The Sphinx Virtuosi is the flagship ensemble of the Sphinx Organization, and is comprised of eighteen of the nation’s top Black and Latinx classical soloists.
A proponent of new music, guest conductor Tito Muñoz will lead both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Sphinx Virtuosi in a program that includes six works by Black and Latinx composers inspired by contemporary concerns, and particular geographies and cultural traditions. At the center of the program is Michael Abels’ Global Warming, which has never before been performed at Orchestra Hall. Written in 1990, the work was originally composed as a response to the warming of international relations at the end of the Cold War. Today, the piece has taken on new meaning in relation to the climate crisis. Prior to each performance, Abels—a winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize—will be interviewed by performer and host Loki Karuna. This pre-concert program is presented in partnership with The Great Northern, an annual Minnesota festival that celebrates cold, creative winters.
The program will take place at Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis on Thursday, February 1, at 11 a.m., Friday, February 2, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, February 3, at 7 p.m. Pre-concert conversations between Abels and Karuna will take place at 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, 7:15 p.m. on Friday, and 6:15 p.m. on Saturday. Each talk will be half an hour in duration and take place in the Target Atrium at Orchestra Hall.
Ticket prices range from $31 to $89. Free tickets for all concerts are available to young listeners ages 6 to 18 thanks to the Orchestra’s Hall Pass program. Choose Your Price tickets are available to concertgoers for select seating sections ($5 minimum ticket price) for the February 3 program. The February 2 performance will be broadcast live on stations of YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio.
In addition to Abels’ Global Warming, the program’s atmospheric first half includes Marejada by contemporary composer Angélica Negrón—which the Sphinx Virtuosi will perform unaccompanied. The renowned Kronos Quartet commissioned Negrón to write the piece in March 2020 as a response to social isolation; Marejada includes ambient field recordings from Negrón’s native Puerto Rico. Following Marejada, violinist Njioma Chinyere Grevious—winner of the 2023 Sphinx Competition—will take the stage to perform the Winter and Summer movements of Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Piazzolla’s work is a collection of tangos that each imagines a different season in Buenos Aires with the composer’s signature mix of tango, jazz and Western classical elements.
The program’s first half ends on a meditative note with Carlos Simon’s Breathe. Best known to Minnesota Orchestra audiences as one half of the creative duo behind the 2022 choral-orchestral commission brea(d)th, Simon wrote Breathe as a reflection on the writings of theologian Howard Thurman, a spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Simon’s mediative soundscape encourages listeners to, in the words of Thurman, “stay put for a spell.”
The concert’s second half opens with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Symphonic Variations on an African Air—a work that demonstrates the composer’s efforts to incorporate African melodies into the Western classical canon. Two years before Coleridge-Taylor wrote this work in 1906, he composed 24 Negro Folk Melodies, a set of 24 themes and variations for solo piano, with each based on a traditional folk melody. In Symphonic Variations on an African Air, Coleridge-Taylor took one of these songs and expanded it into a 20-minute orchestral work.
Also evoking folk traditions is Sensemayá by Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, which will conclude the program. The work borrows its title from a poem by Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén that recalls an Afro-Caribbean chant recited while ritualistically sacrificing a snake. The ominous, propulsive work includes a powerful climax with overlapping woodwinds and brass.
About Sphinx Virtuosi
The Sphinx Virtuosi is a dynamic and inspiring professional self-conducted chamber orchestra that serves as the flagship performing entity of the Sphinx Organization. Based in Detroit, Michigan, the organization began in 1997 as a singular initiative: the Sphinx Competition for young Black and Latinx string players. It is now the leading social justice non-profit dedicated to transforming lives through the power of diversity in the arts. Comprising 18 accomplished Black and Latinx artists, the Sphinx Virtuosi evolves and transforms the face of classical music through artistic excellence, pioneering programming and impassioned community engagement. Its members serve as cultural and diversity ambassadors for audiences and communities around the U.S. and abroad. Since 2004, the Sphinx Virtuosi’s concerts have been presented by the leading arts organizations, including annual visits to Carnegie Hall. The ensemble’s debut album, Songs for Our Times, was released on Deutsche Grammophon in July 2023 and represents the rich history of the Sphinx Organization and the vibrant future of classical music by centering the artistry of extraordinary composers and artistic visionaries of color. More: sphinxmusic.org, mkiartists.com.
About Tito Muñoz
Now in his tenth season as music director of the Phoenix Symphony, Muñoz previously served as music director of the Opéra National de Lorraine and the Orchestre symphonique et lyrique de Nancy in France. Other prior appointments include assistant conductor positions with the Cleveland Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and Aspen Music Festival. Muñoz has appeared with many of North America’s most prominent orchestras, including those of Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New York and Utah, and he maintains a strong international conducting presence, including engagements with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic of London and São Paolo State Symphony. Born in Queens, New York, Muñoz began his musical training as a violinist in New York City public schools. He made his professional conducting debut in 2006 with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center and made his Cleveland Orchestra debut at the Blossom Music Festival that same year. More: jamesbrownmanagement.com, titomunoz.com.
About Njioma Chinyere Grevious
Njioma Chinyere Grevious is an emerging, passionate and versatile solo, chamber and orchestral musician and performer. She is a graduate of the Juilliard School and a winner of its John Erskine Prize for scholastic and artistic achievement. In 2023 she won both the Robert F. Smith first prize and audience choice awards in the Senior Division of the Sphinx Competition as well as joint prizes in the Concert Artists Guild/Young Classical Artists Trust auditions, among many other honors she has received. As a soloist, she has appeared with the Chicago Philharmonic, Western Michigan Symphony and Newark Symphony Orchestra. A founding member of the award-winning Abeo Quartet, Grevious recently completed graduate studies with Ryan Meehan and the Calidore String Quartet at the University of Delaware. Grevious is a frequent chamber music series player and has performed at numerous major festivals. She currently enjoys teaching composition and collaboration to New York City elementary and middle school students from underrepresented communities through the Opportunity Music Project. More: njiomagrevious.com.
About The Great Northern
The Great Northern celebrates cold, creative winters through diverse programming that invigorates mind and body. In an era of changing climate that threatens our signature season, the festival seeks to create community, inspire action and share the resilient spirit of the North with the world. Running from January 25 to February 4, 2024, this year’s festival features more than 50 performances, art installations, outdoor activations, and solutions-focused climate talks. For more information on The Great Northern, visit thegreatnorthernfestival.com.
Minnesota Orchestra Classical Concerts
THE SPHINX VIRTUOSI
with conductor Tito Muñoz and the Minnesota Orchestra
Thursday, February 1, 2024, 11 a.m. / Orchestra Hall
Friday, February 2, 2024, 8 p.m. / Orchestra Hall*
Saturday, February 3, 2024, 7 p.m. / Orchestra Hall
Pre-concert conversation times with Michael Abels:
Thursday, February 1, 2024, 10:15 a.m. / Target Atrium
Friday, February 2, 2024, 7:15 p.m. / Target Atrium
Saturday, February 3, 2024, 6:15 p.m. / Target Atrium
Tito Muñoz, conductor
Njioma Chinyere Grevious, violin
|Marejada for String Orchestra
|Winter and Summer, from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
|Symphonic Variations on an African Air
Tickets: $31 to $89 [Free tickets available for young listeners ages 6 to 18, thanks to the Hall Pass program. Choose Your Price tickets ($5 minimum ticket price) are available for select seating sections for the February 3 concert.]
* The performance on Friday, February 2, will be broadcast live on stations of YourClassical Minnesota Public Radio, including KSJN 99.5 FM in the Twin Cities.
TICKET PURCHASING INFORMATION
Tickets and subscription packages can be purchased at minnesotaorchestra.org or by calling 612-371-5656. For groups of 10 or more, call 612-371-5662.
The 2023-2024 Classical Season is presented by Ameriprise Financial.
This program is presented as part of The Great Northern festival.
The Hall Pass program makes free tickets available for young listeners ages 6 to 18 for select Classical and Symphony in 60 concerts, and all kids under 18 for Family concerts. This program is sponsored by Cynthia and Jay Ihlenfeld. For more information, visit minnesotaorchestra.org/hallpass.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
All programs, artists, dates, times and prices subject to change.