From Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges to Florence Price, there have been several barrier-breaking Black composers throughout history who have used their artistry to shape the genre of classical music. Their legacies live on through new generations of musicians who are changing the narrative surrounding representation. According to Harlem World Magazine, the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra is slated to make history as the first all-Black classical symphony orchestra to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Founded in 1993 by pianist and music professor Armenta Adams Hummings Dumisa, the Gateways Music Orchestra was cultivated to connect Black musicians with a shared passion for classical music. It was also developed as a safe space for Black musicians who were often marginalized when seeking work. Since its inception, the collective of musicians—who have been a part of prestigious orchestras that include the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics—has grown to 125 people.
The orchestra is excited to have the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. In its 130-year existence, an all-Black orchestra has never graced the stage of the renowned concert venue. “Gateways Music Festival’s journey to Carnegie Hall has been 28 years in the making,” Lee Koonce, Gateways Music Orchestra’s President and Artistic Director, said in a statement. “To be the first all-Black classical symphony orchestra to headline a performance there is momentous, especially at this time of racial reckoning in our country’s history. Hearing and seeing the Gateways orchestra on Carnegie’s revered main stage will show Black children that they can perform classical music at the highest level, while reminding people of all backgrounds that this music belongs to everyone.” The concert is slated to take place on April 24, 2022.
The orchestra stands on the shoulders of other Black musicians who came before them. In 1892, pianist W.T. Talbert became the first Black composer to perform at Carnegie Hall.