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Minnesota Orchestra's Historic Havana, Cuba Performance

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Minnesota Orchestra
Courtesy Minnesota Orchestra

Minnesota Orchestra

Led by Music Director Osmo Vänskä, Minnesota Orchestra performances in Havana will be broadcast live throughout Cuba, and across the U.S.; delayed broadcasts will be available via European Broadcasting Union

Nevada Public Radio audiences can tune in to Classical 89.7 May 15 and 16 to hear the historic concerts.


When Music Director Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra perform two concerts at Havana’s Teatro Nacional on Friday, May 15 and Saturday, May 16, listeners throughout Cuba, and the U.S. will have an opportunity to hear the performances broadcast live in two landmark programs recorded, produced and distributed by Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. The Minnesota Orchestra will perform as part of the opening weekend of the 19th annual International Cubadisco Festival this May, becoming the first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba since President Obama took steps to normalize relations between the countries in December.

Each broadcast will open with 30 minutes of pre-concert interviews, music and stories, followed by the concerts.

Orchestra fans can also follow the Orchestra’s website—minnesotaorchestra.org—for regular photo updates and reports from the road.

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“From the start, we have been humbled by this opportunity to bring two cultures together through music,” said Music Director Osmo Vänskä. “The fact that we will now be able to share these concerts with listeners at home in Minnesota, throughout the U.S. and across Cuba via MPR and Radio Taino makes the experience even richer.”

The Concert Programs

The Minnesota Orchestra’s performance on Friday, May 15, at Havana’s Teatro Nacional will feature Vänskä conducting the Orchestra in an all-Beethoven program, including the Egmont Overture; Symphony No. 3, Eroica; and the Choral Fantasy, the latter with the Cuban pianist Frank Fernández, vocal soloists and a large chorus combining the Cuban National Choir and Coro Vocal Leo.

The second performance, on Saturday, May 16, at the same location will feature the Danzón of Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla, Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite, conducted by Vänskä.

Echoes of 1929 Tour

The performance of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony holds special resonance on this tour, as the same work was played by the Minnesota Orchestra (then called the Minneapolis Symphony) in a 1929 tour to Cuba that marked its first visit across international waters. “The transportation of 85 men with all their baggage, music and instruments is no small task,” reported the Sunday Tribune in 1929. The ensemble—which actually comprised 84 men and one woman, violinist Jenny Cullen—traveled across the U.S. by Pullman car, performing in 14 cities along the way before boarding a steamship in Miami bound for Havana, where it played three sold-out performances.

Also as reported in the Sunday Tribune (February 3, 1929): “The final concert last night, the climax of the engagement, confirmed the orchestra and its conductor as the most successful of any visiting organization in the annals of the Sociedad Proarte, which sponsored the concerts. The applause was deafening and the packed audience formed a colorful sea of waving hats, handkerchiefs and programs.” Music Director Henri Verbrugghen and the Minneapolis Symphony were invited back for return engagements in Havana in 1930, which became the Orchestra’s last concerts in Cuba prior to the current trip. (In more recent history, the last professional U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba was the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in a three-day visit in 1999.)

Musical Exchanges

The modern-day Minnesota Orchestra will travel to Havana on Wednesday, May 13, on a charter flight with more than four tons of equipment and 165 individuals, including 100 members of the Orchestra. In the days leading up to the May 15 and 16 concert performances, Orchestra musicians will engage in musical exchange activities with Cuban students, including coaching sessions at the Escuela Nacional de Música (a national high school for music study), and the Instituo Superior de Arte (a university that focuses on the arts), as well as a side by side rehearsal with the 80 young members of the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil del Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán.  The final event of the tour will be a late-night jazz collaboration between members of the Minnesota Orchestra and Cuban jazz musicians at the Havana Café, following the full-Orchestra performance on May 16. The Orchestra departs for Minneapolis the following day.

The Minnesota Orchestra has long ranked among the United States’ top symphonic ensembles, with a history of acclaimed performances at home and around the world. Founded in 1903 as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble began touring in 1907 and soon became known as “the orchestra on wheels” for its cross-country tours. It has been heard nationally and internationally in award-winning broadcasts produced by Minnesota Public Radio, and it has received acclaim for its vast collection of recordings, dating back to the 1920s, including a 2014 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance for a recording of Sibelius’ First and Fourth Symphonies. The ensemble’s ten music directors have included Eugene Ormandy, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Antal Dorati, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Neville Marriner and, currently, Osmo Vänskä, who presides over a season typically encompassing 175 concerts that are heard live by 350,000 individuals. The Minnesota Orchestra makes its home at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

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