets and Double Bass-Osvaldo Golijov
Concerto per corde, op. 33-Alberto Ginastera
Concert is estimated to be approximately 2 hours with one intermission.

Program Notes

Program Note on “Latin Voyages: Viajes Latinos” compiled by Afa S. Dworkin, President and Artistic Director, The Sphinx Organization, with contributions by Adriana Acosta

Latin Voyages: Viajes Latinos takes the listener on a journey, a quest from the tantalizing Argentine tango to the nocturnal imagery of Mexico, along with a tribute to the great Piazzolla.  We invite you to explore the exciting palette of the string medium through the prism of renowned composers of Latin heritage as well as those heard more seldom.  Celebrate the intricate mosaic of sounds and colors that pay homage to our vastly diverse heritage through music!

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) arr. Thomas Kalb: Libertango

Astor Piazzolla, born in 1921 in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, was an only child to his two parents.  In 1925, the family relocated to New York City until 1936.  At the age of 8 he was given his first bandoneon his father purchased for him at a pawn shop in 1929. After a year of studying the instrument with Andres D’Aquila, Piazzolla made his first record, Marionette Spagnol, a phonograph disk recorded in the Radio Recording Studio in New York. In 1933, he studied with Hungarian pianist Bela Wilda.  Later, he became friends with Carlos Gardel who was an actor in the movie, “El Dia Que me Quieras”, a highly influential film in the history of Tango.

Piazzolla recorded and published Libertango in 1974. This piece represents a pinnacle in his career as it became the symbol for his departure from Classical Tango to Tango Nuevo. Originally performed on the bandoneon, this arrangement by Thomas Kalb, German conductor, pianist and bassoonist, is set for a chamber string ensemble.  We invite you to listen for the exquisite melodic lines, and robust rhythms: the piece demands consummate musicianship from its performers while simultaneously being beautifully accessible to the audience.

Alberto Williams (1863-1952): Primera Suite Argentina

Alberto Williams (Buenos Aires, Argentina 1862-1952) is a post-Romantically inspired composer, who takes us on a journey of transfiguration and emergence of an Argentine inspired musical corpus “pampeano.”  Williams was champion of Argentinian and Latin American folk music and was the first eminent Argentinian composer to relate Argentine folk music into classical style music. He left behind 2 concert overtures, 9 symphonies, three symphonic poems, 3 series of Milongas for Orchestra, 3 Argentine Suites for strings, 3 Sonatas for violin and piano 1 sonata for cello and piano, a sonata for flute and piano, a trio, 83 songs for voice and piano, and more than 100 additional works. 

Composed by Williams in 1923, the Primera Suite Argentina is comprised of four dances: the hueya, the milonga, the vidalita, and the gato.  Listen for the distinctive style of each movement, varying from lively, as heard in the pizzicato section, to contemplative to elements of tango.

Javier Álvarez (b. 1956): Metro Chabacano

Born in Mexico City, Mexico, Javier Álvarez Fuentes (b. 1956), is known for his ability to combine musical styles from around the world, unusual instrumentation, and new music technologies.  Hailed by celebrated composer John Adams, “The music of Javier Alvarez reveals influences of popular cultures that go beyond the borders of our own time and place.”

Álvarez studied composition and clarinet with Mario Lavista before moving to the United States in the early 1980’s.  Later, he moved to Great Britain for his studies, where he attended the Royal College of Music and the City University in London. Before writing Metro Chabacano, he wrote an electroacoustic work for tape and maracas in 1984 and named it “Temazcal.”

Metro Chabacano (chabacano – “apricot” in Mexican Spanish) was commissioned in 1988 for Cuarteto Latinoamericano by Marcos Limenez.  The piece references a train station in Mexico City, punctuated with brief solos from each instrument as they showcase the rhythmical insistence of repetitive eighth notes.  Sounds simplistic?  Deceptively so…the work is rather rich in its complexity. 

César Espejo (1892-1988): Prélude Ibérique

Cesar Espejo was a Spanish violinist and conductor, who sadly, remains obscure in today’s world of musical literature. He authored a plethora of works, mostly for the violin, including a scale book.  Espejo identified as a Spaniard, despite the fact that he resided mostly in France. He dedicated his Prélude Ibérique to the incredible violin virtuoso, Henryk Szeryng (1918–1988).  The work offers a serious virtuosic challenge for the artist and an absolute treat for the audience.  Further, Prélude Ibérique pays homage to the composer’s heritage while audibly connecting with some of the best Spanish compositional traditions preceding his time (Turina, Albeniz, and others).  The Prélude is likely inspired by Malagueña, a song by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona.  The song has since become a standard of sorts, completely outside of its original realm (performed by drum corps and marching bands!).  Our inspiration behind programming this work came from a spectacular album Capricho Latino by violin virtuoso of our time and a long-time artistic advisor to Sphinx, Rachel Barton Pine.

Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) arr. Catalyst Quartet: Bachianas Brasileiras no.5, Aria

Heitor Villa-Lobos (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 1887-1959) was a well-known Brazilian composer whose music meets with prominence to this day. He composed over 2,000 vocal, orchestral, chamber, and instrumental pieces.  Villa-Lobos was heavily influenced by elements of European classical folklore and Brazilian folk music, hence the name “Bachianas Brasileiras” to a series of works he created. The arrangement of this popular work by the Catalyst Quartet showcases their individual playing styles; and captures the dynamic piece and transports you to the depths of Brazilian rainforests, with the use of astonishing and moving classical traditions.

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) arr. Catalyst Quartet: La muerte del Ángel

Written in 1960s, La muerte del Ángel (from a series of ‘angel’ pieces), one of the composer’s most distinctive pieces, this gem has been immortalized by artists of several generations in a variety of instrumental transcriptions.  In this work, Piazzolla transcends the traditional genre of tango with his innovative sultry style that clearly asserted a new musical language. One can hear a kind of a jazz swing, some wonderful sophistication in the harmonies and beautiful chromatic lines, all of which constitute a new direction that the composer charted for himself, this form, and the genre as a whole.

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960) Last Round

Osvaldo Golijov grew up listening to the music of Astor Piazzolla, which moved him deeply.  As a young person, Golijov studied piano and composition; he studied in Israel as well as the US  under such greats as George Crumb, Oliver Knussen, and Lucas Foss.  

This incredible masterpiece is inspired by the great Astor Piazzolla, as well as the St. Lawrence String Quartet, a group that is favored by the composer.  Tragically, Piazzolla’s terminal illness was the event which precipitated the birth of the slow movement of the work. With the encouragement from the St. Lawrence Quartet, Golijov finished the work in 1996, scoring it specifically for its current instrumental configuration, and preceding the slow movement with a fiery, fast movement. 

Following is an excerpt from the liner notes of the magnificent recording by St. Lawrence Quartet, from Golijov himself:

“The title is borrowed from a short story on boxing by Julio Cortázar; the idea was to give Piazzolla’s spirit an imaginary challenge to fight one more time (he used to get into fistfights throughout his life). The piece is conceived as an idealized bandoneon. The first movement represents a violent compression of the instrument and the second a final, seemingly endless opening sigh (it is actually a fantasy over the refrain of the song “My Beloved Buenos Aires,” composed by the legendary Carlos Gardel in the 1930s). But Last Round is also a sublimated tango dance. Two quartets confront each other separated by the focal bass, with violins and violas standing up as in the traditional tango orchestras…”

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983): Concerto per corde, op. 33

Alberto Ginastera composed his String Quartet No. 2 in 1958. His Concerto per Corde, Op. 33 (Concerto for Strings) came 7 years after, as an adaptation of the quartet for full string orchestra that. The new first movement, Variazioni Per I Solisti, is really a raw-sounding and clearly challenging theme and variations, where soloists lead prominently in a complex dialogue with the orchestra.  This is followed by Scherzo Fantastico: Presto, which leaves a listener with a sense of chaos, disorientation, a frantic chase, perhaps. The Adagio Angoscioso explores the concept of sound from a contemplative perspective, paying tribute to the past and incorporating traditional melodic elements.  The piece concludes with the Finale Furioso: colorful, rhythmic, almost breathless. This movement showcases folk idioms, changing meters, hidden melodic ideas from preceding movements, all expressed through excellent writing for the string medium (much like Bartok, an inspiration behind much of Ginastera’s work). Get immersed in the ferocious energy of the unyielding rhythm and virtuosic brilliance of the sound.

More info:


Sphinx Virtuosi on the Web

Catalyst Quartet on the Web

Sphinx Virtuosi on Facebook

Catalyst Quartet on Facebook

Sphinx Organization on Twitter

Catalyst Quartet on Twitter

These artists are fantastic talents that have arrived as world class musicians. After witnessing their talent, their artistic innovations, and their commitment to their craft, I can see that the future of classical music is in good hands with these major talents.

Chicago Critic

True to their name, the Sphinx Virtuosi call up the vision of an iconic mythological feline with its immeasurable power, unwavering command and soulful beauty.

The Washington Post