One of the highlights in Detroit's classical music season kicks off today through Saturday evening -- the annual Sphinx Competition.

This exercise in hope and raw musical talent -- which is open to the public -- spotlights young classical musicians of color, awarding more than $100,000 in prizes, including a $50,000 first place to the winner in the senior division (18-30 years). 

And this year, audiences Saturday evening will get a special treat, says Afa Dworkin, Sphinx president and artistic director. 

Sphinx founder Aaron Dworkin, now a University of Michigan music professor and Afa's husband, will perform "a work for spoken word and orchestra, 'The American Rhapsody,'" she said. 

Dworkin's composition "takes the music of Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a 19th-century black British composer," Afa said, "and intertwines that with speeches by George Washington and some of Aaron's own prose."

All in all, she added, "It’s a commentary on idealism, liberty, justice and democracy -- and the conflict inherent in the life of our forefather."

Aaron and the Sphinx Symphony Orchestra will perform "The American Rhapsody" following the conclusion of the senior-division competition Friday evening at Orchestra Hall. 

The nonprofit Sphinx, which launched the annual competition in 1998, aims to boost the diversity of great orchestras around the country, and encourage black and Latino musicians to pursue lofty musical goals. 

Running alongside this year's competition will be the 2020 SphinxConnect conference at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, which bills itself as "the epicenter for artists and leaders in diversity," and expects about 1,000 participants. 

Sphinx has a talent for launching careers.

Sterling Elliott, who won the senior competition last year (after nabbing the junior title a few years before), has seen his career blossom with soloist gigs at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra, among others. 

"Sphinx has been essential to what happened in my musical career," said the Juilliard undergraduate. "It really kickstarted everything in terms of my decision and desire to do music professionally."

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

2020 Sphinx Competition 

Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward, Detroit 

Junior Finals: 7:30 p.m. Fri. 

Senior Finals: 7:30 p.m. Sat. 

Donations welcome

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