HSO’s New Musician Fellowship Program

The new Fellowship program at the Hartford Symphony Orchestra which will launch in the 2024/2025 season has been years in the making. Thanks to a generous three-year grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the fellowship will create new pathways for early career string musicians of color (violin, viola, cello and double bass) to perform as part of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Musicians whose racial and ethnic identities reflect the community we serve make our education and social impact programs more meaningful and impactful for the students we strive to reach.

The concept of a specific fellowship for musicians from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups is supported by many orchestral groups such as the League of American Orchestras as well as rostered members of symphonies throughout the world. The fellowship supports pathways to bring more musicians of color into the world of symphony music. Although our model is our own, it mirrors similar initiatives now in place at some of the larger symphonies. We have borrowed best practices from some of the most successful fellowships in the country to craft an approach that is thoughtful, tested, and most likely to succeed.

The fellowship program is a performance-based opportunity, specifically designed to offer meaningful employment opportunities to string musicians who are in the early stages of their careers. Like the role of our core musicians, we envision that the Fellows will have extensive involvement and direct engagement with the Greater Hartford community through our education, learning and social impact programs. Fellowship auditions will be held on June 24, 2024.

Why the need for a fellowship specifically designed for musicians from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups? Bluntly, because the blind audition process and tenure system, standard at most orchestras, including the HSO, makes diversifying the racial and ethnic make-up of musicians onstage a slow and challenging process. Nationwide, only 2-3% of musicians in professional American orchestras identify as Black or Latinx. The Fellowship Program aims to confront some of the systemic institutional racism in American orchestras and other challenges that young BIPOC musicians face by providing them with invaluable professional experiences. Programs such as this, instituted in other (and larger) symphony orchestras, help to guide Fellows in the industry and have been shown to increase the likelihood that participating Fellows will secure permanent jobs in the orchestral world. Upon successful competition of the Fellowship, a participating Fellow will gain a competitive advantage in earning a permanent position with professional orchestras, such as the HSO.

During the past several years, the HSO has cultivated meaningful and impactful partnerships and collaborations with local organizations such as The Chrysalis Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hartford, and the Legacy Foundation, to name a few. Our Learning and Social Impact staff are focused on the expansion of our community partners, and we plan to add our new musician Fellows to the roles already undertaken by our rostered musicians in the development and implementation of these programs and more. Our goal is also to prepare Fellows to potentially become permanent members of American orchestras, as we begin to change the dynamics of diversity within our own organization.