The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra makes history as the first all-Black orchestra to feature at Carnegie Hall in the venue’s 130-year-history.
Gateways is an all-Black classical symphony orchestra created in 1993 by concert pianist and educator Armenta Adams (Hummings) Dumisani. Originally the festival was based in North Carolina and began to bring professional classical musicians of African descent together as a sort of respite from their otherwise isolated careers. It was created as a haven and supportive network for the artists. The festival eventually moved to Rochester, New York, in 1995 when Dumisani became a faculty member of the Eastman School of Music.
Since then, the festival has grown immensely and continued its partnership with Eastman. The orchestra comprises 125 instrumentalists who are a part of several larger orchestras, including the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the National, Boston, Houston, Phoenix, and Detroit symphonies. The six-day festival includes a full orchestral concert, multiple chamber recitals, open rehearsals, professional development, panels, lectures, and film screenings across 50 venues in Rochester.
While Carnegie Hall has hosted several all-Black ensembles over the years, this is the first recorded feature performance from an all-Black classical symphony orchestra ever. Gateways historic featured debut will be led by Music Director Michael Morgan and highlight the world premiere of Oscar-winning artist Jon Batiste alongside Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Florence Price’s Third Symphony, and Sinfonia No.3 by George Walker, the first African-American laureate of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The concert will also conclude with a signature piece, James V. Cockerham’s Fantasia on “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Gateways’ President & Artistic Director Lee Koonce took over in 2009 after Dumisani’s retirement. Koonce has been working with the nonprofit in some capacity since 1997, serving as Director of Community Relations during Gateways’ three-week residency with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Koonce spoke about the continued significance of the organization nearly 25 years later and the importance of its historic feature at Carnegie Hall.
“Gateways Music Festival’s journey to Carnegie Hall has been 28 years in the making. 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. We are grateful to Carnegie Hall for its belief in our mission and its commitment to showcasing the artistry of Black classical musicians. It’s a sign of hope and heralds a brighter future,” said Koonce.
Executive and Artistic Director of Carnegie Hall, Clive Gillinson, echoed those sentiments and his excitement about the historic debut.
“We are delighted to be presenting the Gateways Music Festival Orchestra this season in the ensemble’s Carnegie Hall debut. We have long been inspired by the festival’s commitment to extraordinary artistry as it celebrates the many contributions that musicians and composers of African descent continue to make to classical music. We look forward to introducing the Gateways musicians to our audiences as they embark upon their residency, connecting with music lovers throughout New York City,” he said.
The Gateways Music Festival Orchestra will debut at Carnegie Hall on April 24, 2022. Click here for tickets.