GMF2020: Music, Musicians and the Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic

New York City’s WQXR radio host Terrance McKnight hosts a conversation with Gateways musicians about the impact of Covid-19 on their lives as musicians.  Panelists Amadi Azikiwe, viola; Monica Ellis, bassoon, Imani Winds; Nkeiru Okoye, composer.


Terrance McKnight

When Terrance McKnight moved to New York City, his 96-year-old grandmother offered him a few words of wisdom: “If you’ve got something to say, get out there in the middle of the road and say it; don’t go hiding behind no bush.” From a long line of passionate citizens — his maternal family founded a branch of the NAACP in Mississippi and his father the pastor of a church in Cleveland — Terrance and his siblings were expected to contribute to their community while growing up. Early on, Terrance decided he would take the musician’s journey.

As a teenager, he played trumpet in the school orchestra and played piano for various congregations around Cleveland. At Morehouse College and Georgia State University he performed with the college Glee Club and New Music Ensemble respectively and subsequently joined the music faculty at Morehouse. While in Georgia he brought his love of music and performing to the field of broadcasting.

Terrance is an Artistic Advisor for the Harlem Chamber Players and serves on the board of the Bagby Foundation and the MacDowell Colony. He’s frequently sought out by major cultural organizations for his insight into the cultivation of diverse perspectives and voices in the cultural sphere. He regularly curates concerts and talks at Merkin Concert Hall, the Billie Holiday Theatre the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Museum of Modern Art.

Amadi Azikiwe

Amadi Azikiwe, violist, violinist and conductor, has been heard in recital in major cities throughout the United States, such as New York, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Houston, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., including an appearance at the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Azikiwe has also been a guest of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at the Alice Tully Hall in New York, and at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  He has appeared in recital at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, the “Discovery” recital series in La Jolla, the International Viola Congress, and at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Since then, he has performed throughout Israel, Canada, South America, Central America, Switzerland, India, Japan, Nigeria, Hong Kong, and throughout the Caribbean.

As a soloist, Mr. Azikiwe has appeared with the Prince George’s Philharmonic, Delaware Symphony, Virginia Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Fort Collins Symphony, Virginia Beach Symphony, Roanoke Symphony, Winston-Salem Symphony, Western Piedmont Symphony, Salisbury Symphony, Richmond Philharmonic, SUNY Fredonia Symphony Orchestra,  Indiana University Symphony Orchestra, Gateways Music Festival Orchestra, Hot Springs Music Festival Orchestra, City Island Baroque Ensemble of New York, National Symphony of Ecuador, and at the Costa Rica International Music Festival. He has also toured with Music from Marlboro, and performed at the Sarasota, Tanglewood, Aspen, Norfolk, and San Juan Islands Festivals, El Paso International Chamber Music Festival,  Salt Bay Chamber Festival, Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival, Virginia Arts Festival, Maui Classical Music Festival, Missouri Chamber Music Festival, Yachats Music Festival, Staunton Music Festival, Carolina Chamber Music Festival, and the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. Mr. Azikiwe’s performances have been broadcast on National Public Radio’s “Performance Today”, “St. Paul Sunday”, on WNYC in New York, WGBH in Boston, WFMT in Chicago, and the BBC, along with television appearances in South America.

As a chamber musician, Azikiwe has appeared in concert with the Chicago Chamber Musicians, the Kandinsky Trio, the Harlem Chamber Players, the Chester, Miro, St. Lawrence, Anderson, Arianna, Harrington and Corigliano quartets. He has also performed extensively with the Ritz Chamber Players and the Concertante Chamber Players, with whom he recorded Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, released on the Helicon label.  On the MSR label, Mr Azikiwe has recorded the Sonata for viola and piano by American composer James Cohn. Among Mr. Azikiwe’s prizes and awards are those from the New York Philharmonic,  Concert Artists Guild, the North Carolina Symphony, the National Society of Arts and Letters, and the Epstein Young Artists Award from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, with whom he still maintains a strong artistic and mentoring association.

Mr. Azikiwe was previously the conductor of the Old Dominion University Chamber Orchestra and the Atlanta University Center Orchestra. He was also a visiting faculty member of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, IN. Most recently, he was on the faculty of James Madison University and University of Maryland Baltimore County. Currently, he is a Teaching Artist for ClassNotes, the Noel Pointer Foundation, a member of the Harlem Chamber Players, the Pressenda Chamber Players, and Music Director of the Harlem Symphony Orchestra. He has guest conducted for the Intercollegiate Music Association, Tennessee Music Educators Association All-Collegiate Orchestra, Third Street Philharmonia, Gateways Music Festival, and Trilogy Opera Company.

As an orchestral musician, he has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, as principal violist of the SHIRA Jerusalem International Symphony Orchestra and guest principal violist of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra. He has performed under the baton of conductors Lorin Maazel, James DePriest, Christoph Eschenbach, Gerard Schwarz, Marek Janowski, Leonard Slatkin, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Morgan, Pinchas Zukerman, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Sixten Ehrling, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Charles Dutoit, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Michael Tilson Thomas, Kurt Masur, and Leonard Bernstein.

A native of New York City, Amadi Azikiwe was born in 1969. After early studies with his mother, he began his formal training at the North Carolina School of the Arts as a student of Sally Peck. He continued his studies at the New England Conservatory with Marcus Thompson and conductor Pascal Verrot, receiving his Bachelor’s degree.  Mr. Azikiwe was also awarded the Performer’s Certificate from Indiana University, where he served as an Associate Instructor, and received his Master’s Degree in 1994 as a student of Atar Arad.


Monica Ellis

Monica Ellis, bassoonist, is a native of Pittsburgh and began her musical studies at the age of four with her father, who was a jazz saxophonist. The New York Concert Review states, “Truly it was the excellent Monica Ellis providing deceptively graceful agility whose musical feet were as strong roots to the tree.” Ellis is a founding member of the Grammy-nominated wind quintet, Imani Winds. She is active in the New York freelance community and has performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Windscape, New Haven Orchestra, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Orchestra, Spoleto-Italy Festival and Tanglewood Music Center, just to name a few.

Ellis received her bachelor of music from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, studying with George Sakakeeny. She received her master of music from The Juilliard School and also attended Manhattan School of Music in the Professional Studies, Orchestral Performance Program, studying with Frank Morelli at both institutions.

She is currently on the faculty of Mannes College of Music Preparatory Division, Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music, and Juilliard’s Music Advancement Program, a Saturday music school for talented African-American and Latino children.

Nkeiru Okoye

Hailed as “sublime” by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Nkeiru Okoye’s genre-bending compositions reflect a dizzying range of influences — Gilbert & Sullivan, the Gershwins, Sondheim, Copland, gospel, jazz, and Schoenberg. Okoye writes in both the opera/theatre and symphonic mediums; and her works have been performed on five continents. Her cycle Songs of Harriet Tubman has become established repertoire for African American sopranos; her Voices Shouting Out has been on statewide music education curricula with Virginia Symphony and Grand Rapids Symphony; her suite African Sketches has been performed by pianists around the globe.

Okoye has received commissions, awards and honors from the NEA, Opera America, ASCAP, American Opera Projects, Meet The Composer, John Duffy Composer Institute, Composer’s Collaborative, Inc., the Walt Whitman Project, and the Yvar Mikhashov Trust for New Music for her compositions. Notably she is the recipient of three grants for female composers from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Her work has been recorded by Moscow Symphony, and the Dvorak Symphony Orchestra. She is profiled in the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation Music of Black Composers Coloring Book, Routledge’s African American Music: An Introduction textbook, and the Oxford University Press Anthology of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora.

Versant in many compositional techniques, Okoye specializes in works that celebrate the African American experience. In 2018, the Charlotte Symphony commissioned her to write an orchestral piece in celebration of the city’s 250th anniversary. In the 2019-20 season, Okoye will have premieres of Black Bottom for Detroit Symphony’s Classical Roots Festival, for which she will be the composer in residence; and Tales from the Briar Patch, a rebooted version of Bre’r Rabbit stories, and a revival production of her landmark HARRIET TUBMAN: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom, by Knoxville Opera.

Dr. Okoye is a board member of Composers Now. She holds a BM in Composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and a Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition from Rutgers University.


Gateways Music Festival is grateful to the following foundations, corporations and governmental agencies for their support and contributions made between November 1, 2018 and October 31, 2020.