Names like Samuel Barber and George Gershwin are well associated with the “American style” of classical music. But, they are just the tip of the classic American iceberg. Fans of classical music history will know that the all too famous Antonín Dvořák’s “American Symphony” is partly inspired by black spiritualities, as well as themes from Native American music. This piece was a mosaic of the cultural richness of American history, and the contributions and inspirations to one of Dvořák’s most famous works are unfortunately not widely known.
BIPOC composers such as Harry T. Burleigh, Florence Price and Carlos Chavez have long shaped the classical North American landscape, incorporating cultural themes, hymns and spirituals into their compositions. Their contributions are sadly underestimated and are generally not taught as an iconic repertoire. The Sphinx Organization and Virtuoso Sphinx are here to change that.
The Sphinx organization was founded by Professor Aaron P. Dworkin, an art professor in the School of Music, Drama and Dance at the University of Michigan. Inspired by the power and wisdom of the mythical creature, the Sphinx, Dworkin’s goal in founding the Sphinx Organization was to make classical music more inclusive towards traditionally underrepresented communities, such as communities of color.
The Sphinx organization responds to the need for greater diversity in music education, repertoire, audience and leadership. Some ways in which they provide educational opportunities are through various ensembles, grants, competitions, and the Sphinx Performance Academy, among other efforts.
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The Sphinx Virtuosi, which came to Madison on September 30 to perform at Shannon Hall at Memorial Union, is a chamber orchestra of 18 world-class black and Latin musicians. Receiving numerous accolades and sold-out shows, Sphinx Virtuosi presents invigorating works from a diverse group of artists to make classical music more accessible to a wider audience.
Sphinx Virtuosi is currently on a nationwide tour, performing a program called “Trace visions. This program seeks to ‘evolve our’ classic canon ” and ‘tell a more complete story of America’.
Classical composers of color have always composed music and told their stories – the program includes works by composers such as Alberto Ginastera and Xavier Foley, a soloist of the Sphinx.
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Here is a little more information about the program. The program opened with Foley’s original composition “Ev’ry Voice, which is Foley’s vision of a black national anthem. This was followed by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor “Four newsWhich has been performed in several of his programs and includes a rich violin solo. Then a movement of “String Quartet No.2 in A minor, ”Composed by Florence Price has been performed. Besides, “SEVEN», By Andrea Casarrubios was specially dedicated to those who fought on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The next work, “Inocent ” and “Mourinho “ influences from Cuban musical culture. Finally, the concert ended with “Concerto for strings “ by Alberto Ginastera. Bringing in works by these composers, who are part of America’s rich history, aims to show a more complete “vision of America”.
The University of Wisconsin campus is managed by the Wisconsin Idea, the principle that education must have an impact on the community beyond a university campus. Sphinx Virtuosi and The Sphinx Organization enrich the lives of students, musicians and the communities around them in many ways. This specific program is also intended to invite those who do not usually participate in classical music concerts.
Sphinx Virtuosi aims to demystify and create a safe space for an art form that has a reputation for being intimidating and chic. With a fun and electrifying program and a safe space for returning classical music lovers and those who have never attended a concert before, tIt’s a program you want to see over and over again.