Afa S. Dworkin
February 3, 2016
The Sphinx Organization, the widely celebrated, Detroit-based champion of minorities in classical music, reached a turning point last March: Founding president Aaron Dworkin announced he was leaving to become dean of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan.
The Sphinx board kept the job in the family — literally — by appointing Dworkin's wife, Afa, as its new president. She had been with the organization since 1999 (before marrying Aaron) and had eventually served as its artistic director and executive director. The Sphinx Competition for black and Latino string players enters its 19th year this week marking the first time that Afa S. Dworkin, 39, will be sitting in the captain's chair for the signature event.
Sphinx has had a historic impact on classical music. Two decades ago, the number of African Americans and Latinos in American orchestras was a little less than 2%. Today, that number has risen to more than 4%, and many winning auditions were past Sphinx laureates.
The competition has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships and prize money since 1998, sent alums to all the top music schools in the country and helped increase the number of black and Latino string players soloing with orchestras annually from nearly none to more than 25. This year, 20 semifinalists will be competing for more than $100,000 in prizes, scholarships and performing opportunities with major orchestras.
Afa Dworkin talked with the Free Press about Sphinx's mission, money and impact.
QUESTION: What's the biggest difference between being second in command and being in charge?
ANSWER: It's quite a different perspective to have macro-oversight. I feel a greater degree of ultimate responsibility, and one of my biggest areas of opportunity is sustainability funding: looking ahead 10 to 20 years, making sure that we're here and healthy. Another area is making sure that our board can grow as our organization has grown — not in numbers but in our ability to get where we want to go.
Q: Aaron hasn't disappeared — he still lives in your house. How helpful is it having him around?
A: It's a huge advantage. But's it's also been fantastic, because he really, truly stepped away and allowed us to pave new paths and identify new territory. He's there for me to bounce things off of him, but it's in an advisory capacity.
19th Annual Sphinx Competition
Senior Division Finals Concert at 2 p.m. Sunday featuring laureates competing for top prizes accompanied by all-black and Latino Sphinx Symphony, conducted by Andrew Grams. Brasil Guitar Duo also appears.
Max M. Fisher Music Center
3711 Woodward, Detroit.
(Junior Division Finals at at noon Friday, Orchestra Hall. Free admission.)