The 17th annual Sphinx Competition for black and Latino string
players opens Thursday with the Detroit organization in the midst of a
Riding the wave of a recent $4-million gift,
the largest contribution in its history, and a new partnership with IMG
Artists, one of the leading management agencies in classical music, the
organization’s annual budget will leap from $3.4 million to $4.6
million. (The individual donor wishes to remain anonymous.)
windfalls are the latest victories for an organization that has been a
driving force for innovation in a field in desperate need of fresh
ideas. In addition to the competition, Sphinx promotes diversity in
classical music through its competition and education programs, among
them touring ensembles, residency programs, scholarships, summer camps,
an instrument fund, a music commissioning program, conferences and music
lessons for inner city youth in Detroit and Flint. The organization
reaches thousands of students each year. The 20 competitors in senior
and junior divisions in this year’s competition, which runs through
Sunday, will be vying for more than $100,000 in scholarships and
Sphinx founder Aaron Dworkin, 43, a
former violinist, University of Michigan graduate and a MacArthur
Fellowship winner in 2005, spoke last week about where Sphinx has been
and the challenges it faces going forward.
Question: You started Sphinx on a shoestring. Was your original vision anything like what it has become?
I have a pretty vivid imagination, but I couldn’t have envisioned what
it has become. The participants this year include people who weren’t
even born when Sphinx was founded. There’s a whole generation of
students who don’t know a world without Sphinx, which for me is weird
having grown up in a world in which I wondered where the other classical
musicians of color were.
Q: How will the $4-million gift and the new partnership with IMG change Sphinx?
The gift is transformative. It’s not affecting us organizationally; our
staff isn’t growing. It’s all going to direct support and scholarships
to young musicians. We can now offer competitive scholarships for alumni
of our programs where they can apply for funding to further their
education. And for 16 years we had to hold the top prize at the
competition to $10,000, but now the winner will receive $50,000.
IMG we see it as the beginning of a long-term relationship starting
with a residency at the Napa Valley Festival del Sole for our Sphinx
Symphony for two weeks. We see opportunities for Sphinx students to work
with other IMG artists and collaborate with other festivals. IMG has
expressed a commitment to the need for classical music to reach broader,
more diverse audiences, and having a partnership with Sphinx can help
not just IMG but the entire field.