TAMPA — "Necesito cafe," said Ignacio "Nachito" Herrera as he headed out across the University of Tampa campus. Herrera, a piano soloist traveling with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, has been relying on Cuban coffee during the group's long U.S. tour, which arrived in the Tampa Bay area on Tuesday with a busy itinerary.
At a panel discussion on the Cuban orchestra's cultural exchange with the Florida Orchestra, Herrera related the all-purpose advice he has been getting during stressful moments on the tour from music director Enrique Perez Mesa.
"He always tells me, get a cup of Cuban coffee, and everything's going to be fine," the pianist said.
The Cubans are nearing the end of their 21-city tour, which started Oct. 16 in Kansas City and has covered nearly 6,000 miles in two buses. "This has been one of the most important tours in the 50 years of the orchestra," said Perez Mesa.
In St. Augustine on Sunday, the orchestra played a free concert in an outdoor amphitheater for a crowd of 3,000, according to Aurora Gonzalez, the tour coordinator (and Herrera's wife). She said Monday's night's concert at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples was sold out.
Shortly after arriving in Tampa on Tuesday, members of the National Symphony headed in several directions, ushered along by staff of the Florida Orchestra. A half-dozen went to Ybor City for a tour of the Cuban Club, the Columbia Restaurant and other sites with ties to Cuba, led by local Latino elder statesman E.J. Salcines. Other musicians headed off to rehearsals for Tuesday's chamber music concert at the Cuban Club.
Five members of the Cuban national orchestra spent the afternoon giving individual master classes in violin, cello, clarinet, French horn and percussion for musicians, mostly from UT and USF.
Pedro Luis Gonzalez Garcia, a French horn player, had a spectacular setting for his class, the glistening new Sykes Chapel, with the students playing in front of the imposing pipe organ.
"Non rapido!" Gonzalez Garcia said at one point to Mark Trotter, 15, who was playing Villanelle, a difficult work by French composer Paul Dukas.
In general, Gonzalez Garcia wanted the students to play with more clear articulation, even exaggerating it by encouraging them to take passages more slowly than they were accustomed to, said Robert Rearden, principal horn of the Florida Orchestra, who observed the class.
Finally, after putting Trotter through his paces, constantly stopping him and keeping time by rapping a pencil, Gonzalez Garcia seemed satisfied.
"Bueno," he said, stretching his arms wide in encouragement.