Poster Sphinx Virtuosi
The Sphinx Virtuosi presents its debut recording, 'Songs for our Times,' featuring music by Black and Latin American composers.
Courtesy of the artist
New Classical Tracks®

Sphinx Virtuosi ensemble uplifts Black and Latin American composers on 'Songs for Our Times'

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Andre Dowell, Sphinx Virtuosi

Sphinx Virtuosi – Songs for Our Times (Deutsche Grammophon)

New Classical Tracks - Andre Dowell, Sphinx Virtuosi
New Classical Tracks - Andre Dowell, Sphinx Virtuosi

“My role with the organization as the chief of artist engagement is to really understand the talent that is out there and to be able to recruit the musicians who perform with the Sphinx Virtuosi,” Andre Dowell says. “Community engagement, in terms of how they are engaging their community, not just the youth, but also their audiences and educating them about our mission, which is transforming life through the power of diversity in the arts.”

For the past 15 years, Dowell has watched the Sphinx Organization evolve as it strives for and achieves that mission. One way in which it’s doing that is with a professional, self-conducted touring ensemble of 18 members made up of freelance musicians and professors at universities. That ensemble is Sphinx Virtuosi, which has just released its debut recording, Songs for Our Times.

“Over the past couple of years, we've had the great opportunity to have our programs be comprised solely of musicians who are Black or Latino. Because of that, we really wanted to have an album out that represented not only the Sphinx Organization, but the Sphinx Virtuosi. One thing that you'll find with our debut album is that every composer is a composer of color.”

Why is this title, Songs for Our Times, so significant?

Songs for Our Times really digs into composers that we've worked with in the past, celebrating artists and composers who have paved the way. We talk about Florence Price, for example. We talk about Jessie Montgomery, Valerie Coleman, Carlos Simon, and we have a great arrangement of Beethoven's Bridgetower by Rubén Rengel. Songs for Our Times goes into the past, the rich history of the Sphinx organization, and explores how that intertwines with the composers of today.

The album opens with Global Warming, by Michael Abels, who won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Can you talk about the history of this piece and why it fits in so well with this debut recording?

This piece really inspired us to feature Michael Abels as a composer. This piece just captures so perfectly what it means to be in this world today and going through COVID-19 and the pandemic. And what you'll find on the CD is George Floyd in the aftermath of that, in terms of what it means to reflect in this world today.”

There's an unusual time signature in the piece by Ricardo Hertz. It's called Sisyphus in the Big City. Why do we have this 25/16 time signature?

It is great. And if you listen to the music enough, you'll be able to understand and feel the rhythmic structure of it. We have the great opportunity to play this piece in Brazil with Ricardo himself. It’s something that requires a lot of communication in terms of being able to play that type of time signatures while also keeping the groove.”

Valerie Coleman's two-movement piece, Tracing Visions, is on this recording, and each of the movements is so powerful. Would you share the story behind them?

The first movement we talk about Emmett Till and other victims of domestic violence or terrorism, if you will. It's a remembrance of those times. And it ends with the second movement, which means power and is a celebration of where we have come in our society. And she takes this motif and really expands it to uplift the work that has been done, and that we continue to do, and the fight that we continue to have in our society.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Sphinx Virtuosi – Songs for Our Times (Amazon)

Sphinx Virtuosi – Songs for Our Times (Deutsche Grammophon)

Sphinx Virtuosi (official site)

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