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National Sphinx prize sweet for West Valley violinist

As a kid, West Valley native Bryan Hernandez-Luch dreamed of becoming a concert violinist. Now, it looks as if that dream just might come true.

As first prizewinner of the Sphinx Competition, Hernandez-Luch is on his way to solo with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Boston Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony, to name a few.

The triumph is particularly sweet because he is a violinist who has beaten the odds. Of Peruvian descent, Hernandez-Luch is one of few Hispanics successful at developing a career in classical music.

He began violin lessons at the age of 6, with the support and help of his grandparents, Hernandez-Luch said during a telephone interview from New York. "I remember my grandfather asking me if I wanted to take violin lessons, kind of out of the blue. It sounded exciting to me and I said, 'Yeah, I would love to.'"

By the time he was 15, Hernandez-Luch had soloed with the Utah Symphony and was beginning to consider music as a profession. "I began realizing that I was putting in so much time and effort into this music-making, and it was enjoyable for me. But (in high school) I began to look at it more seriously in terms of where I'd be attending college and what type of scholarship I'd receive.

"It turned into a great vessel for me, to receive an education and to excel at something excellent."

Hernandez-Luch spent some time as a student at both Brigham Young University and the University of Utah, free-lancing as a recording artist and as a substitute Utah Symphony player. He eventually transferred to the Manhattan School of Music, where is continuing his studies.

Although Hernandez-Luch originally set out to become a soloist, he said that his vision has shifted to one of concertmaster of a major symphony orchestra. Winning the Sphinx competition, however, has given him a taste of fulfillment of his original dream. Because the Sphinx organization is set up specifically for Hispanic and African-American musicians, Hernandez-Luch says that being Hispanic has — for once — stacked the odds in his favor.

According to the Detroit Free Press, only 3 percent of U.S. symphony orchestras include African-American or Hispanic musicians. On the other hand, the 2,000 Census revealed that 25 percent of the population is either black or Hispanic.

"I think that ethnic minorities aren't given the opportunity to do music from an early age because it's looked at as a non-lucrative career," said Hernandez-Luch. "In this day and age, people just want to put some bread on the table. I don't think the arts is the first place anyone looks when they want to make money, since that's the realistic point of it.

"But if the person has the talent and the desire, there should be nothing to stop them from chasing their passions. The Sphinx organization provides those opportunities, and even more so, the encouragement to continue it along a musical path."

Founded in 1997, the Sphinx organization provides opportunities and support for Hispanic and blacks interested in pursuing a career in classical music. "I think the Sphinx organization is doing something rather incredible right now, and I can't think of a better time for the organization to be doing what it's doing. It's kind of a touchy subject, but it's too bad that it's a touchy subject. It's a dilemma, where many people don't know how to resolve the issue."

In addition to providing opportunities, the Sphinx organization is set up to give up-and-coming minority musicians a sense of community. "One of the biggest challenges I see in being a minority in music and trying to succeed is that it's not very encouraging." He added that it's daunting "to look around and realize that you're different than everybody else, and, basically, you're fighting all of the odds to get where you're going."

Hernandez-Luch said that he never felt that he was discriminated against, and that race is probably more of an issue for other minorities. "I think it's encouraging for other minorities to see somebody up there of their same race succeeding.

"When I was a kid, I remember sitting in a Utah Symphony concert, and I saw a man play — Omar Olivera — was soloing with the orchestra. And I knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to solo."

In his case, Hernandez-Luch believes that being Hispanic has helped him along his career path. "With the cutthroat music world, anything that can help set yourself apart is going to be a benefit to you. I've noticed that I am different. I am of Peruvian heritage. Especially growing up in Salt Lake, you realize that. But I wouldn't ever say it's been an obstacle for me."

Now he says that his only worry is being showcased as "the Spanish string player," with race and not talent being the primary issue at hand. If that does happen, however, he hopes that his playing will speak for itself and make the race issue irrelevant.


E-mail: rcline@desnews.com