The latest episode in the Florida Orchestra's multiyear exchange with Cuba unfolds this week as Enrique Perez Mesa, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, arrives in the Tampa Bay area. He is guest conductor with the orchestra for three concerts next weekend.
"For me, it is an honor to be invited by this prestigious musical institution," Perez Mesa said in a recent email, translated from Spanish. "It will be a pleasure to share music together in this cultural exchange."
Last fall, the orchestra sent a wind quintet to perform in Havana to inaugurate the cultural exchange, which will continue in November when Perez Mesa and the Cuban national symphony perform two concerts in the bay area. Subsequent exchanges are expected to include Florida Orchestra music director Stefan Sanderling conducting in Cuba and the orchestra making a tour to play in the island republic.
Born in Matanzas, Cuba, Perez Mesa, 51, is visiting the United States for the first time. He received his orchestral conducting degree in 1993 from the Instituto Superior de Arte. He has conducted throughout Latin America, as well as in Europe, and his recordings include the five Villa-Lobos piano concertos (each with a different soloist), Jose Maria Vitier's Salmo de Las Americas (nominated for a Latin Grammy in classical music in 2000) and music for Cuban and Spanish films.
Perez Mesa will conduct a pair of works by Cuban composers, Preludio para Penthesilea by Carlos Farinas and Ritmotiv by Guido Lopez-Gavilan. Here's what he had to say about them in the email:
"They are two of the Cuban composers most representative of the musical vanguard in the Americas, both with a very solid academic formation/training. The works have excellent orchestration where the tonal resources and possibilities of the orchestral instruments are exploited brilliantly, especially the percussion instruments, which recreate Cuban rhythms in masterful way."
Huapango by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo and Prokofiev's Classical Symphony will also be performed.
In some resourceful programming, the concert includes Cubanitis, a work for timpani and orchestra by James Lewis, a retired music professor at the University of South Florida. With principal timpanist John Bannon as the soloist, the orchestra premiered the work in 1998, and Bannon will again be featured. The 15-minute piece was inspired by a seven-week visit to Cuba Lewis took in 1996.
"Cubanitis is the word Cubans use for the cultural virus that affects outsiders, and I got it bad," Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times (then the St. Petersburg Times) in 1998.
Because of the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, Perez Mesa's appearance has had its share of complications. A week before his scheduled arrival, the conductor's travel visa was yet to be authorized, a common holdup in relations between the countries.
Getting the orchestra parts for the Cuban works was a hassle, because there is no postal or other delivery service between the countries. So the orchestra asked Lewis to travel from his home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to Havana to fetch the music from Perez Mesa. Then from back in Mexico, the composer sent it all to the orchestra. When the sheet music did arrive, it was found to be in substandard condition, dog-eared, torn and with illegible notation in places, a telling indication of musical hardship in Cuba's dire economy but also a challenge for the orchestra's librarians to put into performable shape.
• In April, Florida Orchestra music director Stefan Sanderling was awarded the Julio Kilenyi Medal of Honor by the Bruckner Society of America for his work as music director of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in Ohio. Sanderling has conducted Bruckner symphonies three through nine in Toledo. He has led the same Bruckner symphonies in Florida during the past eight seasons and has Symphony No. 2 scheduled in January.
• Soprano Phoenix Gayles won the $4,000 first prize in the Florida Suncoast Opera Guild's competition in April. Gayles sings Barbarina in St. Petersburg Opera's staging of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in June.
• The Metropolitan Opera's production of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen cycle will be transmitted to movie theaters, beginning with the first opera, Das Rheingold, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will be followed by Die Walkure (6:30 p.m. May 14), Siegfried (6:30 p.m. May 16) and Gotterdammerung (noon May 19). These are repeated from The Met: Live in HD series. Wagner's Dream, a documentary on the Robert Lepage production, will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Five Tampa Bay area theaters carry Ring screenings. $15 or $18 for the operas, $12.50 or $15 for the documentary (prices vary). Information: fathomevents.com.
•Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, sung in English, is on the agenda for New Century Opera, with performances at 7 p.m. Thursday and 2 p.m. Saturday at Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. The cast includes Kevin Nickorick, Michelle Sund, David Powers, Mark Payne and Doreen Summers, with artistic director Constantine Grame playing the piano score. $18, $20. (727) 942-5605; tarponarts.corg.
Pianist Leonidas Lipovetsky, who performed all the Mozart sonatas for piano in a series of concerts in 2006, is at it again. This time, Lipovetsky, retired from a 35-year career teaching piano at Florida State University, plans to play all 32 Beethoven sonatas, the pinnacle of the piano repertoire. His first recital in the series, with a program that includes the Pathetique, Appassionata and Waldstein sonatas, is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg. $30. (727) 822-3590; mypalladium.org.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.