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.

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Goals and Organizational Planning Model to Achieve our Commitment

1. To feature artists of color (soloists, conductors, composers) annually in our concert offerings, whether it be Classics, Pops, Family, Rock, Education and/or Community Engagement concerts.

2. To create programs tied to community events and history that are relevant to diverse audiences, such as Martin Luther King Day Celebration and Hispanic Heritage Month.
3. To establish partnerships with diverse organizations and colleagues, and collaborate with them on programs.
4. To support music education in under-served areas and encourage broad participation in music programs.
5. To seek diversity at all levels of the organization including the Board of Trustees, staff, volunteers and the orchestra itself.

 Featuring Artists of Color

The Buffalo Philharmonic is committed to seeking out exciting, high quality artists, and to offering opportunities to soloists and conductors of color, and featuring works by diverse composers.

2017-18 Visits and Features:

September 29 and October 1, 2017 – American Masters Festival, Rhapsody in Red, White, and Blue featuring Duke Ellington, composer
September and October, 2017 – Hispanic Heritage Celebration visits to West Side churches featuring works by Hispanic composers
October 3, 2017 – Celebrating 100 Years with the Colored Musicians Club
October 14, 2017 – Mambo Kings, featuring works by Piazzola, Tito Puente and others
October 21 and 22, 2017 – Victor Wooten, electric bass, featured with the BPO, in a Masterclass and in visits to local schools
November 17-18, 2017 – Debussy’s La Mer, featuring Maximiano Valdés, conductor
December 2-3, 2017 – Mendelssohn & Mozart, featuring André Raphel, conductor
December 8 and 9, 2017 – Classical Christmas featuring soprano Aundi Marie Moore
January 2018 – Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration visits to East Side churches, featuring historic and new spirituals
January 20, 2018 – Byron Stripling: A Night at the Cotton Club, featuring works by Duke Ellington and others
February 4, 2018 – Community in Harmony Concert featuring Sphinx artist Ifetayo Ali on cello, at St. Martin de Porres Church
February 7, 2018 – West Side Connection, youth concert featuring Project Trio and Sphinx Competition winner, Ifetayo Ali
March 24, 2018 – Masterclass with Xavier Foley, double bass
April 21 and 22, 2018 – Journey to the New World, celebrating America’s immigrants both past and present
April 25, 2018 – Side by Side with Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts
May 4-5, 2018 –  Viva Italia!, featuring Roberto Diaz, viola

2016-17 Events and Features

October 9, 2016  – Hispanic Heritage Celebration, Free community concert at Kleinhans Music Hall
December 16-18, 2016 – John Morris Russell’s Holiday Pops, featuring the African American Cultural Center Drummers
January 2017 – BPO String Quartet, visits to Sunday services at True Bethel Baptist Church, First Shiloh Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church and St. John Baptist Church
January 28, 2017 – Tapestry:  The Carole King Songbook, featuring Allison Blackwell
February 12, 2017 – Drums Around the World, featuring the African American Cultural Center Dance & Drum Performance Company
February 15, 2017 – Vocal Masterclass with Darren Stokes, baritone
February 18-19, 2017 – Brahms’ Requiem, featuring Darren Stokes, baritone
March 4, 2017 – The Unforgettable Nat King Cole, featuring Denzal Sinclaire
March 12, 2017 – In Harmony Community Concert, Free community concert featuring Sphinx Competition winner, Maria Sanderson in recital at St. Martin de Porres Church
March 15, 2017 – West Side Connection, youth concert featuring dancers from the Latin American Institute, African American Cultural Center Dance & Drum Performance Company, Burmese Community Choir, Fela Sowande, composer, Agnes Bashir, composer, Arturo Marquez, composer, and Ary Barosso, composer, as well as Sphinx Competition winner, Maria Sanderson
April 28, 2017 – The Music of Prince, featuring Marshall Charloff, vocalist
June 3-4, 2017 – Belshazzar’s Feast, featuring Kevin Deas, baritone

Celebrating Community Events and History

Kleinhans Music Hall is one of the only symphony halls in the world located in a residential neighborhood, and its neighborhood is one of the most diverse in Western New York. In the 1980s, it became known as a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, and still has a strong Hispanic community. Each fall, Kleinhans hosts a Hispanic Heritage Month concert, which frequently features the full Buffalo Philharmonic or musicians from the orchestra.

Latin Jazz musician Wendell Rivera and former BPO Resident Conductor Stefan Sanders pose before the 2016 Hispanic Heritage Month concert.

Kleinhans Music Hall is host to one of the longest-running Martin Luther King Day celebrations in the nation. The Buffalo Philharmonic has performed many times at this event, which celebrates the legacy of Dr. King while looking forward to the work that has yet to be done in order to realize his famous dream.

The Buffalo Philharmonic has also presented several special concerts which illuminate the heritage of people of color, including the 2013 Kathleen Battle: Underground Railroad concert; the 2015 exploration of the cultural exchange between Aaron Copland and Mexico; and the 2016 celebration of great orchestral jazz.

Establishing Partnerships with Diverse Organizations

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.

Local Partnerships

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.








Dancers from the Latin American Institute join the BPO on Education concerts and special programs such as Hispanic Heritage Celebration 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



Supporting Music Education for All

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 (BAVPA) perform in a side-by-side concert with the Orchestra and the diverse 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.

Students from International Preparatory School perform onstage as part of the West Side Connection.

BAVPA student playing side-by-side with the BPO at Kleinhans Music Hall

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.

Students at Charter School for Applied Technologies sing along during the Link Up concert.

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.

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.

In an effort to increase the number of musicians of color in the field of orchestral music and specifically, at the BPO, resident conductor Stefan Sanders took part in the Sphinx Organization‘s first Orchestra Qualifying Auditions this 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 is slated to take part in the 2019 Qualifying Auditions.