"Music of the Americas"

The Sphinx Virtuosi and Catalyst Quartet perform as part of the Center Stage Series
By: Brita Moore, Staff Writer
October 25th, 2012

Detroit’s Sphinx Organization is spreading diversity in the classical music world. Its premier ensembles, the Sphinx Virtuosi and the Catalyst Quartet, will perform “Music of the Americas” at Luther on Oct. 26.

“They create a culture of recognition in classical music for people of color,” director of campus programming Tanya Gertz said.

The Sphinx Virtuosi is an 18-member chamber orchestra, made up of alumni laureates of the national Sphinx Competition for black and Latino string players. Founded in 1997 by Aaron Dworkin, the mission of the Sphinx Organization is, “to transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts.” The number of people of color involved with classical music has more than doubled since Sphinx’s inception. Sphinx’s concert at Luther is part of a tour that includes stops at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. They work without a conductor and play a wide range of musical styles.

“All of our programming is very diverse in scope,” principal cellist Karlos Rodriguez said. “The Virtuosi focuses of African-American and Latin music from all over the world. But sometimes we play Bach, Schubert, or Arvo Pärt.”

The Catalyst Quartet consists of the principal players of the Virtuosi. Along with leading the Virtuosi, it is the faculty quartet at the Sphinx Performance Academy during the summers. “The Catalyst Quartet focuses on new American voice,” Rodriguez said. “The music is today, trying to reflect America culturally. But we pride ourselves on covering all of the bases, like Brahms and Haydn. We’re trying to balance between traditional string quartets and new music quartets.”

The program for Friday night will bring a fresh perspective on string music and interesting compositional modes.

“It’s been a fun program, especially because some of our pieces haven’t been played very much,” Rodriguez said. “[Heitor] Villa-Lobos was a self-taught composer and had no real training, and it can be challenging for people to get behind it. We’ve made that piece our own.”

Along with its story and influence, the Sphinx Virtuosi has garnered incredible accolades from music critics for its talent.

“This is a really legit group,” Gertz said. “Their story does not surpass their musicality.”
Gertz also welcomed Sphinx to the Center Stage Series because of their community outreach efforts. The ensemble will work with the Decorah High School orchestras and will have a meet-and-greet session with Luther students on Oct. 25.

“We go into schools and play for all different types of kids during tour, where there’s need for musical community involvement,” Rodriguez said.

Now the organization has reached 100,000 students nationwide.

The meet-and-greet will give the Sphinx players a chance to tell their stories to the Luther community. It will be targeted toward string players, but all are welcome.

“Students can talk to some people who are ‘making it’ in the world of string playing,” Gertz said.

The Sphinx competition is open to any black or Latino violinist, violist, cellist, or bassist in the United States, with the junior division for ages 12-17 and senior for ages 18-25. Interested students can read more at sphinxmusic.org.

The meet-and-greet will take place Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. in the Center for the Arts atrium. The concert is Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Center for Faith and Life. Tickets are available in the Box Office.