Cuban orchestra ‘happy to be here again’

To perform at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Monday night
The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba
The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba

After a six-year absence, the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba returns Monday in its second U.S. tour to perform at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall as part of the Troy Chromatic Concerts series. The orchestra last performed at Proctors in 2012.

“We’re very happy to be here again,” said Music Director Enrique Perez Mesa through a translator. “We have many cultural links here.”

The orchestra, which numbers 63 musicians, landed in Florida early this month and headed up the East Coast to play 20 concerts in various states. The tour ends March 26. Many of the venues are return visits; others are completely new.

“There are quite a few musicians who have been on other tours, including the first U.S. tour, while for others this tour is totally new,” Mesa said.

The history of the orchestra is a long one. In its current formation, it was founded in 1959, but its antecedents date to the 18th century. Cathedrals in Havana and Santiago always had a musical chapel made up of singers and instrumentalists. Later in the century, Cuban priest/composer Esteban Salas expanded the chapel to a small orchestra.

It took until the 1930s, however, before the first full-scale symphonic orchestras became part of the country’s cultural experience. Two were based in Havana. The Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1922 by Gonzalo Roig, now considered one of Cuba’s greatest composers. One of his pieces will be performed Monday. The other was the Philharmonic Orchestra founded in 1924 and led by Spanish musician Pedro Sanjuan. 

Over the next few decades, the orchestras maintained a relatively steady level of concerts, but by 1958 only the Philharmonic Orchestra survived. The next year, this orchestra evolved into the NSO, dedicated to bringing the music of Cuba to the world along with performances of the traditional symphonic repertoire.

Currently, the orchestra’s season runs from January to July and September to December, with a 44-concert schedule that includes regular concerts, kids’ concerts and outreach. 

“We do a lot of Cuban music,” Mesa said.

The orchestra tours about every two years, often to Germany, Spain and to music festivals in Mexico and other Central American countries. Most of the musicians also teach and many have studied in Europe. For example, this concert’s soloist, principal clarinetist Antonio Dorta Lazo, studied in Germany and played with several German orchestras before returning to Cuba to join the NSO 20 years ago. Besides touring with his woodwind quintet, he teaches at Cuba’s Institute of the Arts.

The orchestra also garnered a 2014 Latin Grammy nomination for its “Recordando a Antonio C. Jobim” disc.

Mesa, who started out as a violinist studying at Cuba’s National School of the Arts before deciding to become a conductor, has established an international career and won several honorary awards, including the Pilgrim of the Millennium from the Mayor of Jerusalem and the Shield of the City of Sabaudia, Italy.

Monday’s program will include Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with Antonio Dorta Lazo; DeFalla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat Suite No. 2”; Guido Lopez’s (1944-) “Guaguanco”; a piece by Gonzalo Roig (1890-1970); and Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 (New World).”

“I chose the Dvorak because it is one of the most romantic pieces and it is always very welcome by the public,” Mesa said.

The rest of the program might entice audience members to get up and dance because of the rumba rhythms and all the great Cuban percussion instruments they’ll use.

“It will get pretty lively,” he said.


National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday
WHERE: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
HOW MUCH: $55, $45
MORE INFO: 518-273-0038;

Categories: Entertainment

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