Diversity at the BPO

As an outgrowth of its burgeoning community engagement program, the BPO formed the Diversity Council in July 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.

Circles of Commitment to Diversity
Goals and Organizational Planning Model

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.

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.






The Buffalo Philharmonic 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 Latinx 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.

Diversity among guest artists

The Buffalo Philharmonic is committed to seeking out exciting, high quality artists, and to offering opportunities to soloists of color. Some recent artists include:

  • Darren Stokes, bass-baritone
  • Angela Brown, soprano
  • Tai Murray, violin
  • Thomas Wilkins, conductor
  • Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele
  • Kevin Deas, baritone
  • Denzal Sinclaire, vocalist
  • Andre Watts, piano
  • Dee Daniels, vocalist
  • Demarre McGill, flute
  • Michael Morgan, conductor
  • Wu Man, pipa
  • Byron Stripling, conductor and trumpet

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. In 2017, The Mambo Kings will join the orchestra for this event.

Latin Jazz musician Wendall Rivera and 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.

Our partners

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.