In preparation for the Sphinx Contest Final and SphinxConnect Conference next week, The Violin Channel sat down with Sphinx Organization President and Artistic Director Afa S. Dworkin.
The final round of the junior and senior divisions of this year’s competition will be broadcast virtually, but live, here on The Violin Channel on January 29 at 7:00 p.m. (ET).
Happy birthday! Congratulations on 25 years of truly impactful initiatives and the hard work you, your colleagues and many predecessors have done. What does it do?
We are so proud of the accomplishments of our artists and the incredible network of leaders on and off stage, setting new standards of excellence!
How did the Sphinx organization start and what was the initial dream that sustained it?
Sphinx was launched 25 years ago with the inaugural Sphinx competition for young black and Latino string players. The aim was to identify, nurture and support the most talented young artists. It was a program that was meant to empower many people. Today, Sphinx is a movement that transforms lives.
Why was Mr. Dworkin so convinced that it was necessary at the time?
A black violinist himself, he was often the only one or one of fewer than a handful in most musical contexts. It aimed to change that narrative and give a stage to many deserving voices, for the good of our artists as well as our entire field.
Your team has been able to accomplish so much, but can you tell us about some of the major milestones that have happened over the years?
There are a number of milestones. Celebrating 25 years, over 850 alumni, 4.5 million awards and scholarships, and the artistic journeys of 4 touring ensembles make the list!
If you could narrow it down to just one, which Sphinx achievement would you say you and your team are most proud of?
Perhaps the fact that in these difficult times we have seen greater interest in our programs, an overall growth in the applicant pool of 60%, and the fact that our artists have innovated and not been silenced. . Being by their side and helping to amplify their voices has been our greatest honor, through digital and live tours, through the innovative endeavors they have pioneered and the way they have edified each other. Returning to the Carnegie Hall stage last fall felt like a historic high point, celebrating their resilience.
What real ground do you think has been reached in our industry to close the racial gap since 1997?
Most critical is the change in narrative. Sphinx was able to help establish and highlight the fact that talent and excellence are abundant in black and brown communities.
In your opinion, what still remains to be done?
A more systemic, inside-out, top-down engagement from the ground to prioritize representation beyond words and declarations, but through more informed programming and creating opportunities that balance our ecosystem in a continuous and authentic way. Representation should become the norm, not an opportunity to show off.
What would you like to ask industry to help you with?
Doing the right thing when no one is watching, writing, acknowledging. Recruit, reward, retain, nurture, include, empower all voices. To do this, we must first prioritize those who have been excluded and silenced.
What are the goals for the future of the Sphinx Organization?
To continue to serve our field, our artists and our communities through programs ranging from creative youth development to artistic leadership.
What professional and personal advice do you have for young Latino and Black musicians around the world?
A message of belonging and empowerment: we want to hear your voices and amplify them.
How can we watch the finals of this year’s Sphinx Contest?
7 p.m., Jan. 29, Facebook Live, or directly linked from www.sphinxmusic.org. Dont forget to vote !
What can the winners of the contest expect to win? And how do you help them on an ongoing basis?
They will compete for 100,000 prizes, including the 50,000 Robert Frederick Smith Prize, as well as access to scholarships and performance opportunities with dozens of orchestras and other venues. Our approach is a healthy approach to their artist’s development and we work with each of them throughout the year to support their efforts.
If we want to support your work, how can we do that?
Check out our 25th anniversary homepage, invest in our work and help us spread the word!