Mello Cellos, Phat Orangez Kick Summer Into Gear

Lucy Gellman PhotoLifting her second “courteous coyote” of the evening – don’t worry, it’s a hand signal to be quiet, not a new summer cocktail you’ve missed out on – Tina Lee Hadari ushered in one of the smallest groups of cool cats to ever grace a stage.

What followed – a pitter-patter of tiny feet and flurry of doll-sized bows; the not-quite-in-unison donning of pink-and-green piped sunglasses; and a spirited a one, a two, a-one two three from instructor and cellist Philip Boulanger – was all it took for the ensemble to begin playing a version of the “Mello Cello Blues” that had the audience clapping along and moving to the edge of its seats, if only to make sure that the players’ toes touched the floor. (Click on the video to watch the performance.)

The “Mello Cello Blues” was part of a celebratory Summer Performance Party held Friday evening in the Charles Garner Recital Hall at Southern Connecticut State University for Music Haven, the education-focused music organization Hadari runs. Unlike their other events during the year, which often showcase a few of their student players or the much-beloved Haven String Quartet, the performance party was a chance for parents and members of the public to see and celebrate all of Music Haven’s hard work in one place: All 75-plus students at the Whalley Avenue-based after-school program had a chance to play, many of them more than once.

Warmed up by Tina Lee Hadari and Miki Sawada’s moving “Suite in the Old Style” (Alfred Schnittke) and the Haven String Quartet’s better-than-MJ-himself version of “Man in the Mirror,” the audience cheered and clapped loudly for the musicians, who range from build-a-bear-sized cellists to high-school pianists, cellists, violists and violinists.

Especially illustrative of Music Haven’s ability to “grow” musicians – that is, to foster enormous talent through their long-term outlook, emphasis on music as a team-building exercise, and yearly “triangle sessions,” where they check in with families – were back-to-back performances of the first two movements of Mozart’s “String Quartet in C Major, K. 156” (video above) performed by the self-dubbed Phat Orangez Quintet and Alimauza Quartet ...

and the theme song to “The Incredibles,” which had the room exploding in applause.

It was doubly thrilling for audiences – and one might guess, Music Haven’s extensive team as well – to see these musicians come into themselves. Alicia Ernstberger and Isabel Melchinger were one example, giving a fearless performance of Béla Bartók’s “Ruthenian Kolowej”(pictured).

The organization has a lot to celebrate, and a good party has been very much in order since the star-studded March gala earlier this year. In addition to an ongoing string of Haven Quartet events, one of the students has received a full ride to summer workshops at the prestigious Sphinx Performance Academy in Chicago. Three more placed in the Yale Young Artist’s Solo Competition, and three will be attending Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School for music performance in the fall. They’ve also placed as one of the top 50 arts organizations in the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards ... again. If they make the top ten, they will have the chance to play for First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

The secret to giving everyone a chance in the spotlight, Boulanger explained at a potluck dinner after the show, is a commitment to community building on multiple levels: “We’re really lucky to be able to spend as much time with the students over the course of the week as we do, and with the families too, to be able to have this sort of community that you see around you. Everybody’s chipped in, and it’s that way throughout the year. I think that’s really special ...Tina’s assembled such a great team, and they’re the sort of people that exude warmth and love. The families feel that, and the students feel that, and that’s how this all comes together.”

His words came to life quite literally at the end of the evening, when all Music Haven students were joined onstage by instrument-toting board members and eager parents for Project YOURchestra, a slightly epic public play-along of “Canon in D” and “Twinkle Twinkle” (listen in video below) that could only have been improved, Development Director Netta Hadari joked afterwards, by an ‘80s grunge band.

It’s doubtful that as they were rising to their feet, cheers and bravos flying wildly around the performance space, audience members so much as contemplated the absence of Green River or Soundgarden. Fortunately, they won’t have to wait until next June to hear such a mash-up again – Music Haven’s All-Musicians Play-In on the New Haven Green is part of the Festival of Arts & Ideas later this month, and it’s coming to a stage near you soon.

Although perhaps not quite soon enough.


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