TAMPA — The best-laid plans were upset by customs at Miami International Airport for Monday's arrival of Enrique Pérez Mesa, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, who is making his U.S. debut this week as guest conductor of the Florida Orchestra.
A late-afternoon reception was organized for Pérez Mesa at the Columbia Restaurant, the Ybor City landmark that is rich in Cuban-American history, but guests were left with no one to welcome when the Cuban conductor, who flew from Havana to Miami, had to wait four hours before being allowed through U.S. customs and missed his scheduled American Airlines flight to Tampa.
With the lack of normal relations between the two countries, such holdups are not uncommon.
"At least it gave me some time to study my music," said Pérez Mesa, with a genial shrug, speaking in Spanish and translated by an orchestra staff member. As part of the orchestra's multiyear cultural exchange with Cuba, he will conduct three concerts of mainly Latin symphonic music this weekend in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
Pérez Mesa, 51, who came by himself to Tampa, is a well-traveled musician, having served as a guest conductor for orchestras in Barcelona, Spain; Asunción, Paraguay; Guayaquil, Equador; and Medellin, Colombia; in the past year or so.
This is his first visit to the United States.
"It has been a very intense day," said Pérez Mesa, whose plane landed in Tampa at 6:45 p.m. Monday. "I have a lot of hope and anticipation about working with the orchestra and making music together."
As a Spanish speaker, how will he communicate with the orchestra players during rehearsals this week?
"I'm a conductor of very few words," he said. "I don't think you need to speak about music very much."
Along with rehearsals and concerts, the orchestra has planned a busy week for its guest conductor.
Pérez Mesa said he was familiar with the Tampa Bay area's historic ties with Cuba, mentioning the cigar industry and historic visits to Tampa by José Marti and Fidel Castro. Today, the conductor is scheduled to get a tour of Ybor City by Rene Gonzalez, artistic director of Spanish Lyric Theatre in Tampa, and make a visit to the University of South Florida music department.
Pérez Mesa also said he is a baseball fan and wouldn't mind taking in a game while in the area.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.