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All-Black Gateways Orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall

The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra are set to perform at Carnegie Hall on April 24th, 2022, making them the first all-Black orchestra to do so in the renowned venue’s 130-year history.

Since its inception in 1993, the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra has cultivated diversity in the classical music scene.

It provides a space for Black professional musicians to create music and perform together from all across the US, away from otherwise isolating sectors of the industry.

The orchestra has grown tremendously over the years. Recent festivals have boasted over 125 instrumentalists, some of whom belong to other prestigious organisations such as the Los Angeles Philharmonics and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Next year, the group will be joined in concert by the Oscar winning and Grammy nominated artist Jon Batiste.

The significance of this event cannot be overstated, especially for young Black classical musicians.

According to the Harlem World Magazine, president and artistic director of Gateway, Lee Koonce, said that the ‘Gateways Music Festival’s journey to Carnegie Hall has been 28 years in the making.’

‘To be the first all-Black classical symphony orchestra to headline a performance there is momentous, especially at this time of racial reckoning in our country’s history.’

‘Hearing and seeing the Gateways orchestra on Carnegie’s revered main stage will show Black children that they can perform classical music at the highest level while reminding people of all backgrounds that this music belongs to everyone.’

Historically, the classical music scene has failed to amplify Black musicians. The existence and success of organisations like the Gateways Music Festival show that steps in the right direction are being made. Hopefully young Black people who are interested in classical music can find inspiration from stories such as this to pursue their dreams.

According to a 2014 study by the League of American Orchestras, only 4.3% of conductors are Black and less than 2% of American orchestral musicians are Black.

These statistics are incredibly sobering, especially given the contribution that people of African descent have made to American music of all genres. Initiatives like Gateway, however, fill me with a sense of optimism that the classical music industry is changing for the better.

The bottom line is that representation matters, not only because it can shape how a group is viewed by society but also because it demonstrates to future generations that people can be successful in spaces they’ve historically been excluded from.

I have to agree with Paul Burgett, the chairman of the Gateways Music Festival, that looking at a stage filled with Black people playing beautiful music ‘eases my sense of hopelessness’.

This article was originally written by Aluet William Nyuon. ‘My name is Aluet (She/Her) and I’m currently a third-year classics student at Oxford University and an intern at Thred. I have lived in four countries so far and as a result have developed a love for international stories especially those coming out of Africa. View my LinkedIn.’