The Sphinx Virtuosi
“All the hallmarks of a first-rate string ensemble were in place: its tone was warm and varied, it moved with unity and fluidity, and its textures were appealingly transparent. Those qualities, reconfigured to yield a trim, Classical sound, enlivened a brisk performance of Mendelssohn's youthful String Symphony No. 7."
- The New York Times
The Sphinx Virtuosi is one of the nation's most dynamic professional chamber orchestras. Comprised of 18 of the nation's top Black and Latinx classical soloists, primarily alumni of the internationally renowned Sphinx Competition, these artists come together each fall as cultural ambassadors to reach new audiences. This unique ensemble earned rave reviews from The New York Times during its highly acclaimed debut at Carnegie Hall in 2004. Allan Kozinn described their performance as “first-rate in every way.” “The ensemble produced a more beautiful, precise and carefully shaped sound than some fully professional orchestras that come through Carnegie Hall in the course of the year.”
The Sphinx Virtuosi have returned to Carnegie Hall annually since 2006 performing to sold-out halls and earning outstanding reviews from The New York Times each year. At once a bridge between minority communities and the classical music establishment, the Sphinx Virtuosi continue to garner critical acclaim during their annual national tours to many of the leading venues around the country. Their 2015 tour had 16 concerts including Chicago’s Harris Theater, the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the New World Center in Miami, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Inspired by Sphinx’s overarching mission, the Sphinx Virtuosi works to advance diversity in classical music while engaging young and new audiences through performances of varied repertoire. Masterpieces by Shostakovich, Bartok, and Vaughan Williams are performed alongside more seldom presented works by composers of color, including Miguel del Aguila, Terence Blanchard, Michael Abels and Astor Piazzolla, among others.
Members of the Sphinx Virtuosi have performed as soloists with America's major symphony orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras. It members also hold professional orchestral positions, and include laureates of other prestigious international competitions, including the Queen Elizabeth and Yehudi Menuhin.
The Sphinx Virtuosi’s first recording was released in 2011 on the White Pine label and features music of Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Gabriela Lena Frank and George Walker.
Fall 2018 Tour Schedule:
September 30 – New World Center, Miami Beach, FL
October 2 – Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland, OH
October 4-5 – Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, PA
October 7 – Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA
October 9 – Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
October 11 – Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 12 – Rockefeller University, New York, NY
October 14 – Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, MD
October 16-17 – Arts& Science Council, Charlotte, NC
October 18 – University of North Carolina, Winston-Salem, NC
October 20 – Detroit Institute of Arts – Detroit, MI
October 22 – Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen, MI
October 23-24 – City of Flint, MI
October 28 – Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, St. Paul, MN
“The atmosphere was jubilant in Carnegie Hall for the Sphinx Virtuosi, eighteen of the nation’s top Black and Latino classical soloists. Opening with Paganiniana was a touch of inspiration, as the sight of one unaccompanied young violinist walking onto that great Carnegie seemed a powerful symbol. Beethoven’s thorny Grosse Fuge turned out to be an astute choice – and here it sounded newer than ever! Especially noteworthy was the New York premiere of Guardian of the Horizon by Jimmy López, commissioned by Carnegie Hall. Violinist Adé Williams teamed up with cellist Gabriel Cabezas in the lead parts, both absolutely winning. Clearly there is no shortage of stars on the Sphinx roster. Michael Abels’ Delights and Dances is an utterly buoyant tour-de-force with elements of jazz, blues, and bluegrass being tossed in seeming improvisation from player to player in the orchestra and in the star string quartet. Made one want to hear it again and again. This reviewer has not felt so heartened by a group of young musicians since the early recordings of Gustavo Dudamel with El Sistema. Electrically charged performances of as high a caliber as any other professional group, but with the vital energy of a life-and-death mission. Sphinx is indeed illuminating that darkness.”
New York Concert Review - October 13, 2017
“The Sphinx Virtuosi delivered another of their brilliant, fierce, dedicated, and inspiring programs. Mexican composer Javier Alvarez’ Metro Chabacana was beautifully played, and one could hear the pulse of urban life. The Last Round by Osvaldo Golijov was inspired partly by the death of Piazzolla. Its concluding section was absolutely haunting. A phenomenal young violinist, Hannah White, took the stage to blaze her way through César Espejo’s Prélude Ibérique. White commanded every bit of the work, with perfect intonation, technique, flair, swing: in short, everything one could ask for from a violinist. The Catalyst Quartet was in stunning form, with elegiac sound, and great flexibility due to listening intently to each other (a property possessed by the entire Sphinx group. The concert concluded with a fiery account of Ginastera’s Finale furioso from his Concerto per corde, Op. 33. The energy was almost unbearable, in a good way! The audience, refreshingly composed of many younger faces of color, leapt to its collective feet.”
New York Concert Review - October 26, 2016
“The 18-member ensemble, producing an extraordinarily robust collective tone. The showstopper of this concert was Ginastera’s Concerto for strings, played with poleaxing edge and energy. Between those poles of expression and accessibility, the programs ranged far and wide — from ‘Primera Suite Argentina’ by Alberto Williams to Golijov’s ‘Last Round,’ a suavely punchy elegy to Piazzolla. Hannah White blazed through the technical snares of ‘Prélude Ibérique’ by Espejo.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch – October 17, 2016
“An enjoyable concert given to a receptive and grateful audience. Let's hope there is more of this kind of thing in the future.”
ClassicalVoice of North Carolina: - October 10, 2016
“ The Sphinx Virtuosi performed at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening as part of its annual tour. The concert, called ‘Inspiring Women,’ was dedicated to female composers and historical figures. It opened with a propulsive, richly hued interpretation of ‘String’ from Jennifer Higdon’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra,’ which demonstrated the ensemble’s polish and tonal allure. Daniel Bernard Roumain’s ‘Rosa Parks Symphony,’ a tribute to the civil rights activist, featured wailing, passionate violin declarations over ominous, rumbling lower strings. The Catalyst Quartet offered a dynamic performance of Joan Tower’s lyrical, melancholic ‘In Memory,’ inspired by the death of a friend and the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Gabriela Lena Frank’s ‘Cuentos Errantes: Four New Folk Songs’ in which Ms. Frank played the piano part, was inspired by Peruvian culture and featured lively sound effects that evoked traditions like the whistling Huayno. A highlight of the evening was the terrific performance by the 15-year-old violinist Hannah White of the Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 3. Her technical dexterity and expressive flair earned an enthusiastic ovation.
New York Times - October 16, 2015
“Many composers would have been wary of a commission to write a tribute to the 200th anniversary of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ The young violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery was offered this commission by the Sphinx Organization, founded to promote diversity within classical. Ms. Montgomery readily accepted the challenge, writing an urgent, inventive piece titled ‘Banner’ for Sphinx Virtuosi, the group’s ensemble of 18 string players, all prizewinning alumni. Each spring these select musicians come together for a national tour, including a stop at Carnegie Hall, where the Sphinx Virtuosi, along with the Catalyst Quartet ended this year’s 14-city tour. ‘Banner’ concluded a rewarding 90-minute program of recent American works. Ms. Montgomery’s solution was simply to claim the piece unabashedly as a composer and let her imagination lead her. Over all, the multilayered busyness of the music draws you in, especially in this rhapsodic performance.
The Catalyst Quartet, whose other players are the violinist Karla Donehew-Perez, the violist Paul Laraia and the cellist Karlos Rodriguez, were also excellent on their own in Marcus Goddard’s atmospheric ‘Allaqi’ for string quartet. Hedges composed ‘Raise Hymn, Praise Shout’ to feature the brilliant bass player Xavier Foley. The violinist Adé Williams, 17 had Corigliano’s impetuous ‘Red Violin Caprices’ all to herself and played it stunningly. The accomplished Sphinx Virtuosi also offered Gabriela Lena Frank’s pungent, folkloric ‘Coqueteos’ and Mark O’Connor’s Elevations, II,’ with its bursts of country fiddling folded into music of plush harmonies and intricate textures. Through its various programs, Sphinx is reaching some 80,000 young people from 60 cities in 30 states.”
New York Times - October 20, 2014
“Sphinx Virtuosi review: Glimpsing classical music’s future”
Young chamber orchestra busts classical concert stereotypes.
“Before they’d even played a note at Lincoln Hall, Detroit’s Sphinx Virtuosi had already blasted through three of the barriers separating classical music from contemporary relevance. First, they dared to play an entire program of music by American composers (including a world premiere), all but one of them still living, breathing, and writing music. Exclusively presenting creations from our own time and place would be unremarkable in any other art form, but in the shriveling classical music establishment, it’s still too rare. Second, the musicians arrayed on stage were neither old nor white. Sphinx consists of 18 young African- and Latino-American classical musicians — communities terribly underrepresented at Oregon classical music concerts. Third, the musicians actually respected their audience, moving briskly and purposefully to their music stands and rather than shuffling score pages around were playing music within a few seconds of hitting the stage.
The only question that remained as the downbeat approached: could they deliver a performance as musically compelling as their concept was politically correct? Celebrating the first decade anniversary of its Carnegie Hall debut, the chamber orchestra comprises young classical performers who’ve studied at the country’s top music schools and played with its finest orchestras. They opened with music of another virtuoso classical music outsider, fiddle phenom Mark O’Connor, whose 2011 ‘Elevations’ launched the show to a flying start. The group followed with ‘Voyage,’ one of the most popular works of one of America’s greatest living composers, John Corigliano, played (like the O’Connor) with real commitment and skill. The next piece, the bustling ‘Coquetteos,’ from Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout, where the group’s mastery of rhythmic propulsion finally got a chance to cut loose. The excitement generated there proved only a prelude to the first-half closer, ‘Raise Hymn, Praise Shout,’ a Sphinx commission from John B. Hedges. The electrifying Foley’s blistering performance propelled the band through the piece, ending the first half on a joyous note. The Catalyst Quartet (Sphinx’s four principals) opened the second half with superlative performance of Goddard’s rousing ‘Allaqi,’ whose complex meters and unusual textures only enhanced the richness. The full orchestra returned for a lovely performance of Copland’s ‘Two Pieces for String Orchestra.’ Copland would have heartily approved of Jessie Montgomery’s 2014 world premiere, ‘Banner,’ a rhapsody on the theme of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ that put the Catalyst Quartet front and center. Weaving themes from the anthem with those from seven other ‘nations,’ Montgomery’s composition cleverly cast an n older tune in a 21st century multicultural context, somehow capturing its original exultation. Thanks to Sphinx’s committed performance, it worked as a capper on one of the most enjoyable, well-played and involving concerts I’ve attended all year. It toppled another common barrier to classical music enjoyment: dull, insufficiently rehearsed performances. Portland State University deserves high praise for bringing the group. Now that Sphinx has proven that new music, what we delicately call ‘non-traditional’ performers, and first-rate, listener-pleasing performances can inhabit the same stage so successfully, I hope more Oregonians will get a chance to experience the future of classical music soon.”
Oregon Artswatch - October 14, 2014
“On Wednesday Carnegie Hall buzzed with a cacophony of classical music lovers, filling the lobby from wall to wall, ranging from a large, young school group, to seasoned subscribers. So many different worlds had been brought together to see and hear the music of an orchestra whose very mission was stated simply by the attendance of this mixed audience. The theme of the night: Americana – a collection of classical string pieces written by American modern composers, with the flare, lilt, and musical embodiment of the spirit of the United States. Ensemble members were completely involved with their music. The excitement and passion of each player could be seen and heard in the ease with which these artists played, which then translated into the performance itself with passionate and powerful pieces. The piece which stood out to me most was Goddard’s Allaqi, performed by the Catalyst Quartet. I was moved and enthralled by the quartet’s performance, seeing the notes lifted high into the room, painting this grand picture. Providing a semi-solo performance was Xavier Foley . The young double bassist graced the audience with a superbly executed performance of Hedges’Raise Him, Praise Shout. The unique power and devotion of Foley’s work was clearly translated in his performance. Ade Williams stood in spotlight, tearing up the stage with Corigliano’s Red Violin Caprices, transfixing the audience. Sphinx is a marvelous example of diversity joined together into one body of music, rising and falling, dancing and filling the stage with its power. Let their music, their passion, and their diversity move you.”
Splash Magazine - October 30, 2014
“The Sphinx Virtuosi at the Harris - Just Fabulous!”
“The Sphinx Virtuosi is the only all-Black and Latino string orchestra in America. The music, all contemporary pieces by living composers, was fabulous! My favorite was ‘Banner’ by Jessie Montgomery. ‘Banner’ reminded me of the 4th of July, especially the drums. I don’t know how they did it. I loved ‘Coquetteos’ by Gabriela Lena Frank, too. The sound was light and flirty. ‘Elevations’ was truly beautiful.”
SpotlightonLake. Com - October 27, 2014
“The ensemble performed a refreshing program of American music written by living composers. The program opened with Elevations, an exciting start to a new music concert. At the middle of the program was an amazing performance of Hedges’ Raise Hymn, Praise Shout. This work featured bass soloist Xavier Foley. Foley’s solos were majestic and personable, engaging the audience with incredible command of his instrument. Jessie Montgomery’s composition was an incredibly powerful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. This was a performance that should not have been missed. I would like to see the Sphinx Virtuiosi at Symphony Center or the Auditorium Theater with the robust, engaged audience they deserve.”
chicagostagestandard.com - October 22, 2014
“I was lucky enough to experience on the finest chamber music orchestra, Sphinix Virtuois with Catalyst Quartet as they toured in their Americana program. The young dynamic troupe is a professional chamber orchestra and the only all-Black and Latino string orchestra in America. “Banner’was the high point to a concert that also featured works by young American composers. What impressed me most by the Sphinx Virtuois was their vibrant and energetic musicianship that featured their complete skill set. These artists are fantastic talents who have arrived as world class musicians. I can see that the future of classical music is in good hands with these major talents. They impressed all and they introduced youngsters and minorities to the wonders of classical music. The fabulous Sphnix are special - wonderful to see artists at the top of their art!”
ChicagoCritic.com - October 22, 2014
5 stars: “Washington Performing Arts Society kicked off their Virtuoso Series 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 Virtuoisi is an ensemble of soloists. All are highly accomplished artists, with many who have what it takes to launch successful solo careers. The Sphinx Virtuosi play at a very high level. They have a wonderful dynamic range, and they play together very well, talent that can hold its own with many of the best chamber groups performing today. Thanks to WPAS for presenting this wonderful concert.”
DC Metro - November 9, 2013
“The 18-member Sphinx Virtuosi performed conductor-less at the Terrace Theater. The Virtuosi’s playing combined zest, attention to detail, tight ensemble and glistening or deeply amorous tone quality, as the music called for. These high standards held fast despite the diversity of the evening’s program, ranging from major works of Bach and Benjamin Britten’s rambunctious Simple Symphony, to some Piazzolla tangos. True to their name, the Sphinx Virtuosi call up the vision of an iconic mythological feline with its immeasurable power, unwavering command and soulful beauty. All in all, Motor City’s Sphinx Competition clearly exemplifies money and time well invested.”
Washington Post - November 9, 2013
“Sphinx Virtuosi presented a program of that was beautifully played - and, frankly, a refreshing counterpoint to the pallid menu of low-risk composers being wholesaled at the Kennedy Center. Some of the most fiery and flavorful music of the past century has come out of Latin America, and the Sphinx players (joined by the Catalyst Quartet) made a good case for bringing more of it into the mainstream. The Catalyst Quartet took the stage for Golijov’s ‘Tenebrae:’ a serious, convincing account. The tone shifted from dark to light when the quartet launched into ‘Strum,’ a hugely enjoyable new work by Sphinx violinist Jessie Montgomery. Turbulent, wildly colorful and exploding with life, ‘Strum’ sounded like a handful of American folk melodies tossed into a strong wind, cascading and tumbling joyfully around one another. Montgomery’s an inventive and appealing composer. An electrifying performance of Ginastera’s ‘Finale Furioso’ closed the concert, but it was the ‘Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’ by Piazzolla that really stole the show. It was an exciting and virtually flawless performance that brought the audience to its feet.”
Washington Post - October 11, 2012
“The Sphinx Virtuosi with the Catalyst Quartet graced Swasey Chapel with their unique take on classical music and with their conductor-less performance. The commanded attention from a good number of the Granville community as well as Denison faculty and students. The audience seemed to very much enjoy the performance, and the performers received a standing ovation. The Catalyst Quartet works toward A common goal and is more dedicated to the education of contemporary works as well as the performance of these new works. The Catalyst Quartet is specifically made up of musicians who are devoted to their passion for playing and the goal of Sphinx Virtuosi and are both a part of the Sphinx program and a professional string quartet. The performers play with unprecedented passion for their music and their rigor as musicians. Watching and hearing them play was a truly refreshing and inspiring experience.”
The Denisonian - November 12, 2012
“The Virtuosi offered a fiery rendition from Ginastera’s Concerto for Strings and an expressively shaped interpretation of Villa-Lobos’s Suite for Strings. Golijov’s ‘Tenebrae’ was given an introspective reading by the Catalyst Quartet. Ms. Montgomery switched violins for the quartet’s performance of her lively ‘Strum,’ which featured insistent plucked rhythms and elegiac melodies.”
New York Times - October 10, 2012
Headline: Sphinx Virtuosi Awaken the Past
“The Sphinx Virtuosi is an orchestra of complete professionalism and winning personality. The program included both an Afro-American and Latin American composers; however, the proof of these performers' commitment and understanding of the field of music they've entered was in their renditions of works by the old masters. This was especially true considering that those old masters were Mozart and Bach, two composers that are particularly difficult to play well. Mozart's music is open and clear, leaving nothing for performers to hide behind. Bach's is intricately constructed and needs a special touch to bring it to life. These succeeded. The key to this performance of Mozart's Divertimento was rhythmic vitality. The cellos, basses, and violas chugged through their parts with the kind of vigor and flexibility that makes this charming piece go. In their hands, Mozart's music lived. The same was true, more arrestingly, of Bach. Fuga Criolla by Juan Bautista Plaza was full of counterpoint dominated by bold firmness and unbridled consonance. Johan Halvorsen's Passacaglia is a favorite at Music@Menlo, however, it was outclassed here by Virtuosi violist Paul Laraia and violinist Danielle Belen. Belen has a quick dancing way with her violin. The final double-stops in showed Laraia completely in pace with Belen. Sinfonietta No. 2, "Generations," by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson is a work I would have liked to have heard the rest of. The brief scherzo is almost entirely pizzicato, with a bowed passage in violas and a little syncopated handslapping of the double-bass strings: an essay in the traditional American nationalist classical style. One last piece dominated the proceedings, the String Quartet No. 2 by Alberto Ginastera played by the Catalyst Quartet, the first-chair players from the Virtuosi. Through Ginastera's perpetual motion opening movement and finale, his ghostly scherzo full of special sound effects, and the two cautious, softly dissonant slow movements, the resemblance to a really good performance of a Bartók quartet was unmistakable.”
San Francisco Classical Voice - October 19, 2011
“Rhythmic vitality and terrific ensemble characterized this performance of the 18-strong Sphinx Virtuosi. Perhaps the absence of a conductor explains the tight-knit ensemble work as well as the sense of democratic music making in which each musician must take personal responsibility for his/her performance. This group of ‘top alumni’ of the national Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players delighted the large audience.
The diverse program included familiar composers Bartók, Bach, and Schubert, the less-well-known Ginastera and Nyman, and the obscure. The evening opened with one such composer, Venezuelan Juan Bautista Plaza (1898-1965). His 1931 Fuga Criolla (originally for string quartet and titled Fugue on Venezuelan Folk Melodies) is infused with dance rhythms, which induced good energy from the ensemble.
The last movement of Bartók’s Divertimento for Strings provided more folk influence, albeit from a different continent. Solos from individual players contrasted nicely with the larger group as the music dove through changes of tempo and meter, all in perfect synch, no mean task.
A passacaglia by Handel arranged by Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) gave violinist Danielle Belen and violist Paul Laraia a virtuoso showpiece. Belen (not officially a member of the ensemble) is the winner of the 2008 Sphinx Competition; Laraia is part of the band. A passacaglia features a short recurring figure, which provides a great scaffolding over which to explore harmonics, double stops, pizzicato playing — the works. Belen and Laraia reveled in the challenges and dove in head first, each playing off the other’s energy.
Four of the ensemble’s principal players comprise the Catalyst Quartet, which performed two numbers. The first movement of Michael Nyman’s String Quartet No. 2 (1988) combines elements of minimalism with a rock aesthetic in a virtuoso setting. The finale Furioso movement, from Argentinean Ginastera’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26 (1958), certainly shows Bartók's influence, but through a South American prism. This music is “in your face” seething, frantic and fabulous fun.
The second half of the concert began with “dueling quartets” in the guise of Osvaldo Golijov’s 1996 Last Round for two String quartets and double bass. The two movements, written as homage to Argentinean Astor Piazzolla (1921-92), are influenced by tango and pop music. Unfortunately, the instruments of the one of the quartets faced away from the audience, creating a lopsided aural experience.
Alla Burletta, the third movement of Generations Sinfonietta No. 2, by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932-2004), featured lots of pizzicato playing in this short playful romp. The web of counterpoint in the Ricercare a 6 by J.S. Bach was cleanly etched out.
The evening concluded with the last movement of Franz Schubert’s "Death and the Maiden” string quartet as partially arranged by Gustav Mahler (scholars have subsequently completed the arrangement using Mahler’s notes). This furious gallop perfectly ended an evening of animated and vigorous music-making.”
Classical Voice of North Carolina - October 7, 2011
Sphinx Virtuosi a blast of style and talent
“The musicians of the Sphinx Virtuosi strode onto Chicago’s Harris Theater stage Sunday afternoon with a stylish swagger that betrayed the exuberance of their music. A chamber orchestra without a conductor, the Sphinx is made up of alumni of the national Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latino string players. The Detroit-based Sphinx Organization has been promoting ethnic diversity in American orchestral music for 15 years while producing top-rate musicians, some of whom were on display in a program perfectly designed to showcase their virtuosity and youthful energy.
In what would be a stylistic trademark throughout the concert, the Sphinx attacked the Allegro of Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings with rhythmic precision and a strong sense of spirit. The furious string playing gave way to the delicate viola opening of Bach’s Ricercare in six voices from the Musical Offering . Though the ensemble exhibited a fine awareness of balance throughout one of the most complex fugues Bach ever wrote, it had to compete with a few noisy latecomers.
In his “Last Round for Two String Quartets and Doublebass,” Osvaldo Golijov displays his dual affections for Bach and Astor Piazzolla, striking a balance of complex texture and tango rhythms. Again, the Sphinx musicians rose to the challenges as if they had been playing nothing but tangos throughout their young careers. Facing each other on stage, the two quartets danced and traded punches, approximating the tense strains of the bandoneon over Eric Thompson’s sturdy pulse in the bass.
Sharing the stage with the Sphinx Virtuosi was a trio of young soloists who raised the caliber ofthe whole program in three pieces. Joining the Sphinx chamber orchestra, violinist Alexandra Switala infused Vivaldi’s “Summer,” from the Four Seasons with unabashed emotion and technical acuity. Violinist Randall Goosby and cellist Gabriel Cabezas traded solo turns in the Passacaglia for Violin and Cello by Handel and Halvorsen. Though the cello overpowered the violin in this performance, both musicians showed off masterful articulation and a sense of drama. Goosby returned to perform Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Jettin’ Blues” from Blue/s Forms , a piece for solo violin that includes motifs of American blues.
In a program of overflowing energy, the Catalyst Quartet-another branch of the Sphinx Organization - performed single movements from the second quartets of Michael Nyman and Alberto Ginastera, each with relentless rhythmic force.
The entire ensemble returned for the final movement of Schubert’s quartet, Death and the Maiden , arranged for string orchestra by Mahler. A blistering piece as a quartet, the galloping speed poses a greater challenge in a larger group; the Sphinx showcased yet again their impressive ensemble work and articulation.
For all the up-tempo music on the afternoon’s concert, one wanted a chance to take a breath with an occasional adagio, but it’s hard to fault a program for what it is not. The audience left with the impression of some highly talented, confident, and stylish young musicians. In many ways, the Sphinx Organization is a response to the oft-maligned image of classical music as stodgy, old, elitist, and white. If Sunday’s concert was any indication of the future, we music lovers will have plenty of reason to applaud.”
Chicago Classical Music Review - October 5, 2011
Fledgling Musicians Spread Their Wings
The annual Carnegie Hall performances by the young musicians from the Sphinx Organization are always illuminating, not only because they are the fruits of an inspiring program, but also because the performances are invariably energetic and finely burnished. Sphinx, which is based in Detroit and was started in 1996 by Aaron P. Dworkin, a violinist, is dedicated to getting black and Hispanic students involved in classical music, mainly by training them to play and compose but also through music history courses that help produce informed listeners.
The organization provides instruments and scholarship money ($1.5 million so far). Participants in its performance classes can enter annual competitions for cash prizes and an opportunity to tour with the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra, which played at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening.
The ensemble, conducted by Damon Gupton, opened its program with a shimmering, lovingly shaped reading of Sibelius’s Andante Festivo. All the hallmarks of a first-rate string ensemble were in place: its tone was warm and varied, it moved with unity and fluidity, and its textures were appealingly transparent. Those qualities, reconfigured to yield a trim, Classical sound, enlivened a brisk performance of Mendelssohn’s youthful String Symphony No. 7.
Mr. Gupton also led a lilting account of “Coqueteos,” a seductively melodic movement from Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout,” and closed the program with the hard-driven finale of Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Sinfonietta No. 1.
Solo and chamber performances were interspersed with the orchestral scores. The Catalyst Quartet, a new ensemble sponsored by Sphinx, played the Allegro Rustico movement from Ginastera’s Quartet No. 2 with an earthy vigor that made you wonder why whoever assembles Sphinx’s programs did not have them offer the complete work.
Elena Urioste and Melissa White, two superb violinists whose performances were also highlights of last year’s concert, returned to collaborate on a sizzling, acidic account of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Solo Violins (Op. 56).
A third violinist, Randall Goosby, the first-prize winner in the junior division of this year’s Sphinx Competition, exerted a masterly level of control and lavished an exquisite tone on Ysaÿe’s unaccompanied Sonata No. 3. Mr. Goosby does not yet have a fully developed sense of how to fill a phrase with drama, but that will come: he is only 13, and his performance won him a deserved standing ovation for its sheer virtuosity.”
New York Times - October 6, 2010