Gateways Music Festival aims to entertain and inspire

Aug 9, 2019

Credit Randy Gorbman / WXXI News

The Gateways Music Festival is in Rochester this week, capped off by a concert Sunday in Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre.

The 125 musicians from all over the country rehearsed Friday morning, in advance of a preview concert held that afternoon, and among them was Amadi  Azikiwe, a violin and viola player based in New York City.

He’s got a special connection to the event; his mother, Armenta Hummings Dumisani, was a founder of the festival more than 25 years ago.

Azikiwe sees this festival as an event that fulfills several goals.

“Role models, first of all, for the young musicians; a chance to connect with other musicians that have similar experiences, a wonderful conductor, Michael Morgan, and a chance to play great music in a very welcoming community,” Azikiwe said.

Jessica McJunkins is a freelance violinist whose work includes both classical and popular music, including a stint playing with Beyonce, as well as playing on film scores.

She also feels a strong responsibility to share her experience with other musicians of color.

“Representation is at the helm of everything that I do personally in my freelance work, so to come here and to play with 80 or so musicians who share that same mission because of their shared life experience is a really incredible thing,” McJunkins said.

Bob Watt is a retired French horn player with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; in fact, he was the first African American French horn player hired by a major orchestra. Watt said he has seen progress in helping more musicians of color getting into major orchestras.

“To see all these players coming now after so many years, almost 50 years since I started, it’s just very uplifting to see that things did change and maybe I helped start it,” Watt explained.

A number of people participating in the Gateways Festival say they remember being one of the few musicians of color, if not the only one, in their orchestras when they started out, a situation that many are hopeful is gradually changing.

The festival wraps up Sunday with the Gateways Orchestra Concert, at 4 p.m. in Kodak Hall at the Eastman Theatre.  You can get more information at www.gatewaysmusicfestival.org.

Here's video of Friday's rehearsal and interviews with some of the musicians, by WXXI videographer Austin Radford: