By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of John Morris Russell, will present three free concerts in the communities of Avondale, Woodlawn/Lincoln Heights and Forest Park this week. The programs will include music by famous African-American composers, such as William Grant Still, Harry T. Burleigh and Duke Ellington. Violinist Gareth Johnson, 17-year-old winner of the Sphinx Competition, is the featured soloist.
The Enquirer asked five of the participants in "Classical Roots: Spiritual Heights" why this is an important step for the CSO.
Iva Brown, co-chair, CSO Multicultural Awareness Council: "The symphony is trying to broaden awareness and participation by taking the music to the people, getting community involvement and making it more customer friendly. This will be the first time for many people. ... The church setting is a very comfortable setting. It is not as intimidating as going downtown to Music Hall.
"Zion (Baptist), my church, is celebrating its 161st anniversary (today). So we are so happy that the symphony is coming to Zion."
IF YOU GO
What: Classical Roots: Spiritual Heights, free family concerts for the community. John Morris Russell, conductor; Gareth Johnson, violinist
Tuesday: Zion Baptist Church, 630 Glenwood Ave., Avondale
Wednesday: Lincoln Heights Missionary Baptist Church, 9991 Wayne Ave., Woodlawn/Lincoln Heights
Thursday: Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church, 10998 Southland Blvd., Forest Park
Programs include music by Dvorak, Harry T. Burleigh, Duke Ellington, Mozart, William Grant Still, Adolphus Hailstork, Saint-Saens and James Weldon Johnson/J. Rosamond Johnson.
Time: All concerts are at 7:30 p.m.
Admission: Free. 381-3300 or visit Web site.
About the Sphinx Organization: Aaron P. Dworkin, a 32-year-old University of Michigan graduate in violin performance, founded Sphinx in 1996 to address the limited access that young black and Latino musicians face in the classical music world.
The Sphinx Competition: Junior high through college-aged black and Latino classical string players compete before an internationally renowned panel of judges. The competition includes performances with the all black and Latino Sphinx Symphony, consisting of top professionals from major orchestras and universities, including CSO cellist Norman Johns.
The goals are to encourage, develop and recognize classical music talent in the Black and Latino communities. For more information, visit Web site.
Gareth Johnson, 17, violinist: "African-Americans really haven't had the opportunity to be exposed to classical music, because we haven't had the opportunities. We're just now getting into the generation which is able to start classical music - my generation.
"My dad couldn't stay at a hotel when he was young, couldn't walk into certain restaurants, just because he was African-American. He didn't have an opportunity to study the violin. I think it is a major step to expose more African-Americans to classical music, and that's what the CSO is doing."
The Rev. James H. Cantrell, pastor, Zion Baptist Church, Avondale: "The symphony is making a positive statement to the community, that it is reaching out to embrace the total community, and it is seeking to leave no one behind as it relates to the cultural arts.
"(It will) make people more aware of the tremendous contributions that have been made by African-American composers. It allows persons who may not have had the opportunity or ability, to attend a symphony concert. By coming to the communities, you bring it closer to them. I applaud the CSO for their efforts.
"I'm grateful, because we're the only church that will be hosting the concert in the city of Cincinnati."
Norman Johns, CSO assistant principal cellist: The CSO is one of the "jewels" of the Queen City. ... Our collaboration with Zion Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Quinn Chapel and the Sphinx Organization is the perfect vehicle for the demonstration of teamwork, fellowship and musical excellence, through which dreams will be inspired and realized. May this jewel never be tarnished by the past."
John Morris Russell, CSO associate conductor: "First, I have an opportunity to explore some stunning American repertoire with the CSO and share it with a highly motivated audience.
"Second, we are engaging a vital and underserved community of music lovers within Greater Cincinnati.
"Third, our city needs healing; it's the right thing to do and the right time to do it."
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