Mar 22 2018

“Not like any other tour”

Cuba presents a whole host of interesting differences from many other tour destinations, but perhaps none more profound than the opportunity to meet with local musicians at every turn. Here, director Edward Kreitman recalls the last impressions this created for his group

Going to Cuba was not like any other tour. Typically, when the Chicago Consort tours, we travel as tourists and play concerts in churches, public and private concert halls and often are included in ongoing music festival or concert series programs. In Cuba, we were invited by the Ministry of Culture and we required a special visa to be able to present public performances. Each of our concerts was a shared event, opened by the local professional orchestra.

Our first concert was in the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis in Havana, and was shared with the acclaimed Ensamble Solistas de la Habana under the direction of Iván Valiante – an impressive group. Their performance of Dvořák’s Serenade for String Orchestra was spectacular and belied the poor quality of instruments and strings that the performers were using. Cubans love classical music and we were thrilled to play to an entirely packed Basilica.

The next day, we made the long coach ride to Matanza to perform in the newly refurbished Sala Jose White, a beautiful boutique concert venue dedicated to the famous Cuban composer Jose White who was originally from this town.

This concert was perhaps the most special to me. The hall, which seats 150 people was filled with at least twice that number. The residents of the town waited in line for an hour outside in the heat and after every seat was taken, they filled the aisles and stood in the back of the hall. Pressed skin to skin, they didn’t budge during the entire two hour program. The program was opened by the Matanza Symphony Orchestra performing Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. We also enjoyed hearing a modern string orchestra arrangement of the José White La Bella Cubana which we were also performing that day in its original form for two violins and piano.

Our third stop on the tour was in the small town of Santa Clara. The concert hall in Santa Clara was the Teatro de La Caridad (Spanish for “Charity’s Theatre”). It was built in 1885 and is one of The Eight Grand Theaters of Cuban Colonial era. The theater, which seats over 500 was filled with enthusiastic Cubans from the region. The concert opened with the Symphony of Villa Clara.

There was so much excitement about the concert, much of which was generated by the music director of the local acapella choir. When I inquired about why the choir was acapella, he explained that there was no piano, keyboard or accompanying instrument in the town. As we were packing our equipment and getting ready to load the bus, we decided that we would leave our electronic keyboard, amplifier and speakers so that residents and musicians of Santa Clara could enjoy having a keyboard of their own.

Before flying back to the US, we went back to Havana for a workshop together with some of the members of the Ensamble Solistas and their conductor, Iván Valiante. Maestro Valiante first worked with our group on the La Bella Cubana helping us understand better the importance of just the right tempo for each section of the piece and how that tempo serves the dance of the music. Then we got to sight read some traditional Cuban pieces and Maestro Valiante gifted the score to us so we can incorporate this Cuban music in our repertoire.

Throughout the tour, we learned many things about the culture, government, political environment, educational system and daily life of Cubans from our amazing tour guide, Manny.  His incredible welcoming presence made each member of our group feel at home in Cuba and he emphasized many times how the people of Cuba are not interested in having poor relationship with the United States. We all left feeling like we had made many new friends and understood a little better about life in Cuba.

Photo by Charles Ahn