Symphonies and salsa

first_imgOn a recent spring evening, a group of Harvard musicians gathered near a faraway hotel pool. Their violas and violins echoed in the warm night air, alive with the sounds of salsa.“We got our instruments out, and the Cubans ended up improvising some salsa music, and they taught us how to dance,” said Diana Tsen ’11, a violinist with the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (HRO) who helped to organize a seven-day trip to Cuba that concluded earlier this month.The impromptu performance followed a formal concert earlier in the evening in Santa Clara, where members of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Santa Clara joined the HRO to perform composer George Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture,” a piece inspired by his trip to Havana in 1932, and filled with Caribbean themes.The HRO tours every four years. But this trip was more than just a relaxing getaway interspersed with musical interludes. It was an important cultural exchange, and statement.“One thing we all felt very strongly about was that this tour be musically and culturally significant,” said Tsen, adding that the group wanted to visit a challenging locale that was also “musically and intellectually stimulating.”Its director, Federico Cortese, agreed.“I thought that there are places in the world where … it is meaningful to go with an exceptional group of young people representing an exceptional institution. [In a place like Cuba] I really think you can be an excellent ambassador for the United States.”For decades, travel to Cuba from the United States has been strictly controlled. But in 2009 President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions on family members wishing to visit and send remittances to the country. Earlier this year, the Obama administration further relaxed travel rules, allowing religious, academic, and cultural groups to travel to the communist-ruled island nation.Music’s universality is helping to thaw icy relations between the two countries.Problems with timing and trouble finding a big enough plane forced the New York Philharmonic to cancel earlier plans to visit Cuba. But last year jazz legend Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra made the trip for a series of concerts and performances.The visit by the Harvard students, the first U.S. university orchestra to play in Cuba since the embargo began, continued in that vein. Crowds filled the theaters to capacity, eager to hear the students perform both on their own and alongside Cuban musicians. Cortese was mobbed with well-wishers after each show, and flooded with requests for interviews by local media outlets.In the streets, said Tsen, the Cubans were warm and welcoming, saying, ‘The American people and the Cuban people, we like each other and we get along. People aren’t politics, so we are friends even though our governments don’t get along.”Rehearsals were a multicultural mix of Cubans and Americans directed by an Italian (Cortese) who addressed them in English and Spanish, and occasionally in German. Proud of their musical roots, the Cuban musicians weren’t shy about putting their own spin on Gershwin. During one rehearsal, they politely insisted that the rhythm of the piece be changed to reflect their musical heritage more accurately.“They were saying that Gershwin got the rhythm wrong,” said Cortese, who happily obliged and altered the beat.Tsen said the orchestra was drawn to Cuba’s own rich musical traditions, its classical music roots, and its complicated history. For decades, the Soviet Union’s alliance with Cuba meant access to strong classical music resources. But the collapse of the USSR in 1991 severed many of those rich musical ties.“You are left with these people who are very excited and very spirited about this genre of music but they have no access to these resources. and so we thought it would be really interesting for both parties to engage in this cultural exchange.”In Cuba, where music supplies are limited, even basic instrument repairs can prove challenging. Fortunately, the HRO arrived with a luthier in tow, tasked with keeping the group’s 12 rented cellos and seven double basses in working order. In addition to attending to the HRO students, she spent much of her time fixing the Cubans’ instruments.“They lack even the simplest things,” said Tsen, adding, “It was really cool to see they could achieve such a high level despite not having those resources that we take for granted.”Led by Cortese, the HRO performed free, sold-out concerts in Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Havana. The repertoire included Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1,” featuring soloist Damon Meng ’13, and Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9,” or  “From the New World.”The trip culminated with a concert in the Gran Teatro of Havana, where the group collaborated with the National Chorus of Cuba, the National Opera de la Calle, and soloists from Havana’s Superior Institute of the Arts on Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic “Ninth Symphony.” Performing Beethoven’s masterwork, with its theme of universal brotherhood, conveyed a vital message, said Cortese.“It’s the perfect piece when you have some kind of statement about peace and friendship of peoples. … I think that an American orchestra that goes there and plays Beethoven’s ‘Ninth’ has particular meaning.”The HRO also held music workshops with young musicians in Cienfuegos and Havana. At the Escuela de Arte Benny Moré in Cienfuegos, HRO members gave master classes to elementary-level students. At the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán in Havana, they rehearsed Beethoven’s “Ninth” with a secondary-level orchestra.Cortese said he hopes to schedule similar tours in the future.“We can break barriers through music.”last_img read more

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‘Impeccable’ McIlroy earns plaudits

first_img Mickelson had a front-row seat as McIlroy covered the back nine in 31 for a round of 67 which left him seven under par and just two shots behind halfway leaders Craig Lee and Rafael Cabrera-Bello. “The back nine was really impressive, a beautiful nine holes of golf,” said five-time major winner Mickelson, who returned a 70 to lie one under. “He is really striking the ball well. His game looks really sharp and his driving was impeccable.” It was all a far cry from the same event 12 months ago, when McIlroy’s controversial multi-million pound switch to Nike was greeted with fireworks and fizzled out with a missed cut after consecutive rounds of 75. “Coming off the last green last year I was deflated to say the least,” admitted McIlroy, who endured a turbulent 2013 before finally claiming his first win of the season in the Australian Open in December. The 24-year-old also proposed to girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki in Sydney on New Year’s Eve and joked he had been hanging around tennis players too much after grunting with the effort of a recovery shot from the heavy rough. That was the result of a rare wayward drive – another into a bush cost him a double-bogey on the sixth – but McIlroy has otherwise been delighted with his long game. “Standing there 30 yards ahead of everyone else is nice,” the former world number one said. “When you are confident with the driver it takes a lot of pressure off your game. “I got a few putts to drop on the back nine which was nice and I feel like I have a great chance of winning. “It would be nice to win your first start of the season rather than your last start. It’s exactly what I wanted. It’s a great way to test your game under pressure. With a strong start to the year you can really get some momentum.” Lee had set the clubhouse target on nine under par after adding a 67 to his opening 68, the 36-year-old looking for his first European Tour win after losing out to Thomas Bjorn in a play-off for the Omega European Masters last September. Rory McIlroy had Open champion Phil Mickelson reaching for the superlatives after storming into contention for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Friday. “I think Santa has brought me a good putting stroke for Christmas,” Lee said. “My brother installed an astroturf putting green in my front garden at the end of last year and that’s made a difference as I’ve been able to keep putting every day. It’s 20 feet by 14 feet and the neighbours have been peering over the fence.” Bjorn was just two shots behind Lee on seven under after shooting his own 67, and Lee added: “I would like to take the two of us side-by-side in a play-off again.” The round of the day came from England’s Danny Willett, who carded seven birdies and an eagle in his 63 to finish eight under par and continue a brilliant fightback. Willett was five over par after 10 holes on Thursday, but played the remaining eight in four under and is a total of 13 under for his last 26 holes. “To be honest I’ve not done a massive amount different,” Willett said. “If you miss a fairway by two or three yards and get a bad lie you’ve got no way to get to some of these greens. “Today I played nice, hit it a little closer and hit a few more fairways and rolled a few putts in. I holed a wedge from 50 yards on eight (for eagle) which helps and the last 20-odd holes have been pretty good.” England’s Tommy Fleetwood made the most of his chance to impress Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, although he may not get the full benefit of his flawless 65. As well as McGinley, Fleetwood was playing with fellow Nike professional Thorbjorn Olesen and the pair turned up in almost identical clothes, much to McGinley’s confusion. “He kept saying good shot but he never knew which one it was,” joked Fleetwood, who won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Ryder Cup venue Gleneagles last year, four days before the qualifying race started, and was third in the Volvo Golf Champions last week. “He kept throwing a name out there and we’re like ‘No, no, Paul, it was the other one.’ “I played with him in Holland last year as well and scrapped it around there for two days so to finally play some good golf is good. “It’s every single European golfer’s dream to play in a Ryder Cup, you watch it every year on TV and get so motivated by it you want to go out and fight someone when you’re watching it. “It’s the best sporting event in the world but at the moment it’s one thing I am trying to keep at the back of my mind.” Press Associationlast_img read more

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