Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
490 Riverside Drive, 11th floor
New York, NY 10027-5788

(212) 896 1700

Reaffirming our values: Black Lives Matter

July 1, 2020

As we enter the second month of protests against police brutality, our hearts and minds are still preoccupied with the deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, and so many others. Orpheus stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

We recognize that change is crucial in all areas of American society, including the arts, in order to shift the biases that perpetuate violence and injustice. We will continue to affirm our solidarity and commitment to change, even when it is not a trending topic.

Orpheus is committed to being a leader in the effort towards an equitable and representative classical music industry by:

Commissioning & Programming

The classical music canon in the US is historically focused on Western European music written by white men. Over almost fifty years of existence, Orpheus has committed to expand this repertoire by commissioning new works by living composers. However, it took over 30 years for Orpheus to commission its first work by a Black composer.

In recent years, we have grown our commissioning priorities beyond simply expanding the chamber orchestra repertoire. We feel the urgent need to bring new voices to the forefront and to help build an American classical music canon that represents the diversity of our nation and our home city of New York.

As a globally touring ensemble, Orpheus is conscious of the message our programming sends to audiences around the world, as well as the benefit for composers to have their works performed in multiple cities. We programmed works by Black composers on more than half of our planned concerts for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. We remain committed to commissioning and programming diverse composers in future seasons.

Collaborating

Orpheus actively partners with Black performing artists and organizations. These collaborations enrich musical artistry, strengthen performing arts communities, and introduce audiences to new performers.

This spring, the pandemic caused the cancellation of two groundbreaking projects for Orpheus. First, we had planned to perform with members of the Sphinx Virtuosi in a joint performance at Carnegie Hall. This virtuosic self-conducted ensemble consists of top Black and Latinx string soloists, many of whom have performed as guest musicians with Orpheus over the years. This collaboration would have brought the two groups together on stage for the first time. We hope to find a future opportunity to collaborate with this trailblazing ensemble.

The second heartbreaking cancellation was “A Harlem Dream,” a joint production with our uptown neighbors The Classical Theatre of Harlem, which pairs Mendelssohn’s ‘Incidental Music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ with a condensed version of Shakespeare’s play. This imaginative production directed by Peter Francis James was scheduled for premieres at the SHIFT Festival of American Orchestras, produced by The John F. Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts, and Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts. We can't wait to bring this program to audiences once we return to the stage.

Our planned 2020-21 season, as well as future programming, continues to involve a diverse roster of collaborators.

Recruitment & Training

It is our responsibility to create a company culture and hiring practices that attract and retain diverse talent. We reaffirm our commitment to prioritizing equal representation in our hiring by actively recruiting and hiring Black performers and administrators.

In order to combat existing biases within our organization, the Orpheus staff and musicians completed anti-oppression training in 2019. Our Board of Trustees will complete training this summer.

In addition, we recognize that the racial makeup of our Board of Trustees does not currently reflect the demographics of our city. As we continue to expand our Board, we've shifted our criteria to prioritize people of color, and over the last year we have engaged a professional search firm to assist with this effort.

This is just the beginning. There is more that Orpheus can and will do as our organization evolves. Fighting hundreds of years of systemic prejudice, discrimination, and injustice against people of color requires dedication, resources, and a re-alignment of our values and priorities – a commitment we have been eager to take on as an organization. I invite you to join us in expanding your own awareness and commitment to racial justice.

Let’s continue to challenge each other to ensure all we do – artistic programming, hiring, commissioning – is in recognition of racial equality and drives Orpheus, the classical music industry, and our society forward.

Sincerely,

Alexander Scheirle
Executive Director