Press Room

Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) – New Cultural Exchange Program – Launches with First CAYO Fall Academy (Oct 29–Nov 5)

Two years ago, when the Minnesota Orchestra became the millennium’s first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba, the initial seeds of the Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) were sown. Now, with this month’s launch of the inaugural CAYO Fall Academy (Oct 29–Nov 5), this far-reaching project – a new non-profit cultural exchange program, bringing together young musicians from the two countries – comes one step closer to fruition. At the Fall Academy, eight handpicked pre-professional musicians from Havana and Minnesota will convene in Minneapolis for a week of music and leadership training, crowned by side-by-side performances – all free and open to the public – with the concertmaster and other string players of the Minnesota Orchestra at the city’s Orchestra Hall and on American Public Media’s Performance Today. Harnessing the power of cultural diplomacy to promote harmony between estranged neighbors, this important pilot program paves the way for CAYO’s first binational chamber orchestra tour in summer 2018, and first full binational orchestral tour under the leadership of Osmo Vänskä the following summer.

Rena Kraut, Executive Director of CAYO, explains:

“The Cuban American Youth Orchestra, which formed in response to the successful Minnesota Orchestra tour of Havana in 2015, is holding its first educational event this fall at which students from the University of Minnesota School of Music will combine with conservatory students from Havana for a weeklong workshop. The CAYO Academy will offer its participants lessons and classes given by our area’s finest professional musicians and educators, and will give our guests the opportunity to experience cultural life through activities and home-stays. This is the first step towards our goal of forming an international youth orchestra, for which our Academy participants will act as mentors and musical leaders. Together with our friends at the University of Minnesota School of Music, Minnesota Public Radio, and the Minnesota Orchestra, we hope to bridge the distance between our two countries through the international language of music, ‘Together in Harmony/Juntos en harmonía.’”

Osmo Vänskä, conductor of CAYO and Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, comments:

“Following the Minnesota Orchestra’s warm reception during our 2015 Cuba tour, I look forward to welcoming the Cuban American Youth Orchestra’s first workshop participants to the Twin Cities. Playing music together is the best language to build bridges across oceans to build a better world.”

Amy Klobuchar, the senior U.S. Senator from Minnesota, responds:

“As a cultural ambassador, [CAYO’s] role is essential to fostering bilateral communication between the U.S. and Cuba. I admire and applaud [CAYO’s] creative use of music as an instrument to keep Minnesota and Cuba connected.”

Michael Kim, Director of the University of Minnesota School of Music, adds:

“Our faculty and students look forward to collaborating with the very talented musicians of the CAYO Academy. We are honored to have this opportunity for our students to connect musically with their Cuban colleagues. The Crisantemi Quartet’s performance at our annual Collage Concert on November 4 is a much-anticipated highlight of our concert season.”

The first CAYO Fall Academy

The young Cuban musicians taking part in the inaugural CAYO Fall Academy are the four founding members of the Crisantemi Quartet, three of whom collaborated with the Minnesota Orchestra two years ago. Now aged between 19 and 22, Danielle Gonzalez Sanchez, José Luis Rubio Reyes, Adriana Déborah Rodríguez Laza, and Adriel David Rodríguez Laza met as music students in Havana. Taking their name from Puccini’s “Crisantemi” Quartet, with which they had fallen in love on YouTube, they made their quartet debut at last year’s Mozart Havana Festival, and have since appeared together at Cuba’s Musical Festival and Havana Chamber Music Festival, and the USA’s Austin Chamber Music Center and Vermont Mozart Festival, where they were showcased on Vermont Public Radio.
With the support of CAYO’s established partners, the University of Minnesota School of Music and Minnesota Public Radio, and assistance from the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Fall Academy will offer the students outstanding educational and performance exposure. They will observe both orchestras in rehearsal, receive coaching and private lessons, attend workshops in business and arts administration, perform and talk at local elementary schools, appear on American Public Media’s Performance Today, and give public performances, both in the lobby of Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall (Nov 2 & 3) and at the University of Minnesota School of Music Collage Concert (Nov 4). The Crisantemi Quartet will also be celebrated in an Atrium performance at Orchestra Hall, playing Cuban music and joining Minnesota Orchestra principals Erin Keefe, Peter McGuire, and Anthony Ross, along with section violist Sam Bergman, for Mendelssohn’s beloved Octet (Nov 3). To foster deeper cultural understanding, the Cuban students will be housed with local musicians. Through artistic and cultural collaborations with other students as well as with professionals, these eight students will then be perfectly placed to serve as mentors and advisors to CAYO’s future members.In Minneapolis, the young Cubans will join their American counterparts from the University of Minnesota School of Music: violinist Ramulo Sprung, a top prize-winner at Brazil’s Paulo Bosisio National Competition; violinist Alastair Witherspoon, winner of the Minnesota Competition Givens Prize; violist Matthew Pakola, winner of the Minnesota Senior Performance String Competition; and cellist Elena Denny, winner of Wesleyan University’s Concerto Aria competition.

What’s next for CAYO

Continuing to lay the groundwork for the forthcoming tours, the CAYO Winter Academy will take place next February in Miami, where Cuban musicians will collaborate with eight young wind players from the Florida city. CAYO looks forward to bringing the fall and winter participants together for a two-week CAYO Chamber Orchestra Tour in summer 2018, traveling from Minneapolis and St. Paul to Washington DC, Miami, and finally Cuba. Preparations will then begin for the full-scale Cuban American Youth Orchestra. Chosen by audition, this will comprise 100 student musicians – 50 from each country – all aged between 14 and 19 years old. The CAYO Full Orchestra Tour, slated for summer 2019, is a month of tuition-free study, travel, and orchestral experience led by Osmo Vänskä. The tour will launch in Minneapolis with a week of rehearsals, cultural exchange, and team-building exercises in collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra and University of Minnesota School of Music. A celebratory concert will kick off a two-week U.S. tour with performances in Chicago, New York, Washington DC, and Miami. The orchestra will then spend a week in Cuba, where students will immerse themselves in local island culture before giving a final concert at Havana’s Teatro Nacional, free to the Cuban public, and internationally broadcast by Minnesota Public Radio.

How CAYO began

Executive Director Rena Kraut, an active orchestral and chamber musician and dedicated educator, was inspired to create CAYO after taking part in the Minnesota Orchestra’s historic 2015 tour to Cuba. Over five intensive days in Havana that saw the orchestra give two sold-out concerts, work with high-school and college students, play side-by-side with a conservatory youth orchestra, and jam with local musicians and dancers after hours, she experienced the value of cultural diplomacy firsthand. As the New York Times reported, the opening concert “was greeted not only as a rare chance to hear an orchestra from overseas, but as a symbol of the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.” It was after witnessing the benefits of such bilateral collaboration for the young musicians involved that Kraut determined to create further opportunities for cultural youth exchange between the two countries. Click here to read her recent op-ed in the New York Times.

To download high-resolution photos, click here.

Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) Fall Academy

Oct 29 – Nov 5

Minneapolis, MN

  • Rehearsals with University of Minnesota Orchestra
  • Coaching and private lessons
  • Arts entrepreneurship and business workshops
  • Cultural exchange activities, including Halloween celebrations
  • Outreach in Spanish-speaking and arts magnet public elementary schools
  • Observing St. Paul Chamber Orchestra rehearsal and Minnesota Orchestra performance
  • Broadcast appearance on APM’s Performance Today
  • Lobby performances in Orchestra Hall (Nov 2 & 3)
  • Atrium performance at Orchestra Hall: Crisantemi Quartet with Minnesota Orchestra principals (Nov 3)
  • Performance at University of Minnesota School of Music Collage Concert (Nov 4)

All performances are free and open to the public.

#          #          #

© 21C Media Group, October 2017

Return to Press Room