Osmo Vanska plays clarinet with Cuban ensemble

Osmo Vänskä joined a jazz ensemble, playing his clarinet.

The eyes of much of the world were on Cuba as the Minnesota Orchestra performed two historic concerts in Havana. In addition to playing the spotlight concerts, orchestra musicians — including Music Director Osmo Vänskä — ventured out to perform Cuban music in a smaller venue.

MPR photographer Nate Ryan’s images from Cuba are truly captivating, but Nate explains he was not alone in covering the Minnesota Orhcestra’s historic visit to the island nation. In and around the musical activities in Havana, Nate saw teams from Al-Jazeera America, from BBC World (which produced this video) and from Chinese media. As one might expect, Nate also met a photographer from Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest newspaper in Osmo Vänskä’s native Finland.

Helsingin Sanomat’s Vesa Sirén covered the concerts at the Teatro Nacional, but Sirén and his colleague Juhani Niiranen also reported on and captured video of Vänskä and other Minnesota Orchestra musicians playing with a Cuban jazz ensemble. Minnesota Public Radio’s Toni Karlsson provided this translation of what Sirén wrote in Helsingin Sanomat:

As expected, music director of the Minnesota Orchestra Osmo Vänskä played jazz in a nightclub on Saturday night in Havana. The first visit of a U.S. orchestra in this century ended up in the Habana Café nightclub, where the orchestra players who are skilled in jazz jammed with the traditional Cuban ensemble, Orquesta Aragón.

Before his conducting career, Vänskä was first-chair clarinet in both the Turku and Helsinki orchestras. On this evening in at the Habana Café, Vänskä plays clarinet on many of the numbers [watch video here]. The audience consisted mostly of people from the Minnesota Orchestra or from the U.S. delegation; Habana Café is too expensive for local Cubans. On the other hand, the Minnesota Orchestra concert tickets were affordable to Cubans, who filled the Teatro Nacional twice.

The audience, saturated as they are with the Castro brothers’ socialist rhetoric, weren’t bothered by the U.S. national anthem when the orchestra played it alongside the Cuban national anthem on Saturday.

The Saturday-night concert was not quite as good as the previous night’s supernatural Beethoven concert. The Minnesotans sought to achieve Cuban rhythms in the Alejandro Garcia Caturian danzón, and in the Bernstein, they achieved the evocations of the musica, West Side Story. The playing was very good, but not quite exceptional.

In bits and pieces of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet music, we heard many bulls-eyes. And matching the Latin rhythms, Vänskä concluded both nights with the Säkkijärven polka.

The Cuban audience was spellbound.

MPR’s Nate Ryan was also at the Habana Café nightclub, where he captured the photos below.

Photos by Nate Ryan

Musicians Kate Nettleman and Manny Laureano talk on the way to Habana Cafe.

Walking up the stairs at Habana Cafe.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians arrive at Habana Cafe.

Osmo Vänskä playing clarinet on stage at Habana Cafe

Osmo Vänskä performs with a Cuban jazz ensemble. MPR Photo / Nate Ryan

The Habana Cafe.

Dancers on stage

Cuban performers at the Habanera Cafe

More coverage available at ClassicalMPR.org/Cuba

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