Thursday, February 20, 2014 '$4-million gift will let Sphinx Organization offer more to young musicians'

Sphinx founder Aaron Dworkin works with Detroit
students as part of a program that provides free
instruments and lessons. / Sphinx Organization
The Detroit Free Press
By Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press Music Writer
The 17th annual Sphinx Competition for black and Latino string players opens Thursday with the Detroit organization in the midst of a growth spurt.

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.)

These 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 performance opportunities.

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?

Answer: 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?

A: 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.

With 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.

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