In preparation for the Sphinx Competition Finals and SphinxConnect Conference next week, The Violin Channel caught up with Sphinx Organization President and Artistic Director, Afa S. Dworkin.
Happy anniversary! Congratulations on 25 years of truly impactful initiatives and for the hard work you, your colleagues, and many predecessors have done. How does it feel?
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 supporting it?
Sphinx was launched 25 years ago with the inaugural Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latinx string players. The aim was to identify, nurture and support the most talented young artists. It is a program that was meant to empower many. Today, Sphinx is a movement that is transforming lives.
Why did Mr. Dworkin feel so strongly it was needed at the time?
Himself a Black violinist, he often was the only one or one of less than a handful in most musical settings. He aimed to change that narrative and to give a stage to the many deserving voices, for the good of our artists as well as our entire field.
Your team has been able to achieve so much, but can you please tell us about a few of the major milestones that have occurred over the years?
There are a number of significant milestones. Celebrating 25 years, 850+ alumni, 4.5 M awarded in prizes and scholarships, and the artistic journeys of 4 touring ensembles make the list!
If you can narrow it to one, which Sphinx accomplishment would you say you and your team are most proud of?
Perhaps the fact that during these challenging times, we have seen a greater interest in our programs, an overall applicant pool growth of 60 percent, and the fact that our artists innovated and were not silenced. Standing by and helping to amplify their voices has been our greatest honor, through digital and lives tours, through innovating efforts they have launched, and the ways in which they have uplifted one another. Returning to the stage of Carnegie Hall this past fall felt like a historic culmination, celebrating their resilience.
What real ground do you feel has been achieved in our industry towards closing the racial gap since 1997?
Most critically, it is the change in the narrative. Sphinx has been able to help establish and underscore the fact that talent and excellence are abundant in Black and Brown communities.
What more do you feel still needs to be done?
A more systemic, inside-out, top-to-bottom commitment on behalf of the field to prioritize representation beyond words and statements, but through more informed programming and by creating opportunities that balance our ecosystem in a continuous and authentic way. Representation must become the norm, not an occasion of note.
What would you like to ask of the industry to assist?
To do the right thing when no one is looking, writing, acknowledging. Recruit, reward, retain, nurture, include, empower all voices. To do so, we must first prioritize those that have been excluded and silenced.
What are the goals for the Sphinx Organization’s future?
To continue to serve our field, our artists, and our communities through programs that span creative youth development to arts leadership.
What career and personal advice do you have for young Latino and Black musicians all around the world?
A message of belonging and empowerment: we want to hear your voices and amplify them.
How can we watch this year’s Sphinx competition finals?
7 pm, Jan 29th, Facebook Live, or directly linked from www.sphinxmusic.org. Don't forget to cast your vote!
What can the laureates of the competition expect to win? And how do you go about helping them on an ongoing basis?
They will compete for 100K in prizes, including the 50K Robert Frederick Smith Prize, along with access to scholarships and performance opportunities with dozens of orchestras and other venues. Ours is a wholesome approach to their artist development and we work with each of them year-round to support their endeavors.
If we want to support your work, how can we do so?
Check out our 25th-anniversary landing page, invest in our work and help us spread the word!