Havana: A concert tonight by the Minnesota Orchestra marks the first performance in Cuba by a full
professional US orchestra since 1999, coming just months after the two former Cold War rivals announced a thaw in
Few of the visiting Americans speak Spanish, but "the universal language of music" was all they needed, said Mele
Willis, the orchestra's artistic operations manager.
The performance at Havana's 2,000-seat National Theatre include famed Cuban pianist Frank Fernandez and the Cuban
National Choir. Live broadcasts are planned for Cuba and in the US via Minnesota Public Radio.
Smaller groups of US classical musicians have visited Cuba in recent years, but a 1999 visit by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is believed to be the last by a major orchestra.
The concert comes a day after the Americans held standing-room-only master classes with music students at a
Havana high school and university. Students filled every seat, sat on floors, peered in through windows and videotaped the sessions with cellphones.
The Americans' lack of Spanish did not impair their enthusiasm. Trumpet player Bob Dorer gave a thumb's up and
demonstrated trumpet technique by mouthing an "O" after a spike-haired teenager, Antonio Diaz, performed.
Shouts of "Bravo!" erupted after violin student Jorge Enrique Amado played a challenging modernist piece he composed.
"We're very impressed," said Roger Frisch, a violinist in the orchestra who asked for a copy of Amado's piece. "I'm not used to hearing high school students play at such a high level," agreed percussionist Brian Mount, who said he was "blown away" and "almost wanted to cry" watching the Cuban kids in a jam session.
Natali Chongo, 18, said it was a "privilege" to be coached on drumming four kettledrums by the orchestra's Peter
Kogan. "The musicians of the US and the musicians of Cuba always have friendship in their hearts," she said. "They need our music and we need their music."
The Cuban Ministry of Culture invited the Minnesota orchestra to perform as part of Havana's International
Cubadisco Festival. "It is an extremely important moment," said Orlando Vistel, president of the Cuban Institute of
The Minnesota Orchestra also played Havana in 1929 and 1930, when it was called the Minneapolis Symphony. Today's
all-Beethoven programme was a reprise of its 1929 repertoire, with performances of "Overture to Egmont, Opus 84," "Fantasy in C minor for piano, chorus and orchestra, Opus 80," and "Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55."