MA Top 30 Professional: Andre Dowell
By John Fleming
December 6, 2022
One of Andre Dowell’s duties with the Sphinx Organization is to manage the Sphinx Virtuosi, a professional chamber orchestra of Black and Latinx musicians. His approach to booking the group has changed over the years. “We used to have conversations with presenters who would say we needed to play at least one Mozart or Beethoven piece, because people wouldn’t come to a concert without a recognizable name on the program,” said Dowell, who joined the organization fulltime in 2009 and oversees career guidance for more than 850 Sphinx alumni. “But now it’s our music by composers of color that people come to hear.”
Sphinx, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is renowned as an advocate for diversity in classical music, both through its training programs and through its alumni’s repertoire choices. In October, the Virtuosi played an eight-city tour that concluded in São Paulo, Brazil—its first international performance—where every piece on the program was by a Black or Latinx composer. “We had two pieces by Jessie Montgomery, pieces by Valerie Coleman and Michael Dudley, and three pieces by Ricardo Herz, a Brazilian violinist-composer,” Dowell said.
The National Alliance for Audition Support (NAAS) is another program with which Dowell is closely involved. It is a Sphinx collaboration with New World Symphony and the League of American Orchestras that prepares musicians of color to audition for symphony orchestras and bring diversity to these still overwhelmingly white organizations. NAAS has 114 partner orchestras; as of September, 80 artist participants had won 115 auditions and/or placements.
“During the pandemic a lot of people ended up retiring from orchestras, so there are a lot of openings, which is great for our musicians,” Dowell said. “The turnover is also an opportunity for orchestras if they want to diversify … they can take our guidelines and work them into their own audition process.”
Copyright © 2024, Musical America