All-Black classical symphony orchestra to play Carnegie Hall for first time in its 130-year history

11 August 2021, 17:20 | Updated: 16 August 2021, 18:47

Gateways Music Festival Orchestra will make history at Carnegie Hall in 2022
Gateways Music Festival Orchestra will make history at Carnegie Hall in 2022. Picture: Keith Bullis

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

History will be made at Carnegie Hall next year, as an all-Black classical symphony orchestra is slated to make its debut.

In 2022, an all-Black classical symphony orchestra will perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall for the first time in the concert venue’s 130-year history.

The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra, under the baton of star US conductor Michael Morgan, will perform a world premiere of a new commission by jazz composer Jon Batiste, who recently scooped an Oscar for his original music in Disney’s Soul.

Batiste’s work will feature alongside the music of classical greats, including Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Florence Price’s Third Symphony, and Sinfonia No. 3 by George Walker, the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, whose centennial falls next year.

The finale of the concert, taking place on 24 April 2022, is an orchestral rendering of James V. Cockerham’s Fantasia on ‘Life Every Voice...’, a song with a deep history of Black pride.

Lee Koonce, president and artistic director of Gateways, says the ensemble’s “journey to Carnegie Hall has been 28 years in the making”.

Read more: 9 Black composers who changed the course of music history

Carnegie Hall will welcome an all-Black classical symphony orchestra for first time ever
Carnegie Hall will welcome an all-Black classical symphony orchestra for first time ever. Picture: Matt Wittmeyer Photography

He added: “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. We are grateful to Carnegie Hall for its belief in our mission and its commitment to showcasing the artistry of Black classical musicians. It’s a sign of hope and heralds a brighter future.”

Founded in 1993, Gateways is made up of musicians and music educators from leading US orchestras and conservatories, including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, and the Cleveland Orchestra.

Read more: ‘Growing up, I didn’t know of many Black classical musicians’ – Sheku Kanneh Mason

2019 Gateways Music Festival: Symphony No.3 in C Minor (Florence B. Price)

Now boasting around 125 members, the orchestra has become not only a celebration of, but a haven for Black musicians, many of whom have experienced discrimination in other music jobs.

Clive Gillinson, the Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, added: “We have long been inspired by the festival’s commitment to extraordinary artistry as it celebrates the many contributions that musicians and composers of African descent continue to make to classical music.

“We look forward to introducing the Gateways musicians to our audiences as they embark upon their residency, connecting with music lovers throughout New York City.”