Friday just past 5 p.m., and Yaira Matyakubova and Annalisa Boerner were trying to get their bearings after a long week. Around them, Mexico City’s Metro Chabacano, the largest metro and train station in the world, buzzed with activity. Wheels whirred to life. Feet marched by, hitting the ground with a certain urgency. The station’s old split-flap display changed for an umpteenth time, a wave of new times and destinations appearing on its toothy face.
Matyakubova and Boerner swayed along with the station’s rhythm, falling in line with the frenetic pace of Mexico City.
They weren’t really in Mexico City Friday afternoon. They were in Fair Haven—conjuring a small, mellifluous piece of Mexico City that they had brought back to New Haven via their instruments, a violin and viola.
Accompanied by Haven String Quartet members Gregory Tomkins and Philip Boulanger, Matyakubova and Boerner used Friday afternoon to take around 45 New Haveners around the musical world, performing pieces by composers from Mexico, Uganda, the Czech Republic, and Serbia at the Fair Haven School on Grand Avenue. The concert came as part of an ongoing collaboration between Music Haven and Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), whereby concerts kick off with a performance from Music Haven students, and are followed by an “instrument petting zoo” open to the public.
As the event started, it seemed that most families had come not from abroad, but the far away land of Hamden. No matter: the hour-long concert packed a striking aural punch as it veered away from the Haven String Quartet’s du jour repertoire in favor of exciting, upbeat new compositions like Xavier Alvarez’ Metro Chabacano and rich older ones like Antonin Dvorak’s folksy American Quartet.
Indeed, the pieces presented a far more compelling version of the “evolution of harmony” than one that the Quartet offered earlier this month in a three-hour European odyssey. In Ugandan composer Justinian Tamasuza’s Mu Kkubo Ery ‘Omusaalaba, listeners were able to pick up hints of deep-throated, brassy instruments and communal playing that had the youngest members of the audience completely captivated and moving to the beat. In Alexandra Vrebalov’s stirring Pannonia Boundless, based on nomadic music, vignettes of an embattled but ultimately beautiful Serbian landscape — and the people living on it — came to life.
So too did the littlest members of the audience, brought up on the school’s expansive stage to compose their own pieces, and then given one-on-one lessons with members of the Haven String Quartet during a post-concert “petting zoo,” during which they — and their parents — were encouraged to try out some of Music Haven’s pint-sized instruments.
“It’s great,” said Jennifer Stergiou, who had brought her young daughter Mary Ann after reading about the event on Facebook. Dwarfed alongside a miniature cello, Mary Ann seemed to agree, sending out a series of notes that had a small crowd cheering in front of her.