On a Cultural Exchange – Making Music in Havana
Going to Havana recently was far removed from a vacation scenario in the tropics for Jeffrey Multer. As the concertmaster of The Florida Orchestra (TFO), the visit was part of TFO’s on-going, multi-year cultural exchange with some of Cuba’s major musical and cultural institutions, which included being the violin soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba (NSOC) in Havana’s Teatro Nacional de Cuba this past Mother’s Day on May 12.
The idea of traveling to exotic locations is standard fare for professional musicians, but the music always comes first. You may be surrounded by monuments, historic buildings, expansive plazas and other sights, but the main sight for Jeff Multer was his sheet music stretched out in front of him in his room at the Hotel Presidente, that is when he was not in rehearsals at the concert hall. In the U.S., it’s practice, practice, practice and in Cuba it’s “practicar, practicar, practicar.”
In rehearsals, Jeff showed a wonderful blend of leadership and a shared sense of comradery and love of the music with his Cuban colleagues. It also provided a chance to renew acquaintances with some musicians who had come to Tampa last fall and meet others for the first time. Everyone worked well together reflecting the positive collaborative spirit that has grown out of the cultural exchange program, all of which resulted in a wonderful concert that week.
With Jeff leading the orchestra from the concertmaster chair, the first half of the concert exuded a mixture of charm and lively turns of phrase in a lovely set of chamber orchestra gems: Handel’s “Entrance of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon; Bartók’s Rumanian Folk Dances and Bach’s Suite No.3. On the second half of the program, under the baton of Music Director Enrique Pérez Mesa, Jeff soared on his violin throughout the bold Romantic passages and the hauntingly rhapsodic moods of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, resulting in an enthusiastic standing ovation from seasoned concertgoers, music students and others from all walks of Cuban life.
Leaving the “culture” of the concert hall to walk the streets of Havana, one is struck by other cultural riches. Havana is a giant treasure trove great of architectural styles, stretching back in time to churches and monasteries of colonial Spain and zig-zagging through time toward the present. Each century gifted city neighborhoods with a staggering diversity of structures adorned with all manner of columns, staircases, balconies, window adornments, stained glass, intricate wrought iron work, animal and floral sculptures, fountains and more. Although faded, peeling, cracked and in various stages of disrepair, the city is one giant museum of yesteryears’ charm and beauty, albeit punctuated by renovated architectural gems peeking out the past as if to declare that Havana will one day reclaim its title as the “Paris of the Caribbean.”