Saturday, November 18, 2017
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U.S. bottleneck snags Florida Orchestra's Cuba exchange

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The Florida Orchestra has run into the first real glitch in its cultural exchange with Cuba. On Friday, the orchestra learned it had to postpone plans to send concertmaster Jeffrey Multer to perform on Feb. 10 with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba in Havana.

The reason: The Office of Foreign Asset Control, part of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, was unable to process the orchestra's application for a license to spend money in Cuba in time for the trip, scheduled to begin Feb. 4.

Under the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, the license from OFAC is necessary for travel to the island.

"Without that license you can't buy a plane ticket to get to Cuba, you can't pay the entrance fee to get into Cuba, you can't pay for hotels or food," orchestra president Michael Pastreich said. "You can't spend a penny on getting there or being there without the license."

In September 2011, a wind quintet from the orchestra traveled to Havana for a concert to inaugurate the exchange, and there was no problem in securing the license. This time, the orchestra applied almost seven weeks before Multer's departure, but OFAC is getting more applications these days as U.S. organizations move to take advantage of loosening of restrictions on travel to the island.

"The challenge OFAC is dealing with is that lots of people are going to Cuba now," Pastreich said. "Their staffing hasn't increased to accommodate the flow."

Multer was going to be the soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto with the Cuban orchestra, and there were also plans for him to give master classes. Pastreich and other managers were to accompany him to begin laying the groundwork for a proposed trip by the entire orchestra in 2014.

Last year, two installments took place in the Florida-Cuba musical exchange.

In May, Enrique Pérez Mesa, the Cuban music director, made his U.S. debut conducting the Florida Orchestra. In November, the Cuban National Symphony toured to the Tampa Bay area to play a chamber music concert at the old Cuban Club in Ybor City and a full orchestra concert at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.

Monday, Pastreich was hoping the Cubans were accustomed to snags in relations with U.S. groups and would readily reschedule Multer's visit.

"In exchanges between the two countries, everybody has experienced things not working out from either country's end," he said. "My assumption is that this will not be a unique experience for them."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

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