Midtown: Community

Sphinx Virtuosi celebrates diversity in classical music – Wiggins

From left, East Millbrook Middle School students Taylin Fleming, Justin Trinh and Skyler Wechsberg rehearse classical music.
From left, East Millbrook Middle School students Taylin Fleming, Justin Trinh and Skyler Wechsberg rehearse classical music.

Greg Logan was a Raleigh fifth-grader when his school’s principal announced a new class and a woman showed up with lots of string instruments.

He chose the violin.

“To this day, I still play,” said Logan, a graduate of Broughton High School who retired last year after 19 years as the school’s orchestra director.

Logan now serves on the board of Chamber Music Raleigh, which will host a three-day residency Oct. 9-11 of the Sphinx Virtuosi.

One of the country’s leading professional chamber orchestras, the Sphinx Virtuosi is comprised of 18 of the nation’s top African-American and Latino classical soloists, ages 15-29.

The self-conducted ensemble debuted at Carnegie Hall to rave reviews in 2004 and has returned annually since 2006. It is a program of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, a national group “dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts.”

Black violinist Aaron P. Dworkin founded Sphinx as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan to address the obvious under-representation of people of color in classical music, both on stage and among concert hall audiences.

The group’s work matters, regardless of stereotypes that exist or are perceived to exist – from classical music being only for white people to a lack of school offerings, said Marianne Breneman, the outgoing executive director of Chamber Music Raleigh.

“It speaks to the bigger issue of music being cut from public schools,” she said. “If you never have an opportunity to hear or participate in classical music when you’re young, you won’t be drawn to it when you’re older.

“Access is so important.”

Sphinx Virtuosi promotes diversity by engaging audiences with performances that include the masterpieces of Bach, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi and Mozart, and those of lesser-known composers of color such as Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, George Walker, Michael Abels and Astor Piazzolla.

The group will rehearse with students Oct. 11 at East Millbrook Middle School, which is in its first year of a visual and performing arts magnet program. A piece they’ve been practicing, “La Paloma,” chosen by orchestra teacher Margot Holloman, will mirror the ensemble’s Latin theme.

The experience will open students’ eyes to what it’s like to work as a professional musician in a diverse world, Holloman said.

“This is a great opportunity for my students, a great look at diversity and what classical music can offer,” she said. “They’ll see, ‘Maybe that can be me one day.’ Many students won’t have the opportunity, otherwise.”

Logan agrees, noting the especially rich history of classical music in the African culture.

“We have to put it in people’s faces,” he said. “When you have the Sphinx Virtuosi, with so many African-American and Latino kids playing so incredibly, it’s something that should be seen.

“It’s really important.”



Oct. 9: Opening concert at 3 p.m. at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church, 2209 Fairview Road, Raleigh. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors.

Oct. 10: Two free mini-concerts at Ligon Middle School for about 1,800 middle school students from across Wake County

Oct. 10: Free community concert at 6:45 p.m. at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church, 813 Darby St., Raleigh

Oct. 11: Workshops at East Millbrook Middle School

Oct. 11: Joint concert with young musicians from Kidznotes, an orchestra training program for under-served children in K-12