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Gateways Music Festival orchestra makes its debut at Carnegie Hall

The Gateways Musical Festival orchestra takes the stage at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, 4/24/22
Ruth Phinney
WXXI Classical
The Gateways Musical Festival orchestra takes the stage at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, 4/24/22

History was made at Carnegie Hall on Sunday. For the first time, the Rochester basedGateways Music Festival orchestra got to perform at the famed concert hall in New York City

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

“Our musicians are multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-national people of the African diaspora who are challenging the status quo and preconceptions about classical music.

Kayla Sconiers is a 2nd year student of voice at the Eastman School of Music. She was among members of the Black Students Union at Eastman who were working side by side with Gateways musicians this past week, and she said that experience helped motivate her.

“Working with all the musicians is such an inspiration because growing up I’ve never been able to see people that look like me on stage so I never was able to place myself in their shoes,” Sconiers said. “But now seeing them is such an inspiration and it just pushes me forward now.”

Sconiers is hopeful that the representation of people of color in the classical music world will expand, and she said performances like the one by the Gateways Orchestra can help motivate children who are watching concerts like the one at Carnegie Hall.

The Sunday concert was simulcast on WXXI Classical and New York City radio station WQXR who were media sponsors of the event.

Alex Laing, principal clarinet with the Gateways Orchestra and a member of its board of directors told WQXR that besides making beautiful music, it was important for these musicians, from all over the country, to get together for this concert.

“In addition to bringing us together to make a joyful noise, in additional to bringing together a community that is often geographically separate but spiritually connected, it allows for an intellectual exchange that is captivating to us and we’re finding to others as well,” said Laing.

Anthony Parnther is the new conductor of the Gateways orchestra, appointed to that role after longtime music director Michael Morgan died 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, that has been under recorded or not recorded at all, by underrepresented composers,” said Parnther. “And I’d love 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 by Jon Batiste, the composer, musician and bandleader on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Batiste performed his work, I Can.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.