Monday, August 7, 2017

Democrat & Chronicle: Gateways Music Festival celebrates black composers, players

Gateways Music Festival

 Gateways Music Festival Orchestra concertmaster and Eastman School of Music graduate Kelly Hall-Tompkins. (Photo: GREGORY ROUTT)

Rochester, New York 

Gino Fanelli

August 6, 2017

Coming up this week is a Rochester staple festival celebrating a community of people rich with culture and a resounding artistic identity.
The Gateways Music Festival, a celebration of peoples of African heritage in classical music, will bring together 125 musicians from across the country beginning Tuesday, Aug. 8, and running through Sunday, Aug. 13.
Juilliard-trained pianist Armenta Adams (Hummings) Dumisani founded the biennial festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 1993. She said then that its mission was to showcase classical musicians of African descent, inspire musicians of African descent and provide powerful role models.
The festival moved to its current home in Rochester in 1995, following Dumisani's move to the Eastman School of Music. 
Gateways, which is holding its 24th celebration, has a new president and artistic director — longtime board member Lee Koonce — and an official partnership with the Eastman School of Music. This spells a bright future for a festival that directors and musicians describe as a truly communal experience.
“Our musicians come from across the nation, and even abroad,” said festival chairman Paul Burgett, the University of Rochester music department's vice president. “Like the musicians say, it's more like a family reunion.”
Noting a general under-representation of people of African descent in classical music, Burgett said the festival serves as a chance for young, aspiring musicians to find hope and inspiration.
“Especially for our younger audiences of African descent, it suggests that this is something that they can do too,” Burgett said. “They can not only enjoy music at a very high level, but for some of them, they can see themselves as participants of this music.”
In particular at this year's event, Burgett pointed to original compositions by Rochester native Adolphus Hailstork, as well as piano performances by Toronto native Stewart Goodyear.
Agreeing that the festival can serve as an inspiration for people of color, Gateways Music Festival Orchestra concertmaster Kelly Hall-Tompkins said the power of Gateways is its ability to bring together musicians in the highest echelon of skill.
“In this particular sense, as African-American artists we're represented in such small numbers, it really is a reunion of sorts,” Hall-Tompkins, an Eastman graduate, said.

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