Orchestras Must Recruit More Black and Latino Musicians, Says Sphinx President

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American orchestras are falling backwards when it comes to hiring black and Latino musicians.

Aaron Dworkin, the president and founder of the nonprofit Sphinx Organization, offered a stinging critique of the orchestra field in a speech Tuesday night at Carnegie Hall, saying that symphonies aren't doing nearly enough to diversify their ranks through recruitment or fellowship programs.

Noting that four percent of orchestra players in the U.S. are black and Latino, Dworkin said that major ensembles routinely hold auditions without actively reaching out to identify candidates of color.

Dworkin was especially critical of the New York Philharmonic, saying that the orchestra has not had a black member in five years. It also does not have any Latinos. During the 1960s, Leonard Bernstein made a point of recruiting the violinist Sanford Allen, its first black musician.

"At what point are we actually going to all feel impelled to act in our professional capacities?" Dworkin asked.

A Philharmonic spokesperson responded, "We recognize this is a very important issue facing the orchestral landscape and classical music as a whole, and we are supportive of Aaron Dworkin and the Sphinx Organization’s efforts in this area. We look forward to continued dialogue with Mr. Dworkin in addressing these issues."

Dworkin called on every American orchestra to devote five percent or more of its budget to diversity initiatives and establish measurements for success. He also urged grant-making organizations to tie funding to improvements in minority recruitment.

The Sphinx Organization was founded in 1996 and provides instruments and free training to black and Latino musicians. Many of its alumni have gone on to careers as soloists and chamber musicians. But comparably few have become full-time symphony members.

Dworkin, a violinist, has criticized the orchestra field before. But his latest comments, presented as part of the Sphinx Organization's tenth annual Carnegie Hall gala concert, come at a crucial juncture. American orchestras have been hit lately with labor unrest, bankruptcies and concerns about shrinking audiences.

Ultimately, funders have the means to affect change, said Dworkin. "Of the over 2 billion dollars given to the arts in this country, not enough is specifically targeted to benefit underserved communities," he said. "At some point, the philanthropic community needs to seek out and provide major funding to new partners if they hope to realize the change they seek."

Below is a video of Dworkin's address, taped in a rehearsal: