Washington Performing Arts Society kicked off their Virtuoso Series on Thursday evening with a delightful performance by the Sphinx Virtuosi, whose eighteen highly polished string musicians simply sparkled with talent and energy that lit up the concert hall and filled it with sounds that left their audience smiling from ear to ear.
The Sphinx Organization is the brainchild of 2005 MacArthur Fellow and inaugural member of the National Council on the Arts Aaron Dworkin, and the Sphinx Virtuoisi is an ensemble of soloists comprised of top alumni from the national Sphinx Competition for young black and Latino string players. All are highly accomplished artists who, regardless of color or ethnicity, could win seats in leading orchestras of the world, with many who have what it takes to launch successful solo careers.
The concert, A Dialogue Between Two Eras, presented in memory of Isaac Stern, included contemporary and baroque music composed by J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Astor Piazzolla, and Benjamin Britten that was wonderfully interspersed with music penned by composers of color that included Jessie Montgomery (a member of the Sphinx Virtuosi), Paquito D’Rivera, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson.
Throughout the evening, the Virtuosi performed as a full ensemble and in various smaller ensembles, based on the needs of the music they were performing. The concert opened with a full ensemble performance of Strum, a wonderful folk-inspired work composed by Sphinx Virtuosi Composer-in-Residence Jessie Montgomery. Opening the second half of the program, sixteen-year-old Adé Williams walked onstage alone to play Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk, a performance which garnered the longest applause of the entire concert. Another highlight of the evening came in the form of Vivaldi’s Concerto for 2 Cellos and String Orchestra in G minor, which featured Gabriel Cabezas and Christine Lamprea.
The Sphinx Virtuosi play at a very high level. In a challenging environment that finds them spread around the country and the world for most of the year, they come together to tour, and they play as one as if this is what they do every day. They have a wonderful dynamic range, and they play together very well. While many members of the audience arrived believing that they would be hearing and supporting high level student musicians, what they discovered over the course of the evening was talent that can hold its own with many of the best chamber groups performing today.
Members of the Sphinx Virtuosi have completed or are studying at many of the nation’s top music schools. For example, cellist Gabriel Cabezas a graduate of the Curtis Institute, was a student of Carter Brey, Principal Cellist of the New York Philharmonic, while violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery completed her bachelor’s degree in violin performance at Juilliard and her master’s degree in composition and film scoring at New York University. Through their affiliation with the Sphinx Organization many have received substantial scholarships and financial assistance to continue their studies and pursue professional careers. As they have been supported in their development, members of the Sphinx Organization are inspired to give back to their communities and to new generations of musicians. Even on tour, as they are now, members of the Virtuosi were scheduled to spend time working with young musicians at THEARC.
It is my hope that the day will come when the orchestras of the world are filled with musicians who reflect the true diversity of the world. In the meantime, the world is lucky to have a guy like Aaron Dworkin working the miracles he works to give voice, visibility, and opportunity to those who proved on Saturday night that music is a universal language that is best served when it is served by all.
Thanks to WPAS for presenting this wonderful concert. Thanks to the Linda and Isaac Stern Charitable Foundation for making it possible. Thanks to the Rachel Barton Pines and the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation for its support of so many young and talented musicians, and thanks to the orchestras, conservatories and music schools who do so much to support the work of the Sphinx Organization.
Washington Performing Arts Society is kicking off a wonderful season of music that will be performed in venues across Washington, D.C. To find a performance just perfect for you, please visit the WPAS website here.