The Minnesota Symphony Orchestra led by its director, Osmo Vanska, will be the first to perform in Cuba since President Barack Obama announced he would be restoring full diplomatic relations last December.
The Minnesota Orchestra has just recovered from a long labor dispute. The last major orchestra to play in Cuba was the Milwaukee Symphony back in 1999. The predecessor to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, performed in Cuba in 1929 and 1930 to sold out concerts and cheering crowds.
In 2012 the musicians in the orchestra refused to accept severe cuts in their salary and were locked out for a total of 16 months, losing an entire season. Their renowned Finnish director, Osmo Vanska, had spent more than a decade making the orchestra into a one of the best in the US. He quit during the dispute. He has directed many orchestras during his career including the Iceland Symphony and has made many recording especially of Finnish composers. The Minnesota orchestra won a Grammy award in 2014. Vanska returned after the musicians signed a three-year contract in January last year even though he took the same pay cut as the musicians. He was able to demand a change in the top management of the orchestra however. Vanska said:
The president of the Orchestra, Kevin Smith, said the orchestra saw an opening for a tour to Cuba in Mid-May during their regular vacation period. The Cuban Ministry of Culture invited the group to perform at the Havana International Cubasdisco Festival. The Minnesota Symphony was the only one invited from North America. Smith said that although the musicians had to postpone their vacations, the tour fits into their plans. The orchestra will perform in the Teatro Nacional in Havana on Friday and Saturday. On the program are Beethoven's third symphony the Eroica, and American composer, Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from the "West Side Story", and also the suite from Romeo and Juliet by Serge Prokofiev. Cuban artists will.also be featured, including pianist Frank Fernandez. The tour will last five days.
The orchestra has been invited to play in Carnegie Hall next year and next month is to continue with Sibelius recordings that have been much acclaimed. The appended video is from the last concert Vanska gave when he quit, but happily he is now back directing the orchestra again.
"The orchestra was almost destroyed. We came to the edge,I'm so glad to say when we had the chance to start again, it came together so quickly and strongly, it was like a miracle."