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Next Week Marks Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO)’s Debut, with “Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony” Cuban Tour (May 20–26)

Next Monday, the Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) embarks on the “Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony tour (May 20-26), which marks not only the orchestra’s debut, but also the first large-scale artistic collaboration between the United States and Cuba. Comprising 25 American and 50 Cuban student musicians, all aged 18–24, the newly formed ensemble makes its first appearances in Cuba under the baton of CAYO Music Director James Ross, with performances outside the famed Sauto Theater in Matanzas (May 24) and on the National Theater’s main stage during official events to celebrate Havana’s 500th Anniversary (May 25). The tour program showcases the world premieres of new works by two of the island republic’s composers: young up-and-comer 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 will also take part in a press conference in Havana (May 21). Presented by Classical Movements in association with the Cuban Institute of Music and the National Center for Concert Music, CAYO’s inaugural tour harnesses 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. She explains:

“The ‘Juntos en Armonía’ tour will be an historic collaboration of young Cuban and American musicians, signaling mutual goodwill and a desire to grow a relationship between our two countries. The culmination of an idea that began with the 2015 Minnesota Orchestra tour to Cuba, CAYO is a testament to the power of cultural diplomacy, giving voice to the next generation to create a better world through music.”

According to Neeta Helms, Founder and President of Classical Movements:

“CAYO’s tour epitomizes to our Cuban partners the ultimate expression of friendship through music. Classical Movements is inspired to see the lasting impact of our work in Cuba help this enormous project flourish – bringing together Cubans and Americans, once again, in the joyous act of music-making.”

How CAYO began

Like Rena Kraut, herself an active orchestral and chamber musician as well as a dedicated educator, all eleven of the U.S. faculty mentors were members of the Minnesota Orchestra four years ago, when it became the millennium’s first U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba, again under the auspices of Classical Movements. 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, they 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, and the seeds of CAYO were sown.

Success of CAYO’s pilot programs

CAYO’s first full orchestra tour represents the culmination of a series of initial pilot programs instigated by Kraut. Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vänskä was an early supporter and advisor, and excitement around CAYO grew rapidly, beginning with 2017’s Fall Academy. Eight handpicked pre-professional string players from Havana and Minnesota convened for a week of music and leadership training in Minneapolis, crowned by performances side-by-side with principals of the Minnesota Orchestra to standing room-only audiences at the city’s Orchestra Hall, as well as on American Public Media’s Performance Today. As the AFP reported, the warm welcome extended to the Cuban musicians even saw two of them receive instruments of their own for the first time.

Kraut then invited the Cleveland Institute of Music’s Heilerin Quartet to represent CAYO and the U.S. in an open-air festival of Mozart string quartets in Havana. The trip was opened up to board members, associates, patrons, and interns from the “Social Venture Partnerships in Action” class from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, from which young intern Kristina Van Deusen recalls:

“Between countries, the barrier is usually the policy and language: it is hard to visit a certain country under specific policies and it is hard for people to interact with the locals if one does not speak the local language. However, with music diplomacy there is no such problem. When the concert took place in the courtyard of the neighborhood in old Havana, the quartet created a small corner of peace in the chaotic town. People with different skin color, speaking different languages, coming from different backgrounds, doing different jobs all stopped by and enjoyed the universal language of music together. This is something special about music diplomacy that nothing else can achieve.”

Next, for last year’s Spring Academy, CAYO invited four pre-professional Cuban wind players to take part in a weeklong residency in the Twin Cities. Because of new barriers to travel arising from the suspension of visa services at the U.S. embassy in Havana, only those Cubans holding dual nationality with Spain were eligible for selection. Nevertheless, the program once again fulfilled its mission with aplomb. As Minnesota Public Radio reported, the four talented young artists gave several informal performances, one of them after a Minnesota Orchestra concert; performed at local Latino-majority schools; took part in masterclasses; performed and participated in an open Q&A about Cuban entrepreneurship at the Carlson School of Management; and explored cutting-edge performance facilities at the Wenger Corporation headquarters. Their residency culminated with a spontaneous international jam session, when Cuban musicians Elio Hernández Rojas and Oscar Cruz joined renowned organist Cameron Carpenter onstage after his appearance with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Finally, by way of an upbeat to the “Juntos en Armonía” tour, CAYO has taken three arts delegations to Cuba, to participate in cultural exchange and continue to build community.

James Ross, Music Director of CAYO

Now in his inaugural season as Music Director of Virginia’s Alexandria Symphony, James Ross also serves as conductor of Spain’s Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès, as a member of the conducting faculty at New York’s Juilliard School, and as Orchestra Director of the National Youth Orchestra USA at Carnegie Hall. Besides holding previous positions as Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony and Music Director of the Yale Symphony, he has led ensembles including the Kennedy Center’s National Symphony Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and Les Arts Florissants. He recently completed a 16-year tenure as Professor and Director of Orchestral Activities at the University of Maryland.

Classical Movements in Cuba

Classical Movements has worked in Cuba, on and off, since 1995. In 2010, responding to revived interest, Classical Movements resumed touring to Cuba, curating unique and truly meaningful experiences for more than 25 esteemed musical ensembles, and thereby becoming the world’s leading concert tour company to Cuba. After President Obama announced the resumption of diplomatic relations with the republic in 2015, Classical Movements produced an historic tour for the Minnesota Orchestra, the first professional U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba in more than 15 years. One hundred and two musicians performed two sold-out concerts at the National Theater, receiving standing ovations from enthusiastic and emotional audiences.

Click here to read Kraut’s 2017 op-ed in the New York Times, and here to download high-resolution photos.


Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO)
“Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony” Cuban tour

May 21 at 9am
Havana, Cuba
National Choir of Cuba headquarters
Press conference

Rena Kraut, Executive Director of CAYO
James Ross, Music Director of CAYO
Manuel Laureano, CAYO faculty (Minnesota Orchestra principal trumpet)
Susie Park, CAYO faculty (Minnesota Orchestra associate concertmaster)
Chris Beroes-Haigis, U.S. CAYO member
Sarrah Bushara, U.S. CAYO member
Elio Hernández, Cuban CAYO member
José Luis Rubio Reyes, Cuban CAYO member
Johan van Zyl, Vice President of Classical Movements 

Thurs, May 23 at 7pm
Havana, Cuba
Iglesia de Paula
CAYO faculty members in collaboration with professional Cuban musicians
Chamber works, to include:
Poulenc: Trio for Horn, Trumpet and Trombone
Dohnányi: Serenade for String Trio
Arnold: Divertimento for Wind Trio

Fri, May 24 at 6pm
Matanzas, Cuba
Plaza de la Vigia (outside Sauto Theater)
Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO)
Conductor: James Ross (Dvořák & Molina); Cuban conductor TBA (López-Gavilán)
Guido López-Gavilán: Mojito con saoco (world premiere)
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8
Jorge Amado Molina: In conga pa’ La Habana (world premiere)

Sat, May 25 at 7pm
Havana, Cuba
National Theater, Sala Covarrubias
Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO)
Conductor: James Ross
Guido López-Gavilán: Mojito con saoco
Copland: Billy the Kid Suite
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8
Jorge Amado Molina: In conga pa’ La Habana

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© 21C Media Group, May 2019

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