Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra: new directions to address racial equity

Posted on: March 9, 2021

“In 1931, Rochester’s orchestra made history when it played the ‘Afro-American Symphony’ by composer William Grant Still,” reports Brenda Tremblay on Mondays’ (3/8) WXXI News (Rochester, NY). “It was the first time in the U.S. that a leading orchestra played a major work by a Black composer, and it was a smashing success. But since then, a lot has changed. The population of Rochester was 98% white then. Black and Hispanic people make up the majority now, and the city has deep and troubling concentrations of poverty and economic segregation. Yet, the city’s orchestra has remained an essentially white institution with a stated desire to reflect the people it serves. New leadership signals the possibility of a new direction. [Newly appointed Music Director] Andreas Delfs … said he recognizes that having only one Black player, trumpeter Herb Smith, presents a long-term challenge for the orchestra…. According to the most recent study by the League of American Orchestras, Black musicians represented 1.8% of the nation’s orchestra players in 2014.… Lee Koonce, president and artistic director of Gateways Music Festival, an organization based in Rochester that fosters concerts featuring professional classical musicians of African descent…. and Delfs agree that creating a pipeline of talented young musicians is key to creating racial equity in institutions like the RPO.”