Above: Conductor Roderick Cox leads a Minnesota Orchestra concert. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune)
Take a look around at a typical orchestral concert in the Twin Cities, and you won't see many people of color.
Roderick Cox, associate conductor at the Minnesota Orchestra, wants to change that. An African-American in a professional dominated by white males, Cox came to Minneapolis a couple of years ago with a simple mission.
“I wanted to reach out to young people, old people, people from all different colors and backgrounds," he said. "To have one of the most diverse audiences at my concerts that the orchestra had ever seen.”
Cox knows that achieving diversity and inclusion -- buzzwords in every symphony orchestra’s mission statement nowadays -- is easier said than done. But he took the first step in December 2016 by leading an outreach concert at the Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis.
It was an exciting evening. Retired Star Tribune theater critic Graydon Royce was there, calling the orchestra's performance of Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus" "a moment of music singular in its beauty” that “shook the room.”
“It was the beginning of something quite special,” Cox said. “The audience was very warm and accepting. And I think the orchestra very much enjoyed it.”
On Saturday evening at Orchestra Hall, Cox will mount the podium for a second concert designed to provide “a heartfelt message of unity, healing and inspiration” to communities which “continue to confront issues of racism and injustice,” as Cox put it.
Cox does not believe that music can send specific political messages. “What we are aiming for,” he said, “is a concert that excites people, that provides healing, joy, inspiration, insight and growth, that touches all parts of our community.”
Building the program for such a concert, Cox acknowledged, is not easy. He believes, though, that audiences everywhere can recognize excellence when they hear it, no matter which labels are applied to the muisc.
“If that means Beethoven or Dvořák, then so be it. If that means 'Total Praise' by Richard Smallwood or 'Send Me Hope' by Henry Panion, so be it. Our programing has to be very much connected to the community we serve.”
The concert will feature "Here We Are" by Henry Panion, commemorating the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Also featured are collaborating artists from the Shiloh Temple International Ministries Church Choir and Shiloh Temple Drummer Boys, along with choirs from the Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist and Minnesota State Baptist Convention churches.
“Times are changing,” Cox said. “Our world is continuing to diversify in so many ways. We want all of our minority communities to know that Orchestra Hall can be and should be their home as well.”