Florida Orchestra wind quintet heads to Cuba bearing gifts for young musicians

On Thursday, a wind quintet from the Florida Orchestra is scheduled to launch a multiyear cultural exchange between the orchestra and Cuba. In a concert on Friday in Havana, the quintet plans to play a program that includes Ibert's Troise Pieces Breves, Barber's Summer Music, Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6, Gershwin's Three Preludes, Francaix's Quatour a vents and Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik.

The group includes Clay Ellerbroek, flute; Katherine Young, oboe; Brian Moorhead, clarinet; Anthony Georgeson, bassoon; and Robert Rearden, French horn. They will take one of the newly inaugurated charter flights from Tampa International Airport to Havana.

This cultural exchange has come about because of some loosening of travel restrictions under the U.S. embargo of Cuba. It also includes a tradeoff of music directors. Florida's Stefan Sanderling has been invited to be a guest conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, though a date has not been set. Enrique Perez Mesa, the Cuban orchestra's music director, is scheduled to make his U.S. conducting debut on a masterworks program May 11-13. In 2012-13, the plan is for the full Florida Orchestra to perform in Cuba.

If the exchange goes more or less as envisioned, it would be the first time a U.S. professional orchestra has performed in Cuba since the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra had a concert there in 1999. The Harvard-Radcliffe college orchestra played concerts on the island this past spring.

One aspect of the exchange has proved to be controversial. Over the summer, the orchestra conducted an instrument and musical accessory drive for the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory in Havana. The orchestra collected a wide range of instruments, plus accessories such as strings, rosin and reeds. All these would be prized in Cuba, where good instruments are in short supply.

But some longtime Cuba watchers expressed concern about the instrument drive.

"You have to be very careful with the Cuban ego," said Patrick Manteiga, editor and publisher of La Gaceta in Ybor City. "The Cubans didn't invite the orchestra down there for handouts. Now all of a sudden they're making Cuba a charity case. They might find that it adds complexity to the trip. Is it a humanitarian trip? Is it a cultural exchange trip? It becomes this intricate little dance. I think that whoever thought up that program shows a lack of understanding of the Cuban issue."

Angela Cassette, the orchestra's operations director, said the idea behind the instrument drive was simply to be a good guest. "It's like you would bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party, and we're bringing some gifts for young Cuban musicians," she said.

Nevertheless, the orchestra has scaled back plans for instrument donations during the quintet's visit. "This first trip, we're mainly bringing accessories," president Michael Pastreich said. "Next time we'll be able to bring more instruments. We're going to start small, learn the ropes, build some relationships. We want this to succeed."

Florida Orchestra wind quintet heads to Cuba bearing gifts for young musicians 09/24/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 24, 2011 5:30am]

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