SPA students receive full scholarships to participate in the intensive summer chamber music and solo performance program focused on cultural diversity for young string musicians.
You may not be familiar with the Sphinx Performance Academy (SPA), but know this: It has changed the lives of thousands of underrepresented young musicians over the past 25 years.
One of them was a double-bass player from Brazil named Patricia Weitzel. Why mention her? Because she’s in charge of the SPA as the intensive summer chamber music and solo performance program continues its first-time residency at the CU Boulder College of Music—a headline-making visit made possible thanks to the recommendation of another Sphinx musician, Alex Gonzalez.
College of Music Assistant Professor of Violin Alex Gonzalez.
He’s part of a six-member SPA faculty leading the CU Boulder residency through July 2. “I instigated Boulder’s involvement,” says Gonzalez, who’s also assistant professor of violin at our College of Music. And so, 22 students—ages 11 to 17, chosen through a rigorous video process from among hundreds of nationwide applicants—are here on full scholarship, spending nearly every waking hour in private lessons, career enrichment and mentorship sessions, as well as master classes with College of Music faculty members.
The Sphinx Organization was founded in 1997 in Detroit by Aaron Dworkin (now directed by his wife Afa), designed to increase the number of underrepresented string players in orchestras. The SPA is a cornerstone program of Sphinx’s mission to transform lives through the power of diversity in the arts, also including partnerships with The Juilliard School and Cleveland Institute of Music.
For Gonzalez, the goals of Sphinx are expanding. “We want to make classical music more accessible, to use diversity as a catalyst for change. The goal for me is simply exposure. For these kids, it’s a social activity—it’s a home.”
SPA Dean of Faculty and Artistic Affairs Patricia Weitzel (Boulder).
For Weitzel, who serves as SPA dean of faculty and artistic affairs, there was something magnetic about classical music and her journey to Sphinx was one of serendipity: Years ago, she accepted an offer to study at an admission-free conservatory in Brasilia which eventually led her to enter a Sphinx-sponsored competition in 2007. “I was a semi-finalist,” she recalls, “But that was enough to allow me to join the Sphinx family.” Since then, she has taught bass around the country and performed across the globe.
Her influence has been impressive—starting within the Sphinx family. In 2019, the 18-member Sphinx Virtuosi finally added a bass player. Up to that point, the ensemble numbered only violins, violas and cellos. She acknowledges she’s become a role model for young bass players of color. “I am so honored and appreciative,” she says. “It’s not what I aimed for.” And there it is, on this summer’s student roster: 10 violins, five violas, five cellos … and two basses.
It’s impossible to know which of these 22 young players will ultimately pursue careers in music, but Gonzalez has high hopes. “These were super-prodigious students, even those we saw [in videos] at age 11. But I don’t look at age. And we’re not just taking the best players. I try to see if there’s anything that moves me. What we want to find is if there’s a potential and a hunger.”
This week, SPA students and teachers will perform free, public concerts in Grusin Music Hall: June 30 (faculty), and July 1 and 2 (students). For more information, visit cupresents.org