How a local orchestra is making the symphony accessible to everyone

Marking its 75th season in 2018-2019, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (HSO) is Connecticut’s premier musical organization, the second largest orchestra in New England, and widely recognized as one of America’s leading regional orchestras.

And while orchestras haven't exactly been at the forefront of youth culture, this regional orchestra wants to change that.

HSO patrons, donors, and board members frequently talk about how to engage younger people — and people of color — in their Masterworks performances. The Masterworks series are dedicated to showcasing classic selections from the world's most inspired composers. Today, staff and board members Angela Griffin, Edwin Shirley, and Harvey Kelly are working to transform talk into action.

Thanks to an ongoing collaboration with Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, the Masterworks concerts in January 2018 featured guest artist Gareth Johnson: a talented, young, African American violinist. Gareth was a first-place Sphinx competition winner in 2010 and now performs throughout the world.

Violinist with group of schoolchildren Violinist Gareth Johnson met with Hartford students backstage before performing. (Photo: Hartford Symphony Orchestra)

Like the Sphinx organization, Gareth is dedicated to bringing classical music to a diverse audience. When he was just ten years old, he saw famed Israeli-American violinist Itzhak Perlman perform, thus inspiring him to begin his own study of the violin.

Today, Gareth wants to return the favor by inspiring others, and with the HSO, that’s just what they did.

In the week preceding the concert, Education and Community Relations Manager Miriam Engel arranged for Gareth to meet with students at East Hartford High School in a special workshop.

Gareth’s appearance with the HSO was a chance to engage with the larger community and provide an opportunity for children of color to see someone who looks like them as a guest soloist with a professional orchestra.

live performance of orchestra Gareth Johnson performing with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. (Photo: Hartford Symphony Orchestra)
With deliberate outreach and personal invitations, Angela, Ed, and Harvey sponsored 55 special Masterworks guests (including children, parents, and chaperones) from a number of Hartford-area schools and organizations, including Grace Academy, Jumoke Academy, the Urban League, the YMCA, Artists’ Collective, and others. The special guests were welcomed before the concert and enjoyed a backstage “meet and greet” with Gareth Johnson.

The HSO and its dedicated board members are committed to bringing children and parents from local organizations and schools to share in such special and life-changing experiences through the arts.

The orchestra aims to continue delivering uniquely powerful and emotional experiences that not only lift and transform the spirit, but give back to the vibrant communities in the Greater Hartford area.

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The mission of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra is to enrich lives and community through great music.

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