Saturday, January 20, 2018
Features and More

Florida Orchestra's cultural exchange brings 'Rhythms of Cuba' to bay area

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

The Florida Orchestra's audience is in for something different this weekend when the guest conductor is Enrique Perez Mesa, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, making his U.S. debut — indeed his first visit to the United States — in three masterworks concerts.

Perez Mesa's appearance is part of the orchestra's multiyear cultural exchange with Cuban musical institutions, and his concert program mostly includes unfamiliar music from the island republic and elsewhere in Latin America.

Two of the works are by Cuban composers: Preludio para Penthesilea, a 1977 work by the late Carlos Farinas, and Ritmotiv (2006) by Guido Lopez-Gavilan. Here's what Perez Mesa said about them in an email exchange I had with him before he arrived Monday in Tampa. His answers were translated from Spanish by Henry Adams, associate director of marketing and communications with the orchestra:

"(Farinas and Lopez-Gavilan) are two of the Cuban composers most representative of the musical vanguard in the Americas, both with a very solid academic training. The works have excellent orchestration where the tonal resources and possibilities of the orchestral instruments are exploited brilliantly, especially the percussion instruments, which re-create Cuban rhythms in masterful way."

Also on the program are Cubanitis, a work for orchestra and timpani soloist by James Lewis, a retired USF music faculty member who was inspired by his first visit to Cuba in the 1990s; and Huapango, a work by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo that is thought of by many as his country's "second national anthem."

The one non-Latin or non-Latin-inspired piece on the program is the Russian composer Prokofiev's evergreen Classical Symphony, and that has a Cuban connection in the sense that until the fall of the former Soviet Union, it and the island nation had a close relationship for decades. By email, I asked Perez Mesa if there had been many Russian teachers in Cuba who passed along things like string playing technique.

"Of course there is a relation with the Russian school which was a great help academically in the (early years of the revolution)," the conductor replied.

The whole world knows and loves Cuban popular music and jazz, I said in another question to Perez Mesa. "Listeners are not so well acquainted with Cuban classical music. What is the relationship between Cuban classical music and jazz and pop music?"

"Cuban classical music has a very rich history from the time of our nationalistic fathers Ignacio Cervantes and Manuel Saumell forward to the violinist José White, Ernesto Lecuona, Amadeo Roldán, Alejandro García Caturla, etc.," he replied. "Furthermore, at the beginning of the 20th century the Philharmonic Orchestra of Havana grew stronger being directed by such emblematic figures as Erich Kleiber. It was common to see the most important soloists of the time passing through the Amadeo Roldan Auditorium. It is interesting to appreciate the level of our popular music and jazz since those musicians are trained in our academies and all of them come from our arts educational system. It is there that the relation exists between them (classical and jazz and pop)."

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