When the Napa Valley Festival del Sole opens for its ninth season on July 11, the celebration of classical music will showcase a new resident orchestra.
The Sphinx Symphony Orchestra, based in Detroit, will lend its musical support to seven of the 17 concerts held throughout the Napa Valley during the 10-day festival.
The unique 60-member orchestra, the only all black and Latino professional orchestra in the world, is composed of top musicians from Atlanta, Puerto Rico and elsewhere around the country who come together once or twice a year.
"The membership of black and Latino musicians is combined at 4 percent in orchestras throughout the country," said Afa Sadykhly Dworkin, artistic director of the Sphinx Symphony. "We pull the members from different orchestras, faculty members of music schools and high-level freelancers."
The symphony will perform alongside superstar violinist Joshua Bell on opening night at the Castello di Amorosa winery in Calistoga, as well as with renowned violinist Pinchas Zukerman on July 12 at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville.
That concert will be repeated July 15 at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park.
"We're grateful to the Festival del Sole for inviting us to partner in this way," Dworkin said. "What's really exciting is the opportunity that our musicians have to collaborate with musicians like Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell."
The Sphinx Virtuosi, a conductor-less, 18-member chamber orchestra, will be featured at a concert July 14 at Opus One Winery in Oakville. Members of the orchestra will be spotlighted as soloists in that program.
Some of these soloists were winners of the annual Sphinx Competition, which was launched in 1998.
"We're going to feature one of the former winners, a 16-year-old violinist who won two years ago and now studies at Curtis (Institute, in Philadelphia)," Dworkin said. "We also have a mezzo-soprano, whose career has really taken off."
The organization's founder, classically trained violinist Aaron Dworkin, launched the competition as a way to increase diversity and inclusion in classical music.
"As a student, he thought the way to make a difference would be to galvanize and bring together young talent through a competition," said Sadykhly Dworkin, who is married to Aaron.
"They would compete, then receive educational opportunities and mentorship," Sadykhly Dworkin added.
The formation of the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra grew out of the annual competition. The orchestra comes together each February as the mentoring ensemble for the competition.
A winner of the most recent Sphinx Competition — bass player Xavier Foley — will perform at 11 a.m. July 15 at the Jarvis Conservatory in Napa as part of the festival's annual Bouchaine Young Artist Concert.
"He's 19 and he's a current student at the Curtis Institute," Sadykhly Dworkin said. "We're coming up with a very interesting program, with some elements of jazz."
Through the years, the Sphinx Symphony has added a training program for elementary students in Detroit, and summer camps for middle school and high school students who have talent but few resources.