Thursday, October 18, 2012

National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba

National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba
Enrique Pérez Mesa, music director
Guido López-Gavilán, guest conductor
Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera, piano

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
University of Illinois, Urbana
October 18, 2012

Elaine and I had the good fortune to hear the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba last night, in the second performance of their first United States tour. The word that first came to my mind to describe the orchestra’s sound: metropolitan. The strings and winds were refined, urbane; the brass, bright and sharp. I felt that I was listening to a sound from the mid-twentieth century, nothing soupy or splashy about it.¹

The program: George Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and Rhapsody in Blue, Guido Lopéz-Gavilán’s Guagancó, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4. The highlight for me was the Rhapsody: pianist “Nachito” Herrera made this piece as new and exciting as it must have sounded in 1924. (He and the orchestra took a few liberties, which I won’t reveal here.) Added delights: two national anthems (you can guess which ones) and three encore pieces.

Last night’s performance was one of the most memorable orchestral concerts I’ve heard. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen more good will between musicians and an audience. If the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba comes your way: go.

¹ Could it just be that my head is filled with images of mid-twentieth cars still moving through the streets of twenty-first-century Havana? No, I don’t think so.

[“Nachito” Herrera has a website. This page has the tour dates.]

comments: 5

Adair said...

That orchestra has a grand tradition. People have probably forgotten that it was once conducted by Erich Kleiber. Yes, Erich Kleiber! They even put out recordings, esp. a lovely Brahms 3rd. They were also at one point in the 1930's at the forefront of musical innovation,giving very early performances of Ives, Varese, and the great Cuban modernist, Alejandro Caturla. It is nice to hear that they continue to be an impressive ensemble.

Michael Leddy said...

Adair, the program notes say that the orchestra was founded in 1959. I know very little here, but this page has some background on the Havana Philharmonic, which seems to have been a different orchestra. Was the National Symphony Orchestra a reboot of the Havana Philharmonic after Castro came to power?

Michael Leddy said...

Just realized that Herrera’s website calls the orchestra the Havana Symphony.

Adair said...

Oops! My mistake. Sorry. I meant the Philharmonic. Your link states that that folded in 1958-59, so possibly the Symphony was a reorganization and integration of various musical entities at the start of the Revolution, including the Philharmonic.

On a related note, I highly recommend Alejo Carpentier's Music in Cuba, a fascinating history of the island's rich folk and classical traditions.

Michael Leddy said...

ML207.C8 C313 2001: I’m getting that book from the library today. Thanks, Adair.