Mellon renews nationally-acclaimed CSO program as it hits high note

One of the signature programs aimed at making the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra a national leader in diversity has achieved its highest level of success.

Four participants in the symphony’s seven-year-old minority string fellows program have landed full-time positions with American orchestras for the 2022-2023 season, three of them in Cincinnati:

  • Emilio Carlo, a violist and fellow from 2016-2018, has accepted a one-year contract with the CSO for the 2022-2023 season. 
  • Luis Celis, bassist and fellow from 2021-2022, won the CSO’s section bass position out of 179 applicants. 
  • Dan Wang, violist and fellow from 2017-2019, won the CSO’s section viola position out of 140 applicants. 
  • Denielle Wilson, cellist and fellow from 2019-2021, has accepted a one-year position with the cello section of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The selections are made in “blind auditions,” meaning the fellowship’s goal of elevating achievement and placement of underrepresented populations in American orchestras is accomplished without sacrificing quality. Adopted by orchestras in the 1970s to address gender disparity in the audition process, “blind auditions” have endured in the industry as a tool to eliminate other potential biases, including race, in the selection process, allowing for the tone and artistry of each musician to be the sole indicators of success. During the 2021-2022 season alone, the CSO conducted more than 300 “blind auditions,” where screens concealed musician candidates from the audition committee, promising anonymity. 

“When we conduct auditions to fill vacancies within the orchestra, we are in search of the right artist to join the community of the orchestra,” said Louis Langrée, the symphony’s music director “As our auditions are conducted blind, the appointments of our diversity fellows to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra indicate that they were the best, and we should all take great pride in the achievement of our diversity fellowship program.”

Louis Langrée

The CSO’s nationally-recognized Diversity Fellowship program, in partnership with the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, supports extraordinary young string players from populations historically underrepresented in American orchestras through a specialized, two-year graduate degree-level education, professional development and mainstage performance opportunities with the CSO. 

The program has admitted 28 fellows. The four new appointments for the upcoming season bring to 10 the number of fellows who have landed positions in orchestras, including one-year and multi-year contracts with full-time or smaller orchestras.

The success of the program has prompted the Mellon Foundation to renew its lead sponsorship commitment through 2026. Beginning with the 2022-2023 season, Scott and Charla Weiss will join Mellon to support the program in ways that complement the lead grant. Charla Weiss is a CSO board member and chair of the CSO board’s diversity and inclusion committee.

“The fellowship program, which enables participants to learn directly from their professional counterparts and perform in highly intensive professional experiences, continues to benefit musicians as they audition and obtain jobs in the industry,” said CSO President and CEO Jonathan Martin. “We are honored to support these extraordinary artists on their professional journeys and make meaningful strides in changing American orchestras.”

Jonathan Martin

Additional fellows have landed careers in music education, entrepreneurship, social change and arts and orchestral administration. Among the fellows’ accomplishments, four have placed on orchestra substitute lists, while another five have won positions in other fellowships.

“We recognize that professional careers can evolve in many different ways,” said Martin. “We are proud of each and every one of our diversity fellows for their musicianship and dedication to accelerating change in the industry, on and off the stage.”

Once selected, fellows gain first-hand experiences in a professional orchestra, performing the equivalent of five weeks per season with the CSO while enrolled in a two-year Master of Music (MM) or Artist Diploma (AD) graduate degree program at CCM. Fellows also participate in private lessons with CSO musicians, mock auditions, career development workshops, professional audition training with travel assistance, and focused mentorship from CSO musicians and the orchestra’s artistic leadership. 

“The CSO/CCM Diversity Fellowship program is unparalleled in the opportunities it creates for collaboration, exploration, transformation and personal and professional growth,” said CCM Interim Dean Jonathan Kregor. “That our fellows have found paths in the performance, academic, administrative, and nonprofit sectors speaks to this program’s vitality and versatility. CCM is inspired by the work that our fellows bring to the classroom, the practice room, and the concert stage — and CCM is proud to send these alums out into the world as bastions of change and innovation.”

Each fellow receives full tuition scholarship support, a $10,000 per year graduate stipend, and a one-time Graduate School Dean’s Excellence Award of $3,000. Each fellow also receives compensation of $8,000 per season while performing with the CSO.

CCM and the CSO will begin accepting applications for the 2023-25 fellows class on Sept. 1. The application deadline is Dec. 1.

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