National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba

Frank Dominguez By Frank Dominguez
The historic 2012 tour of the United States by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba takes the ensemble to a total of 20 cities, ranging from the wide-open spaces of the Midwest to the industrial North; from the major metropolitan areas of the East Coast to sunny stretches of Florida. But of all those places, I chose to catch the orchestra in the charming Southern town of Aiken, SC.

Part of the reason was practical: Aiken is less than a three-hour drive from Davidson, NC where I host and produce Concierto, the nation's first bi-lingual (English/Spanish) program celebrating the Latin contribution to classical music. But I was also intrigued to experience how the orchestra would go over in the South.

I awaited them backstage at the Etherredge Center, on the University of South Carolina campus in Aiken, where the orchestra performed on Friday, November 2nd. A studio theater had been set up as their green room, and a modest catered meal of sandwiches had been laid out in the passageway between the auditorium and their temporary lounge. The orchestra was late in arriving, but, given the punctuality of my Cuban-American relatives, I wasn't surprised. Besides, they were coming from Opelika, Alabama, a pretty far stretch of travel even on a clear, mild autumn day.

When they arrived, I could tell this was a group that been touring hard and spending a lot of time on a bus. Though already dressed for the concert, they were otherwise subdued and quiet, and like good Cubans, headed straight for the coffee urn, and then the food. But soon they were filling the studio space, the passageways backstage, and the stage of the concert hall itself with scales and practicing. As soon as I introduced myself to one of them, any vestige of exhaustion disappeared and the musician became warm and animated, thrilled to offer a fellow cubano an expressive greeting and delighted to learn about Concierto and my interest in their tour.

To a person, they were all pleased with the tour and the reception given them by American audiences. In many of the places they played there was a large Cuban-American presence in the audience, with boisterous cries of "Viva Cuba!" and waving of the Cuban flag. Other venues were more reserved, but the audiences nonetheless were just as appreciative and welcoming.

That was certainly the case in Aiken at the concert that night. The auditorium was nearly full with, what appeared to my practiced eye, a mostly Anglo audience. But the standing ovations started early, when the orchestra played the Star-Spangled Banner and the Cuban National anthem, La Bayamesa, and came often. By the time the audience was rewarded with a classic Danzón for an encore, the crowd was ready to take the orchestra home for dinner. From what I've observed, it was a typical performance and audience reaction on a tour that is anything but typical.

And for me personally, it couldn't help but be nostalgic and somewhat bittersweet. The Cuban numbers the orchestra played, including Lecuona's La comparsa, were pieces I first heard as a child in my parents' home. And when guest pianist Nachito Herrera and the ensemble launched into that Danzón finale, I was reminded of my late father's treasured LPs of the legendary Orquesta Aragón. It's that strong connection to family and place that forms such a strong bond with the island in the typical Cuban heart, and no doubt what has made this tour by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba so special.



National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba 2012 USA Tour

10/16   Kansas City, MO Kauffman Center For the Performing Arts 
10/17 Urbana, IL Krannert Center
10/18 Ames, IA Iowa State Center, Scheman Building
10/21 Rockville, MD Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center
10/22 Buffalo, NY University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
10/23 Allentown, PA Allentown Symphony Hall
10/24 Worcester, MA Music Worcester - Mechanics Hall
10/26 Schenectady, NY Proctor's Theatre
10/27 Bronx, NY Lehman Center for the Performing Arts
10/28 Union, NJ Kean University
10/29 Danville, VA George Washington High School
10/30 Newport News, VA Ferguson Center for the Arts
11/1 Opelika, AL The Art Association of East Alabama
11/2 Aiken, SC Etheredge Center
11/3 Daytona Beach, FL Peabody Auditorium
11/4 St Augustine, FL St. Augustine Amphitheatre
11/5 Naples, FL Philharmonic Center for the Arts
11/7 St. Petersburg, FL Florida Orchestra-The Mahaffey Theatre
11/8 Fort Pierce, FL Sunrise Theatre
11/10 West Palm Beach, FL  Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
11/11 West Palm Beach, FL Kravis Center for the Performing Arts