Bruce Hodges visits the Perelman Theatre, Philadelphia, PA, US, on 18 October 2023 for a performance of Blache, Foley, Farías, Casarrubios, Hailstork and Perkinson


Sphinx Virtuosi. Photo: Scott Jackson

‘What’s the news?’ is the English translation of Habari Gani, a Swahili greeting typically exchanged during Kwanzaa. It is also the title of the new piece by cellist and composer Quenton Blache, which opened this gleaming evening with the Sphinx Virtuosi. Of course, Blache’s invigorating plunge was only part of the news: the fuller story is how quickly this elegant ensemble has ascended into the upper ranks of string orchestras.

An 18-member ensemble of Black and Latinx players (which I wrote about in the November 2023 issue), Sphinx is committed to music by those composers as well. Bassist Xavier Foley, one of the group’s principals, wrote Galaxy for himself and Kebra-Seyoun Charles as soloists, adding a Brazilian ganzá (like a maraca) to spice things up. Each musician deftly bounced off the other, amid Foley’s suave string textures.

Another work written for the ensemble, Abran Paso (2023) by Javier Farías from Chile, translated the composer’s guitar expertise to strings, with pungent and bristling results. And yet another premiere came from Spanish cellist Andrea Casarrubios, who created her stirring Herencia (‘Inheritance,’ 2023), inspired by ‘the trails that people leave behind them’, duly reinforcing her point by creating 18 individual instrumental parts.

In this context, two older works made welcome anchors of heritage. Adolphus Hailstork evokes cathedrals in his Sonata da chiesa (1992), and the ensemble responded with an appropriately glowing tone. And, to close the evening, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson’s Generations (1996) offered warmth and vitality, in a work reflecting love for his family.