The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Feb 01, 2016

Diversity in Detroit: 19th annual Sphinx Competition highlights talents of black and Latino musicians

Posted by Stephanee Strasburg

Above: Sphinx Symphony Orchestra. Photo by Glenn Triest.

The 19th annual Sphinx Competition brings the country’s top young black and Latino string players to Detroit from Feb. 3-7 to perform in a diverse and dynamic classical music concert program. This year’s Sphinx Competition Finals Concert will feature classical music artists and repertoire from around the world. There will also be performances by the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, which is comprised solely of classical musicians of color, and special guest artists Brasil Guitar Duo, winners of the 2006 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition.

Partnering with Detroit Symphony Orchestra and buoyed by a Knight Arts Challenge grant, the Sphinx Organization is working to achieve greater and more diverse exposure to classical music by launching a series of community performances by classical musicians of color. The series will culminate in the live performance of the Sphinx Competition Finals Concert at the Max M. Fisher Music Center on Sunday, Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. Through this project, Sphinx will reach more than 50,000 people in live and broadcast audiences. 

“Through Sphinx’s mission and programming, we strive so that the diversity of our community is reflected in classical music, its artists and audiences,” said Afa Dworkin, president and artistic director of Sphinx Organization. “The 19th annual Sphinx Competition Finals Concert showcases the diversity of talent that exists within the art form, with performances by a South American guitar duo, the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, and the top young black and Latino classical string players in the country. We invite the Detroit community to join us for the concert event and be part of the mission to transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts.”

Brasil Guitar Duo, the 2016 guest artists. Photo by Gal Oppido.

This year’s Sphinx Competition finalists will compete for more than $100,000 in scholarships and awards, as well as for the opportunity to solo with professional orchestras across the country. Over the past 19 years, Sphinx artists have made more than 250 solo appearances with orchestras around the country, engaged 100,000 young people in schools and community centers nationwide. The competition has truly transformed these young artists’ lives.

“I [am] absolutely amazed by all the support that Sphinx provides for black and Latino classical musicians,” said Eduardo Rios, last year’s First Place Senior Laureate. “In Peru, there is an unfortunate belief that classical music is an art form that only the elite class can access and enjoy. What I admire so much about Sphinx is their commitment to counteract these misconceptions of classical music. The fact that many of my friends from home have been inspired by my success at this competition makes me as happy as the prize itself.”

Sphinx is offering free general admission tickets to the Finals Concert to the Detroit community. Tickets can be reserved by contacting Xavier Verna at The concert will also be live-streamed online (note: the link will not be available for viewing until Feb. 7 at 2 p.m.), and will be broadcast on Detroit Public Television on Feb. 22 at 9 p.m. (local channel 56).

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