Dutchess County Executive's Arts Awards 2022

Gwen Laster


If you want to feel good about the Dutchess County and Hudson Valley arts community, then just take a swing on over to musician and composer Gwen Laster’s website, gwenlaster.com.

Once there, you will find this:

“Gwen Laster is many things: A virtuoso violinist with exquisite taste. An adventurous composer, arranger and orchestrator. A classically-trained artist with a deep appreciation for America’s musical history, and a scholar of African-American musical heritage. A socially conscious activist and educator who understands the power of music to reach and touch everyday people. Her playing is poignant, descriptive and always relevant.”

If reading about Gwen’s career in music makes you feel good, then just give this Beacon resident’s artistry a listen. It is likely to uplift your spirit and leave you pondering the majesty of the world around us.

And if you need any further validation of Gwen’s impact as an artist, then just consider some of the musicians with whom she has worked: Andrea Bocelli, Alicia Keys, Rhianna, Shaggy, Aretha Franklin, J. Lo, Shakira, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Tyler, the Creator. And let’s not forget how her talents extend to Broadway and the shows, “Miss Saigon,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Carousel,” “Wicked,” “Porgy and Bess,” and “The King and I.”

These and other accomplishments have earned Gwen the 2022 Dutchess County Executive’s Arts Award for Individual Artist.

Asked about this recognition, she called it, “A complete honor and a wonderful surprise. I feel honored to be acknowledged amongst the other recipients.”

Gwen’s career as a violinist and composer has included concerts and recordings of original compositions conceived as a vehicle for social activism. 

She is also the Artistic Director of Creative Strings Improvisers Ensemble. The ensemble’s programs engage young musicians’ self-expression through improvisation, composition and Global music. Concepts from CSIE philosophy are presented through residencies in various El Sistema programs, private schools, public schools and colleges/universities.  

Gwen has led CSIE’s local ensemble in collaborative performances with Brooklyn Violin House in Poughkeepsie and Brooklyn. Beac-Klyn Strings Collaborate!—supported by Arts Mid-Hudson and the Brooklyn Arts Council—involved artistic directors of both ensembles as well as professional New York City musicians and teaching artists, and served as the opening ensemble for headlining performances by CSIE and BVH students.

Asked how the arts can make a difference in the community, Gwen said, “By continuing to unify diverse communities through curiosity of cultures, music and people all around the globe. Creating global music locally.”

Asked why the arts are important, she said, “It inspires listeners. It unifies communities. It is a disciplined art form that educates and elevates youth.”

Gwen is originally from Detroit. And she referenced her hometown when asked about that which drew her to the arts.

“Homegrown (Detroit) influences from my parents, who submerged themselves (and me) in blues, jazz, Motown, classical and R&B,” she said. “Progressive, forward-thinking educators who blurred the lines between European Classical music and Black American Music. Numerous artists that include Jean Luc Ponty, Noel Pointer, Stuff Smith, Stephane Grappelli, John Blake Jr., Dinah Washington, Marcus Belgrave, Anthony Braxton, Anderson White and many, many more.”

Gwen on her website also offers praise for “her progressive jazz music educators from Detroit’s public schools.”

With her obvious passion for engaging young musicians, what advice does Gwen have for emerging artists, as she once was?

“Create your own original works to create a diverse portfolio of revenue,” she said. “Invest in a business class. Find your own voice and develop it as authentically and honestly as possible. Be flexible, stay current with your art form. Look for mentors. Always be curious to learn more about your art form.”

And on a scale of 1 to 10, how strong is Gwen’s passion for the arts, and why? 

She said it’s a “10—because I’m always inspired by what’s next.”

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