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Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) Made Historic Debut Last Month on “Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony” Cuban Tour

Despite diplomatic tensions between the two countries, a Cuban-American youth orchestra of 75 members joined to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana and to forge friendship through music,” reported the Associated Press last month, when the Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) embarked on the “Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony” tour, which not only marked the orchestra’s debut, but also made history as the first large-scale artistic collaboration between the United States and Cuba. “It’s difficult to distinguish the different nationalities of the violinists, clarinetists and cellists as they play in perfect unison,” observed Agence France-Presse, concluding: “It’s a powerful message at a time of increasing tension between Washington and Havana.”

Comprising 25 American and 45 Cuban student and pre-professional musicians, the newly formed ensemble made its first appearances in Cuba under the batons of Daiana Garcia, César Eduardo Ramos, and CAYO Music Director James Ross, with performances outside the famed Sauto Theater in Matanzas and on the National Theater’s main stage during official events to celebrate Havana’s 500th Anniversary. Alongside classics by Dvořák and Copland, the tour program showcased the world premieres of new works by two of the island republic’s composers: up-and-coming young CAYO member Jorge Amado Molina and venerable UNESCO Medal-winner Guido López-Gavilán, whose Mojito con saoco was commissioned for the occasion by the Paulus Fund in collaboration with the American Composers Forum. Key members of CAYO’s leadership, faculty, and young musicians also took part in a press conference in Havana. Presented by Classical Movements in association with the Cuban Institute of Music and the National Center for Concert Music, CAYO’s inaugural tour harnessed the power of cultural diplomacy to support Cuban musicians and promote harmony and understanding between the U.S. and its long-estranged neighbor.

A non-profit cultural exchange program, CAYO is the brainchild of Executive Director Rena Kraut. As she told the Associated Press:

“Diplomatic relations are very tense. But we think we’re outside of that. Music is a language that everyone understands; we felt we had an opportunity to work in a diplomatic way through what we do as artists.”

In an effort led by CAYO Director of Artistic Operations, Minnesota Orchestra clarinetist Timothy Zavadil, musicians for the inaugural CAYO were chosen in collaboration with professionals from leading conservatories and institutions of both countries, including Cuba’s Chamber Orchestra of Havana and Instituto Superior de Arte and the U.S.’s New World Symphony, Juilliard School, Colburn School, and Eastman School of Music.

Reflecting on the exchange, CAYO clarinetist Jordyn Krause of Northwestern University said:

“A beautiful connection has been forged between the U.S. musicians who traveled to Cuba and our Cuban counterparts. The friendships I made here will only continue to grow.”

CAYO double bassist Isabel Barciela of Havana declared:

“We delivered the soul and put every bit of our hearts into making music. It was a week of sharing two cultures that became one through art.”

Barciela’s CAYO stand partner, double bassist Dezmond Moss Rogers of Miami University’s Frost School of Music, added:

“I had no idea how much my life would be changed. I met so many amazing musicians, Cuban and American! I learned about Cuban culture and music! This was definitely an amazing place to go for my first time out of the country.”

For young composer, CAYO violinist, and Havana native Jorge Amado Molina, the experience was “an incredible feeling.” As he explained:

“In addition to interpreting works by masters such as Guido López-Gavilán, Antonín Dvořák and Aaron Copland, it was a great challenge to play and listen to a work composed just a few months ago by me. I am honored to have lived this experience, to share a stage with students and professionals from the United States, to share together in harmony the common language: music.”

Traveling with the young American musicians were eleven members of the Minnesota Orchestra, who included first associate concertmaster Susie Park, principal flute Adam Kuenzel, principal oboe John Snow, principal horn Mike Gast, and principal trumpet Manny Laureano. During their week together in Cuba, besides helping to lead the young musicians in sectionals, lessons, and masterclasses, the U.S. mentors performed alongside their Cuban counterparts in a special chamber concert at Havana’s Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula.

As Neeta Helms, Founder and President of Classical Movements, reflected:

“It is now our privilege to be able to look back on the tremendous success of this project. The Cuban American Youth Orchestra represented an ambitious dream of its founders and board and Classical Movements remains deeply proud of the role we played bringing this project to life, contributing our decades of experience, extensive network and intimate knowledge of Cuba. Every day, Classical Movements saw the direct and undeniable relationships fostered through the shared love of music-making, which is so central to our vision of what such international projects should be about.”

Click here to download high-resolution photos from the tour.

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© 21C Media Group, June 2019

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