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Classical Musicians Convene Tough Talks About Race

The nationwide upheaval over the brutal death of George Floyd in police custody has prompted the country’s arts organizations to take a good hard look at their own track record when it comes to issues of diversity and racial justice. They’re being challenged to not just speak out on behalf of equality and inclusiveness; audiences and supporters are demanding measurable steps toward change.

Here are some of the early efforts by California music institutions and musicians to open the dialogue: a series of virtual panel discussions featuring top artists sharing the often wrenching stories of what they have faced—and continue to face—as black artists in the predominately white world of classical music.

Four prominent conductors from as far away as Berlin and Oakland virtually reunited to share their experiences: Thomas Wilkins, Music Director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra; Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland Symphony; Jonathon Heyward, a former LA Phil Dudamel Conducting Fellow who is now Chief Conductor-Designate of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, and Roderick Cox, who, in addition to a busy conducting career, recently launched a project to help young musicians of color acquire instruments and take music lessons.

Mezzo-Soprano J’nai Bridges. Photo by S. Richards courtesy of Los Angeles Opera
Mezzo-Soprano J’nai Bridges | Photo by S. Richards courtesy of Los Angeles Opera

Lift Every Voice is the title of Los Angeles Opera’s recent convening on the subject of systemic racial disparities in opera. Company President and CEO Christopher Koelsch set a somber tone at the top, acknowledging this kind of open conversation is “long overdue”. The panel features some of the top singers of our day—mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges, who also moderates, as well as sopranos Julia Bullock and Karen Slack, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, tenor Russell Thomas, and bass Morris Robinson. Please note: the video begins with about three minutes of silence.

Long Beach Opera will livestream a program called Equity and Diversity in the Arts this weekend, part of a new series of free Community Conversations. The event features both panel discussions and live and taped performances by rising stars in the opera world, including sopranos Julia Bullock, Ailyn Pérez, and Karen Slack; bass Soloman Howard, and countertenor John Holiday. The event gets underway Sunday, June 14th at 4pm here.


Long Beach Opera presents “Equity and Diversity in the Arts” Sunday at 4pm.

Of course, KUSC is no exception. We have been and are continuing to work on a variety of initiatives on-air, online, and in our communities. We understand the importance of doing something, not just saying something. We are committed to establishing ways to have a more proactive role. To read a message from our President, please click here.

Written by:
Gail Eichenthal
Gail Eichenthal
Published on 06.15.2020

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