I had the privilege of listening to the finals from SphinxCon – a program put together to “…transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts.” The 2015 Sphinx finals brought out some amazing black and Latino classical artists to allow them to shine from Orchestra Hall, Detroit Symphony’s home. These folks support the arts in ways beyond SphinxCon; they have an ambassador chamber quartet, the Catalyst Quartet, they teach, help get instruments into the hands of talented students, have a traveling education program and so much more. This year’s senior finalists, Annelle Gregory, Michael Casimir and Eduardo Rios all played top-class level classical music. Rios won the competition. We also heard fifteen-year-old Hannah White, a junior finalist, whose lovely performance of Mozart belies her age.
Encouraging classical music among youth and a diverse population is a noble cause on many levels, but the organization actually supports a range of music. While the standard playlist for orchestras was certainly present, their program also included Octavio Vásquez’s “Widows of the Living and of the Dead, Concerto for Gaita and Orchestra.” I’ve had few pieces of music so quickly grab me by the collar and surprise me like this piece. It was alternately haunting, intense, fast, loud and reflective. Gaita is a bagpipe from the Gailician region of Spain. Played by the lovely Cristina Pato, the performance was full of nuance, life and energy. If you think bagpipes are all about men in kilts playing war songs, this will totally change that perception. Ms. Pato has performed with Yo-Yo Ma (Special Artistic Advisor to Sphinx Organization) and is part of his Silk Road Ensemble. She’s the first female Gailician bagpipe player to release a solo album. If you ever see her in concert, you’ll be totally taken in by her charm, joie de vivre and passion. When she expresses joy or pain in her music, it is infectious. You can get a quick sense of this from NPR’s Little Desk Concert which features her.
The soloists were supported by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Andrew Grams. Mr. Grams has got to be one of the coolest and most approachable conductors I’ve seen in action. I want to be Andy Grams when I grow up. So, you have a bunch of young people passionately pursuing music and being mentored by adults who share similar passions and have seen many of the same struggles. How cool is that? This program isn’t just about the artists, as Mr. Aaron Dworkin has said, it’s about preserving an important segment of the arts for whole communities. If you can find a way to see the next SphinxCon stream or visit one of their touring groups, do what you can to support them. When we support the arts, we’re really preserving a bit of the community’s soul.