By John Fleming
Times Performing Arts Critic
When the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba arrives in the Tampa Bay area next week, its 70 or so musicians will have seen a lot of the United States — mostly by bus.
The itinerary of the Cuban orchestra's first U.S. tour, which started Oct. 16 in Kansas City, reads like a long-haul trucker's journal, with 13 scheduled stops so far in just over two weeks, from Urbana, Ill., to Worcester, Mass., to the Bronx; Union, N.J., to Opelika, Ala. This weekend, the orchestra is in Florida, with concerts in Daytona Beach, St. Augustine and Naples.
The Cuban National Symphony will be in the bay area on Tuesday — Election Day — and Wednesday as part of the Florida Orchestra's cultural exchange with the island nation. In what should be an event loaded with historic resonance, members of the Cuban and Florida orchestras will join to play a chamber music concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cuban Club, the Ybor City landmark that served Cuban cigar factory workers during the industry's heyday. Nineteenth-century Cuban patriot José Marti gave speeches nearby to rally support for independence from Spain, and legendary Cuban musicians like Beny Moré performed at the club.
Tuesday night's program is likely to include several collaborations by musicians from both orchestras, such as the Bach Double Violin Concerto, a percussion ensemble and a trumpet quartet. The club seats 400. Tickets are $25 in the balcony and $40 on the main floor. Tuesday afternoon, several Cuban musicians are slated to give master classes at the University of Tampa. At 1 p.m. there will be a panel discussion on the Florida Orchestra's cultural exchange, with participation by several Cuban officials.
Cuban music director Enrique Perez Mesa, who made his U.S. conducting debut with the Florida Orchestra in May as part of the cultural exchange, will be on the podium for the full National Symphony concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg. $15-$45.
Ignacio "Nachito" Herrera, a well-known jazz pianist, will be the soloist in Tribute to Lecuona, featuring Malaguena and other songs by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (who lived in Tampa for a while after the Fidel Castro revolution). Other Cuban works on the program are Jorge Lopez Marin's Danzon: "El Medico de Pianos" and Guaguanco by Guido López Gavilán (who will conduct). Also to be played are Gershwin's Cuban Overture, Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
For information, contact the Florida Orchestra, which is presenting the Cuban National Symphony. (727) 892-3337 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; floridaorchestra.org.