The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra, a group of professional classical musicians of African descent, is the first all-Black orchestra to feature at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in the venue’s 130-year-history. Although the hall has presented several all-Black ensembles throughout its history, the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra is making history as the first known all-Black classical symphony orchestra to have a residency at the venue.
The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra is home to more than 125 instrumentalists who are all part of major orchestras such as the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the National, Boston, Houston, Phoenix, and Detroit symphonies, according to Harlem World Magazine.
They have been performing together in a festival created nearly three decades ago by concert pianist and educator Armenta Adams (Hummings) Dumisani.
In 1993, Dumisani, winner of the first Leeds International Piano Competition Special Prize, founded the festival in North Carolina to create a sanctuary for a group of talented professional classical musicians of African descent who all had different career pathways.
He later moved the festival to Rochester, New York, in 1995 after being appointed to the faculty of the Eastman School of Music. Since then, there has been a continued partnership with Eastman.
The six-day festival usually held across 50 venues in Rochester includes a full orchestral concert, multiple chamber recitals, open rehearsals, professional development, panels, lectures, and film screenings.
After Dumisani’s retirement, Lee Koonce took over Gateway as President and artistic director in 2009. Koonce has ties with the orchestra dating back to 1997 when he served as Director of Community Relations during Gateways’ three-week residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra will debut at Carnegie Hall on April 24, 2022. Gateways will be led by Music Director Michael Morgan and the concert will showcase the world premiere of a new Gateways commission from 2021-22 “Perspectives” artist Jon Batiste.
Baptiste’s work will be juxtaposed with Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Florence Price’s Third Symphony, and Sinfonia No.3 by George Walker, the first African-American laureate of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Also, the concert will round off with a signature piece from James V. Cockerham’s Fantasia on “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
For Koonce, the historic feature at Carnegie Hall is nothing short of hope for a brighter future. “Gateways Music Festival’s journey to Carnegie Hall has been 28 years in the making. 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, Koonce said. “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,” he added.
Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, reiterated how momentous the Gateways residency will be when it commences on April 24, 2022. According to him, there is no better platform than theirs to celebrate the immense contributions that composers and musicians of African descent bring to the classical music genre.