The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra makes its Carnegie Hall debut


History was made on Sunday at Carnegie Hall. For the first time, the Rochester base Bridges Music Festival the orchestra was able to perform in the famous New York concert hall

Gateways was created almost 30 years ago to support classical musicians of African descent, especially when they are often underrepresented in orchestras. Gateways President and Artistic Director Lee Koonce told the Carnegie Hall crowd that he hopes events like this inspire and inform.

“Our musicians are multicultural, multilingual and multinational people from the African Diaspora who challenge the status quo and preconceptions about classical music.

Kayla Sconiers is a 2nd year vocal student at the Eastman School of Music. She was among members of the Eastman Black Student Union who worked side-by-side with the Gateways musicians last week, and she said the experience helped motivate her.

“Working with all the musicians is such an inspiration because growing up I never got to see people who looked like me on stage, so I was never able to step into their shoes,” Sconiers said. “But now seeing them is such an inspiration and it drives me forward now.”

Sconiers hopes the representation of people of color in the classical music world will increase, and she said performances like the Gateways Orchestra can help motivate kids who watch concerts like the one at Carnegie Hall.

The Sunday concert was simulcast on WXXI Classic and New York Radio Station WQXR who were the media sponsors of the event.

Gateways Orchestra principal clarinet and board member Alex Laing told WQXR that in addition to making great music, it was important that these musicians, from across the country, come together for this concert.

“Besides bringing us together to make joyous noise, besides bringing together an often geographically separated but spiritually connected community, it allows for an intellectual exchange that captivates us and that we also find in others,” Laing said.

Anthony Parnther is the new conductor of the Gateways Orchestra, appointed to the post after the death of longtime music director Michael Morgan last year.

Parnther said the Gateways Music Festival continues to expand its offerings, and maybe at some point it can even take another road trip.

“I would love to record, especially literature, which has been underrecorded or not recorded at all, by underrepresented composers,” Parnther said. “And I would like to see this orchestra, personally, go on tour, so that audiences outside of New York State have the privilege of witnessing the power and beauty of such a special ensemble.”

Sunday’s event also included a piano performance with the orchestra of Jon Batiste, the composer, musician and bandleader of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Batiste performed his work, I can.


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