Violinist Ade Williams, a winner of the Sphinx Competition, performs with the Cleveland Orchestra at its 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert in 2013. Starting in summer 2017, the Sphinx Performance Academy for gifted young artists will be held at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University. (Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer)
By Zachary Lewis
January 30, 2017
CLEVELAND, Ohio - First came the Republican National Convention. Then the World Series and next year's All-Star Game.
Now it's the Sphinx Performance Academy, a prestigious summer camp for the best minority youth string players in the nation. Starting this summer, the event will take place annually at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University.
Longtime proponents of diversity, the two schools are now getting proactive on the subject, collaborating in a manner they hope will lead directly to more young African-Americans and Hispanic artists studying music at their schools and entering the profession.
When it comes to diversity, said CIM President Paul Hogle, "You can't just beat on the big orchestras. You have to get down to the grassroots supply level. We don't want to just talk about issues. We want to do something about them."
Efforts to expand the racial profile of classical music in America don't get much more grassroots than this.
From July 23 to Aug. 6, 32 teenagers selected by national audition will live at CWRU and spend their days performing, taking lessons, and getting coached by Sphinx teachers (some of who are Sphinx alumni) at CIM. They'll also attend performances by the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center. In recent years, the camp has been held at Oberlin College and other venues around the country.
Their expenses will be covered by Sphinx, which raises money for that purpose as part of its central mission to promote diversity in classical music. Sphinx also conducts an elite annual competition, whose winners traditionally appear with the Cleveland Orchestra on its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Concert.
Without proactive efforts at diversity, said Afa Dworkin, president of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, "The art form suffers, and the community suffers. The pool is out there. There's no question there's tremendous talent just waiting to be challenged."
It doesn't take an expert to sense the truth of that statement. All one needs to do is look around at concerts by just about any major orchestra in America.