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

Read more

Pieters: Competition good for team

first_img The Potters have made six summer signings and, reporting he had a fully fit squad, manager Mark Hughes emphasised the point ahead of Saturday’s Barclays Premier League opener at home against Aston Villa that several senior players he has every intention of retaining would not be able to feature. In the end, the likes of Robert Huth, Jon Walters and Steve Sidwell were unused substitutes, while Victor Moses, Peter Odemwingie, Geoff Cameron and Andy Wilkinson were among those not in the matchday 18. Stoke defender Erik Pieters believes the club’s current strength in depth means players will soon lose their places in the team if their performances are not up to scratch. Stoke lost the contest 1-0 after Andreas Weimann netted in the 50th minute, and 26-year-old Holland full-back Pieters said of the hosts’ performance: “Of course you are disappointed to concede a goal. “But it was early in the second half, so you have a lot of time to recover and get back into the game if you keep playing football. But we were just too sloppy. We weren’t sharp enough. “The thing is, we have a big squad now. Everyone knows that and you have to perform every week. “If you don’t it is simple – you are out. We have enough players to take your place in every position. It is good for the team.” Asked if he thought the new players needed more time to gel with their team-mates, Pieters added: “I don’t think they have time. “It is the Premier League and you have to be there from the start. If you are not, then you have to look in the mirror and say you have to do better.” Stoke announced their latest new signing just prior to the Villa match, with Nigeria winger Moses – who was ineligible for the game – joining on a season-long loan deal from Chelsea. Hughes has subsequently indicated there will be no further additions to the squad in this transfer window and that “one or two” players could be departing. “It’s fair to say, I think our business is done now,” Hughes said on www.stokecityfc.com. “One or two players may be leaving the club but I don’t envisage anyone else coming in. We’re done now – it’s a case of working with the group that we’ve got.” Regarding 23-year-old Moses, Hughes said: “We’re very happy that Victor has come to the club. “He’s a player with a great deal of potential but he hasn’t played as much football as he would have wanted to in recent years. “He’s desperate to play and that’s why he has come to us. He’s a good young player and will bring pace and power.” There has also been plenty of change at Villa, with Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez arriving on Friday as their most recent summer acquisition. At the same time as five new summer recruits coming into the picture, there have been personnel restored to first-team contention after long periods of not being involved, including defender Alan Hutton. As part of a determined display by Villa’s defence on Saturday, Hutton was making his first competitive appearance under manager Paul Lambert after two seasons of being frozen out and playing on loan. And the 29-year-old Scotland international was delighted with how his “second debut” went. Reflecting on the victory, Hutton said: “First and foremost you have to defend well, and to get a clean sheet was brilliant. All the boys are happy enough. “It is unbelievable to come away from the Britannia Stadium with a win, being as hard a place as it is to get three points. “And with it also being a second debut for myself, it was brilliant. “Obviously it is difficult (being out of the first team for so long), but you just work hard and try your best, and when you get given a chance you have to take it.” Press Associationlast_img read more

Read more