What should a quintet of North American classical musicians choose to perform for a concert in Cuba?
"The minute we heard this was a possibility, we started talking about it," says Anthony Georgeson, principal bassoon of the Florida Orchestra. "That's what musicians do. What are we going to play? We've had discussions for months. There are five musicians, and five opinions."
The occasion at hand is the orchestra's cultural exchange with Cuba, announced at the end of May. The first stage of it will be in several months, when Georgeson and four other wind principals in the orchestra travel to the island for a concert. His colleagues are principal flute Clay Ellerbroek, principal oboe Katherine Young, principal clarinet Brian Moorhead and principal French horn Robert Rearden.
The orchestra's wind quintet is slated to be in Cuba from Sept. 26 to 29, and it will likely give the concert at the Amadeo Roldán Theater, an 886-seat hall in Havana where the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba performs.
"We've thought about some American music," Georgeson says, musing about the pieces the group has considered. "Gershwin. The Three Preludes for piano orchestrated for quintet. The Hindemith Quintet. We've talked about Barber's Summer Music. Irving Fine's Partita."
As an encore selection, the group has discussed maybe playing Oblivion by Piazzolla, the Argentinian tango master.
The orchestra is on summer hiatus, and members of the quintet, several of whom play in festivals elsewhere, plan to practice individually the music they decide on until getting back together. They'll probably spend a week in September rehearsing the program before going to Cuba.
"Our goal is to put together an awesome concert," says Georgeson, who will spend much of the summer in his hometown, Madison, Wis. "We want to represent the Florida Orchestra and play a great show."
This fall is shaping up as a memorable time for Georgeson, 32. Not only is the bassoonist going to Cuba, but he and his wife, Erin, a kindergarten teacher in Tampa, are also expecting their first child, due Oct. 19.
Another aspect of the orchestra's cultural exchange with Cuba is an instrument and musical accessory drive for the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory. The orchestra has enlisted Sam Ash Music Stores in Clearwater and Tampa to collaborate on the drive.
"We're working on the mechanics of collecting and documenting the instruments," says Angela Cassette, the orchestra's operations director. "The Sam Ash Stores have indicated that they will assist us with minor repairs and basic maintenance of donated instruments, such as new pads or cork for clarinets."
Cassette expects that accessories especially will be prized by Cuban musicians. "Rosin, reeds and strings are a big deal, and they can be very expensive," she says. "Probably the cheapest set of professional-quality strings you can get are about $50 for a violin. Cello and bass strings are really expensive. Materials for reeds are difficult to come by."
As far as instruments go, the orchestra plans to accept whatever people are willing to donate. "Sometimes that old saxophone sitting in the garage, once it's cleaned, will work quite well," Cassette, 28, says. "Cuba starts teaching music in their elementary schools. If we bring a halfway decent beginner saxophone down there, they're going to be able to use it."
The orchestra has been talking with several travel agents who specialize in either travel to Cuba or arts touring, or both, to help manage the cultural exchange. The hope is that the quintet will fly from Tampa International Airport, which recently gained the right to originate direct flights to the island. Those flights have not yet started.
Other aspects of the exchange include music director Stefan Sanderling possibly conducting the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba next winter. The Cuban music director, Enrique Mesa Pérez, will make his U.S. conducting debut May 11 to 13 with the Florida Orchestra.
Ultimately, the goal is for the full Florida Orchestra to perform in Cuba, tentatively planned for the 2012-13 season. The wind quintet will likely play its Cuban program in the bay area as part of fundraisers for that project.
"We're really interested in giving it here and sharing some slides and experiences," Cassette says. "I'm hopeful that the excitement of this trip will generate a lot of support for the project of getting the whole orchestra there."
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.