Diversity at the BPO

Diversity at the BPO

The BPO formed a Diversity Council in May 2016, formalizing its longstanding commitment to present diverse programming, to support artists of color, and to engage with every part of the Western New York community in a meaningful way. Comprised of community leaders, BPO staff, and musicians, the Council is helping the BPO to take its place at the vanguard of a national movement to foster greater diversity in the classical music world. As a first step, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra signed Mayor Byron Brown’s Opportunity Pledge in July 2016.

Establishing partnerships with organizations that support diversity

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sphinx Organization

In 1997, violinist Aaron Dworkin founded The Sphinx Organization  to address the stark under-representation of people of color in classical music. Among the endeavors of the national organization is an annual competition for black and Latin string players at the junior high, high school, and college level. 100% of their competition winners have gone on to study at a conservatory. Each year, the BPO invites their winner to perform at the West Side Connection concert, which is in turn available on demand in classrooms throughout Western New York’s eight counties.

Alexandra Switala, 2011 Sphinx Competition winner
Alexandra Switala, 2011 Sphinx Competition winner
Ade Williams, 2012 Sphinx Competition winner
Ade Williams, 2012 Sphinx Competition winner
Lev Mamuya, 2013 Sphinx Competition winner
Lev Mamuya, 2013 Sphinx Competition winner
Sterling Elliott, 2014 Sphinx Competition winner
Sterling Elliott, 2014 Sphinx Competition winner
Hannah White,  2015 Sphinx Competition winner
Hannah White, 2015 Sphinx Competition winner
Maria Sanderson, 2016 competition winner
Maria Sanderson, 2016 competition winner

Local Partnerships

Verve Dance Studio performs regularly on Education and BlueCross BlueShield BPO Kids concerts.
Verve Dance Studio performs regularly on Education and BlueCross BlueShield BPO Kids concerts.
The African-American Cultural Center has performed at Holiday Pops, on Education Concerts and on the BlueCross BlueShield BPO Kids series.  String quartets from the BPO have also performed at their annual fundraising tea.
The African-American Cultural Center has performed at Holiday Pops, on Education Concerts and on the BlueCross BlueShield BPO Kids series. String quartets from the BPO have also performed at their annual fundraising tea.
Through the International Institute, the BPO connects with the growing Burmese population and celebrates their rich culture on stage at Kleinhans during Education concerts
Through the International Institute, the BPO connects with the growing Burmese population and celebrates their rich culture on stage at Kleinhans during Education concerts
Dancers from the Latin American Institute join the BPO on Education concerts and special programs such as Hispanic Heritage Celebration concerts
Dancers from the Latin American Institute join the BPO on Education concerts and special programs such as Hispanic Heritage Celebration concerts

Supporting Music Education for All

BAVPA student playing side-by-side with the BPO at Kleinhans Music Hall
BAVPA student playing side-by-side with the BPO at Kleinhans Music Hall
Buffalo Public Schools and the BPO

Through the BPO’s longstanding and growing partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools, the number of urban students participating in the Buffalo Philharmonic’s education programs has increased from 6,000 students to over 16,000 students annually. All of the district’s 1st – 6th graders attend a BPO youth concert each fall. In addition, the students at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts perform in a side-by-side concert with the orchestra. The diverse population of students on the West Side of Buffalo participate in the West Side Connection each year as well. West Side Connection was awarded the 2015 Yale Distinguished Music Partnership Award for its work with refugee and immigrant students in the Buffalo Public Schools.

In addition, the BPO creates special partnerships with select charter schools to use Carnegie Hall’s innovative Link Up program. This program gives teachers music learning materials to use in their classrooms throughout the year, and culminates in an interactive concert at Kleinhans in which the students get to show what they have learned all year.

Seeking Organizational Diversity

The BPO is actively seeking diversity within the organization itself. As a first step, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra signed Mayor Byron Brown’s Opportunity Pledge in July 2016, affirming our commitment to foster, cultivate and preserve a culture of diversity, inclusion, fairness and equality.

In an effort to increase the number of musicians of color in the field of orchestral music and specifically, at the BPO, former resident conductor Stefan Sanders took part in the Sphinx Organization‘s first Orchestra Qualifying Auditions in February 2017. The auditions provide qualified musicians of color with the unique opportunity to play an audition for a panel representing several orchestras. The immediate aim of the experience is to identify qualified talent for invitation to auditions, pre-advancement at auditions and/or placement on substitute player lists. The BPO participated again in 2018 and 2019.

Mayor Byron Brown (center) with members of the BPO Diversity Council backstage at the BPO, moments before the orchestra signed the Mayor's Opportunity Pledge.