The Minnesota Orchestra is off to Cuba. The historic May trip culminates with two performances in Havana, May 15 and 16 and will also include several musical exchanges between Orchestra musicians and students. These will range from coaching sessions with high school and university student musicians to rehearsing with a Cuban youth symphony and playing jazz music with professional Cuban musicians. The Orchestra announced in February that it would perform in Cuba as part of the 19th annual International Cubadisco Festival this May, becoming the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since President Obama took steps to normalize relations between the countries last December. The tour is being made possible by a generous gift from Marilyn C. and Glen D. Nelson.
The Orchestra’s opening performance on Friday, May 15, at the Teatro Nacional will feature Music Director Osmo Vänskä conducting the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program, including the Egmont Overture; Symphony No. 3, Eroica; and Choral Fantasy, the latter with Cuban pianist Frank Fernández and choruses Coro Vocal Leo and the Cuban National Choir.
The second performance, on Saturday, May 16, at the same location will feature Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla’s Danzón, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, conducted by Vänskä.
The Orchestra tour group will comprise 165 individuals, including 100 musicians, as well as stage crew, staff, community members participating in a “people to people” exchange and members of the media. Cargo for the trip will include 65 tour trunks, collectively weighing more than four tons, and the music for 16 musical works, totaling 2,000 individual parts.
The International Cubadisco Festival is an annual music festival that encompasses one of the most important recording competitions in the Cuban music industry. The theme for the 19th annual festival, running from May 15 to 24, is symphonic and choral music.
Following their arrival in Cuba on Wednesday, May 13, Orchestra musicians will visit Cuban high school and university music students on Thursday, May 14. At the Escuela Nacional de Música, a national high school for music study, Minnesota Orchestra brass, string, percussion and woodwind players will coach student chamber groups, hold master classes and exchange musical performances in a two-hour morning session. The Escuela Nacional de Música includes more than 500 students from across Cuba who focus on both classical and popular music studies.
At the nearby Instituto Superior de Arte, a university that focuses on the arts, Minnesota Orchestra musicians representing all the instrument families will meet with university student musicians, offering group master classes as well as practical coaching advice for students who are preparing for annual competitions, again in a two-hour session.
On the morning of Friday, May 15, the Minnesota Orchestra will join the 80-member youth symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil Amadeo Roldán, onstage at the Teatro Nacional for a side-by-side rehearsal. Sharing stands and music, the Minnesota musicians and high school-aged youth symphony members will rehearse Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances with Music Director Osmo Vänskä. (The students will perform this music the next day as part of the International Cubadisco Festival.) Composer and conductor Guido López Gavilán—who serves as the youth symphony’s conductor—will also lead the combined ensemble in a rehearsal of one of his own pieces: Guaguancó, a colorful work with complex Cuban rhythms.
Following the Minnesota Orchestra concert on Saturday, May 16, members of the Orchestra who also specialize in jazz performance will head to the Havana Café, where they will participate in a late night musical jam with Cuban musicians.