The Sphinx Virtuosi, an 18-member chamber orchestra, photographed at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Photo by Kevin Kennedy

An 18-piece chamber orchestra featuring some of the top Black and Latinx classical musicians in the country is coming to Maine next week.

The Sphinx Virtuosi will perform at Merrill Auditorium on Thursday, March 31, as part of Portland Ovations’ Seeking Resonance series, a partnership with Indigo Arts Alliance in collaboration with the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center.

The touring orchestra is the performance element of the Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based social justice nonprofit whose mission is to highlight diversity in the arts. The tour has been going on since 2004, but this will be the first time it’s come to Maine.

Afa Dworkin is the president and artistic director of the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization, whose mission is to promote social justice through the arts. Photo by Shawn Lee

Afa Dworkin, the organization’s president and artistic director, said in an interview that steadily increasing interest in the tour has allowed it to grow from a seasonal event to year-round. The current spring leg includes seven performances in seven cities along the East Coast and in the Midwest.

“There are some places we have relationships with who have us back, but every year we are introduced to new presenting houses,” she said. “From the inception, the Virtuosi has had a wonderful response from audiences, really broad audiences, too, from more traditional concertgoers to those who might be interested in this show because it’s unique, because it does not look traditional.”

The tour’s program, titled “Tracing Visions,” will feature compositions from well-known composers like England’s Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Florence Beatrice Price, a Black pianist and teacher from Arkansas. Also included are new commissioned pieces of music by contemporary artists, such as Ricardo Herz, a violinist from Brazil, and Andrea Casarrubios, a Spanish cellist.


Aimee Petrin, executive and artistic director for Portland Ovations, said she has been aware of the Sphinx Organization for years and is excited to finally bring the Virtuosi here.

“Ovations has a 90-year history of presenting chamber music, but I think Sphinx really causes people to rethink what chamber music looks like,” she said. “The musicians are fantastic, and the program is so rich and thoughtful.”

The touring musicians are chosen from the Sphinx Organization’s large pool of alumni. As individual artists, Sphinx Virtuosi have performed as soloists with America’s leading orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle Symphony Orchestras.

“Because the Virtuosi is such a diverse group, it ends up opening up a lot of minds to what excellence in classical music might look or sound like,” Dworkin said.

The Sphinx Organization, which is celebrating its 25th year in 2022, has four core program areas – Education & Access, Artist Development, Performing Artists, and Arts Leadership – that form a pipeline to develop and support diversity and inclusion in classical music at every level. The organization’s programs reach more than 100,000 students and artists, as well as live and broadcast audiences of more than two million annually.

In addition to the Portland performance, members of the ensemble will visit Bowdoin College in Brunswick and offer a masterclass to students there. After Portland, the Sphinx Virtuosi will perform at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Sphinx Virtuosi, 7 p.m. March 31. Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland, $20-$45,

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