New York’s Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Accused of Racism Whilst Promoting Diversity 

The orchestra’s recent announcement of their Conductor Diversity Fellowship sparked accusations of the ensemble using “racism to combat racism”

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Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo credit: Hiroyuki Ito/New York Times)

 

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's (BPO) introduction of its new fellowship program caught the attention of the National Review (NR) — which stated that orchestras have recently begun to substitute the aim of ensuring “equal opportunity with equity.” 

The NR’s article provoked a discussion on Twitter, instigated by Zhang Zhang, a violinist of Monaco’s Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo. Her tweet generated several responses about the terms of BPO’s Conductor Diversity Fellowship.

 

Zhang marks in blue the areas that, according to the NR, indicate that “two major races are conspicuously left off that list of ‘underrepresented groups,’ and the subtext is clear: no whites or Asians need apply.”

In sharing NR’s post, Zhang writes that “at least they [BPO] make this clear from the start.”

Responses to her post include comments such as: “there are still people on Twitter who can legitimize this kind of decision, and no matter what, it will lead to explosive conclusions.” According to Diapason Magazine, NR’s article “revives the debate on the merits of positive discrimination in classical music.”

Also reviving the topic, the English Touring Orchestra made a recent proposal to “increase diversity” in its ranks. Their decision was cited as a justification for not renewing several freelance contracts of white orchestra members and was met with varying responses.

BPO’s Conductor Diversity Fellowship is a two-year program involving work experience and professional training. The application states that the “successful candidate must have a thorough knowledge of orchestral repertoire along with a passion for classical music.”

Candidates must have conducting experience, and “a strong commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity in the arts, command of the English language, and the interest in expanding and building connections for the BPO.”

The program will include for each of the two years: a $25,000 living wage stipend, a $10,000 housing stipend, and medical benefits.

According to NR, while the position is a fellowship, its terms and responsibilities are typical to that of a job as an assistant conductor with many orchestras with the exception of the BPO’s diversity requirement. 

NR states that BPO may be the first to “clearly contravene federal equal-employment-opportunity rules,” where no job posting can discourage an applicant to apply because of his or her race. If confronted for this, “they [BPO] may contend that these positions are merely fellowships not jobs and therefore not subject to federal employment law.”

In 2016, BPO created a Diversity Council, formalizing its commitment to perform diverse programs, and support artists of color. Each year, BPO invites medal winners of The Sphinx Organization created to address the under-representation of people of color in classical music to perform at their West Side Connection concert. 

“There are plenty of worthy ways to increase diversity in the orchestra field,” wrote NR. “For a long time, the BPO’s education and youth-engagement programs have been a model for the industry.” 

While this is the case, many hope that what the NR deems the “earmarking” of positions based on race, will not lose any of BPO’s progress on promoting diversity in previous years.