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Gateways takes the virtual stage on Monday

The 2020 Gateways Music Festival features chamber music presented via an online platform.

The Gateways Music Festival is not simply five days of a spotlight shining on musicians of African descent, before moving on to faces more familiar to audiences of classical music.

“This is not about diversity,” says Lee Koonce, president and artistic director of the event. That mission has not changed since he described it two years ago, although in this summer of COVID-19 the circumstances have certainly changed. “This music belongs to us. This music belongs to everybody.”

The Gateways Music Festival, associated with the Eastman School of Music, opens Monday. It is virtual, of course, as is so much of the arts during the coronavirus era. And in keeping with the event’s connection to the city, opening night is “Celebrating Rochester’s Own,” featuring performances by sopranos Kearstin Piper Brown, Elena O’Connor and Nicole Cabell, cellist Boubacar Diallo, Herb Smith on trumpet, George Taylor on viola and Lee Wright on piano.

Throughout the week, Gateways presents recitals, conversations on COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter, a screening of the 2015 biographical film “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and the 7:30 p.m. Friday virtual finale performances by the Traveling Through Time String Quartet and the Gateways Brass Collective.

The late Paul Burgett, who was vice president and senior advisor to the president at the University of Rochester, was deeply involved with Gateways. He saw the event as being much broader than a showcase.

“I personally struggle, and always have, with a sense of hopelessness about race in America,” he said. “When I see that stage, I think: You know… just maybe... Just maybe…

“It feels really good to see people on that stage and it eases my sense of hopelessness.”

WXXI Classical 91.5 will air highlights from last year’s festival on 2 p.m. Nov. 11.

Some of the Gateways Music Festival events are ticketed, some are free. For news, the complete schedule, and tickets, go to

Jeff Spevak is WXXI’s Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at

Jeff Spevak has been a Rochester arts reporter for nearly three decades, with seven first-place finishes in the Associated Press New York State Features Writing Awards while working for the Democrat and Chronicle.