New initiatives aim to promote diversity within the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

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Historically, American orchestras have been purposely homogeneous – with mostly white male musicians playing works by mostly white male composers. According to data from the League of American Orchestras, the national average for black orchestral musicians is 1.8%. Latino musicians are only slightly more represented at 2.5%.

But change is on the horizon for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO) as President and CEO Dr. Keith Cerny and Music Director-designate Robert Spano collaborate on new diversity initiatives.

Cerny says their artistic vision for the orchestra focuses on “finding extraordinary talent from all walks of life” by focusing on new ways to support artists of color, particularly blacks and Latin Americans.

Here is an overview of their three main initiatives.

Partnership with the organization Sphinx and the National Alliance for Audition Support The Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based non-profit organization, has dedicated the past 25 years to bringing diversity and inclusion to all levels of classical music. In 2020, the FWSO began to partner with Sphinx in its mission.

“We are really trying to break down all the barriers that prevent musicians of color from reaching a place where they can excel and be a part of the orchestra,” said William Neri, head of ensemble advancement and orchestra. the commitment of artists at Sphinx.

Neri, a Cuban-American violist, understands firsthand the impact of Sphinx’s work. As a teenager, he attended the Sphinx Performance Academy (SPA), where he saw for the first time a stage filled with diverse musicians.

“When I was at SPA, I saw Melissa White and Juan Miguel Hernandez playing a quartet together, and I was like, ‘Damn I can do this,’ he said. racial identity question at the time, but it stuck with me as I got older, it was the only time I saw that specificity in the performance on stage.

His role at Sphinx involves managing the National Alliance for Audition Support, which offers mentoring, audition preparation, financial support, and preview presentations to black and Latino musicians.

During the spring 2021 auditions, Sphinx contestant Joshua Elmore defeated more than 100 contestants and was appointed to the post of Principal Bassoon of the FWSO.

“We are looking really intensely, especially for young artists that we might have missed to get back to our main focus,” Cerny said. “I don’t know, without Sphinx, if Joshua would have put his hat in the ring. He might have won without the support, but there’s no doubt that this relationship has really helped.

Eleven directors of the FWSO also participated in remote auditions to select the Sphinx candidates as replacements, of which 17 were selected. Many of these substitutes will be performing in the coming season.

Programming of works by colored composers Sphinx president Afa Dworkin says less than 1% of the repertoire performed by orchestras is composed of composers of color, but suggests that number is closer to 15%. The FWSO already had a head start in promoting Latino composers, thanks to outgoing Peruvian-born musical director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, but more attention was due to black composers.

“One of the things that I did last year that I really enjoyed was listening to a lot of works by African American composers and I started to see how we could integrate them into our program, ”explains Cerny.

The FWSO has programmed works such as Kevin Day’s “Lightspeed” at the America Strong concert last July, “Pulse” by Brian Nabors, the world premiere of “Algo va a suceder” by Victor Agudelo in October, and works by others. composers of color like Adolphus Hail, George Walker and William Dawson.

There is also talk of commissioning promising young composer Brian Nabors for a world premiere in Spano’s inaugural season. The two have worked together previously during Spano’s previous role as Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Engage black and latino artists in the symphonic series

“I see that a big part of my job both as a business leader, but also as a CEO, is to seek out the best possible talent to bring here,” said Cerny. “We owe it to our foundation, to supporters, to our donors, to our board of directors who guide us. We want to attract the most exceptional talent that we can. “

Bringing the best talent to Fort Worth means making sure the talent reflects the community. That’s why the FWSO has invited distinguished black conductors, pianists and violinists to its flagship Symphonic series, including Roderick Cox, Stewart Goodyear, Randall Goosby and Kevin Edusei.

But defending under-represented groups is nothing new for Cerny. While managing director and CEO of the Dallas Opera House, in 2015 he founded the Hart Institute for Women Conductors, funded by the Mellon Foundation, an international program for women on the cusp of great leadership careers. ‘orchestra.

“The representation of women on the podium was almost non-existent when we launched the program,” says Cerny.

Since its inception, more than 500 female conductors have applied to the Hart Institute, and conducting laureates have graced the FWSO podium, including Nicole Paiement in November 2020. This season, Anna Skryleva and Music Director of the Chicago Opera Theater Lidiya Yankovskaya, while Jane Glover is scheduled for the 2022 – 2023 season.

For the FWSO, these initiatives are not a temporary effort but rather something that will shape the structure and programming of the symphony in the future. The hope is that a better performance will inspire a diverse group of young musicians to pursue classical music.

“It’s about creating opportunities, but also about training the next generation,” says Cerny.

He hopes FWSO musicians like Joshua Elmore will inspire others.

“I know every young bassoonist in the country is going to say, ‘Wow, he just won this, and maybe one day I can do it,’” says Cerny.

And the change has already started at the national level, says Neri.

“The growth is there,” he says. ” I feel it. I see him.”

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