The Sphinx Virtuosi—masterful alumni of a transformative Detroit-based program for young Black and Latinx classical musicians—make a timely statement in “Music Without Borders,” a program that features classical music from around the globe, on Tuesday, October 9, 7 pm, at Spaulding Auditorium.
Praised for “immeasurable power, unwavering command and soulful beauty” (Washington Post), the group is made up of 18 concert artists who got their start with the internationally renowned Sphinx Competition for young black and Latino classical musicians. Now playing with America’s major classical ensembles, the members of Sphinx come together each fall with fellow alums to tour special programs throughout the world.
The performance not only showcases a diverse ensemble, but a diverse program. Featuring composers promoting unity amid hardship and conflict, the lineup includes a highly dramatic string orchestra arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, as well as music from Spain, Syria, South Africa and the US. Additionally, the ensemble performs a new work by multiple Grammy-winning American jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall.
The Shostokovich, written in 1960, is melancholy and much-loved, dedicated “to the memory of the victims of fascism and war” composed after having undergone decades of torment under Soviet rule. Emmy-nominated Syrian-American composer Kareem Roustom’s “Dabke” (2014), comes from a highly rhythmic and coloristic Arab communal folkloric line dance typically performed at joyous occasions. Three-time Grammy-nominated Uruguayan-American composer Miguel del Aguila’s “Life is a Dream” (2002) reflects on a crisi-induced state of mind in which dreams and realities blend. Yasushi Akutagawa’s 1953 “Triptyque for String Orchestra” was written by the Japanese composer in tribute to three Russian composers–Shostakovich, Aram Khachaturian and Dimitri Kabalevsky–who greatly inspired him.
The Sphinx Organization’s founding and mission were informed by the life experiences of Aaron Dworkin, who, as a young Black violinist, was acutely aware of the lack of diversity both on stage and in the audience in concert halls. He founded Sphinx while an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, to address the stark under-representation of people of color in classical music. President Obama’s first appointment to the National Council on the Arts, Aaron Dworkin currently serves as dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater & Dance.
Says the Sphinx program, “Music unites when words fail. By illuminating works by composers from communities searching for harmony and separated by distance, we seek to share our inspiration by the diverse voices that remind us of empathy and our common humanity.”
Watch the Sphinx Virtuosi play Mozart in downtown Detroit, flash mob style: