Winning financial support and even basic encouragement for the arts is often a tough call. But a unique group of young professional musicians has found both through the Detroit-based Sphinx Competition, founded in 1996. The uniqueness of this annual contest is its focus solely on talented young black and Latino string players residing in the United States. Top alumni of the competition go on to form their own professional ensembles, spreading their art across the country.
One set of “graduates” is the 18-member Sphinx Virtuosi, who performed conductor-less at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Thursday under the sponsorship of the Washington Performing Arts Society. Overall, the Virtuosi’s playing combined zest, attention to detail, tight ensemble and glistening or deeply amorous tone quality, as the music called for. These high standards held fast despite the diversity of the evening’s program, ranging from two major works of Johann Sebastian Bach (some of his Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, plus his Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, BWV 1051), and Benjamin Britten’s rambunctious Simple Symphony, Op. 4, to some Astor Piazzolla tangos and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s “Louisiana Blues Strut: A Cakewalk.”
True to their name, the Sphinx Virtuosi call up the vision of an iconic mythological feline with its immeasurable power, unwavering command and soulful beauty. All in all, Motor City’s Sphinx Competition clearly exemplifies money and time well invested.
Porter is a freelance writer.