The Minnesota Orchestra closed out their whirlwind tour of Havana Saturday night with an awe-inspiring performance of both the Cuban and American national anthems. Classical MPR’s Brian Newhouse writes, “‘Burst into song’ is cliché, but that is exactly what happened, a mix of shock and joy on those faces. An American orchestra playing the Cuban National Anthem? While the roar of applause afterward was still going, the Orchestra went right into the Star-Spangled Banner. That’s when the tears began. The Cubans didn’t know the words, of course, but they instantly knew the music, and the symbolism of playing the two anthems back-to-back.”
While the trip was so intently focused on music both in terms of outreach and education as well as performance, it’s important to get a final tour of the surrounding area. Photographer Nate Ryan captured the scenes, the performances, and the after-hours fun before the members of the Orchestra boarded their charter back home.
Saturday morning around Havana
Live performance at Teatro Nacional de Cuba
Featuring performances of the Cuban national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, and pieces by Caturla, Bernstein and Prokofiev.
Kate Nettleman is a string bass player with the orchestra. She says her Spanish isn’t strong, but there are times in Havana when that doesn’t matter.
“When we sit together and play music sharing a stand with these students, there’s tremendous communcation. And there’s so much that’s shared in common that we undertsand without having to say a word and that’s what music is – is a language that everyone can connect through.”
On May 15th, photographer Nate Ryan embarked on a short tour of the city with patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra. The tour bus navigated through the streets of Havana, brought the tour to a seafood restaurant for lunch, and to the famed cigar manufacturer Cuesta-Rey. More photos can be found at classicalmpr.org/cuba.
The Minnesota Orchestra topped a day visiting “Music city,” a concentrated school for high school and college-age musicians, by getting comfortable in the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, the venue for tonight and tomorrow’s concerts.
After a rigorous rehearsal, Osmo Vänskä released the musicians, who enjoyed a meal in Plaza de la Catedral in old Havana, Cuba and then went out to enjoy a bit of Havana nightlife.
A few years after it got going in 1903, the Minneapolis Symphony learned that a path to community relevance took them right up to a school door. Since then, they’ve appeared in schools all across Minnesota and given countless Young Peoples Concerts at Orchestra Hall. Today that path grew a few thousand miles.
The Minnesota Orchestra dropped into two Havana music schools, playing small-ensemble concerts and then serving as workshop clinicians for the students. This passion for education is so deeply ingrained into the Orchestra’s mission now, that some players told me they were looking forward to the school visits even more than their sold-out Friday and Saturday concerts.
The kids ate it up. I loved how they filled the chairs and then stood along the walls of the classrooms to hear the Minnesota musicians. I loved how they especially whooped after a wild Piazzolla wind quintet. I loved how you could hear their tone waver with nervousness as they started playing for the pros, and then with the gentle coaching and encouraging, the tone got stronger, surer. Education in action. Thing of beauty.
The day began with frost warnings up in the Arrowhead and the car heater on high for the drive to MSP. And it wrapped with the lovely humidity of what feels like a mid-July evening in Minnesota, set to the soft crash of Caribbean waves.
We’d been a little worried about receiving a less-than-welcoming welcome at the Havana airport, based on our tense relations with Cuba. But there was only the usual visa- and form-checking as in any international airport, no scowling guards, no guns—and then we were through doors and onto the sunny, palm-tree-lined Havana streets.
After only a day here, I realize I have too many headlines of tense US/Cuban relations archived in my head; of Castro throwing barbs at American presidents, and American presidents throwing them right back. What gets lost in all that political bristle are the beautiful individual faces I saw today. So many smiles at the visiting Americans, so many wishes of welcome to us, everyone hoping that this trip—the first of an American orchestra here in years and years—represents one small start for something miraculous to happen between our two countries.
The members of the Minnesota Orchestra — and our friends in the media — got an early start for the Minnesota Orchestra’s landmark trip to Cuba today. After months of preparation, the musicians enjoyed a champagne toast aboard the plane before touching down and getting their first glimpse of Havana.
Classical Minnesota Public Radio will broadcast two distinct, live historic performances by Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra from Havana, Cuba, on May 15 and 16 at 7 p.m. CDT both nights. (Details)
Personal perspectives on the world of classical music