Cuban Musicians Return After 53 Years
It was truly a happening Friday night at Benaroya Hall. The long hallway was jammed before the concert, as was the lobby, and almost everyone spoke Spanish.
The occasion was the first performance in this country since 1959 of a Cuban orchestra. Last January, members of our own Northwest Sinfonietta went on tour to Cuba, joining forces at the end for a performance with the Orquesta de Camara Concierto Sur.
Now the Sinfonietta has reciprocated and brought members of the Orquesta here for three joint performances in the northwest and one in Arizona. The Sinfonietta goes back to Cuba next January.
There was no question about what the joint orchestras would perform here. What else but Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, ”the supreme ode to human brotherhood” as Sinfonietta music director Christophe Chagnard described it in the program? The Cubans had never played it, and had never traveled abroad.
Adding to the weight of the occasion, Washington’s Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen welcomed the Cuban musicians, who rose to accept a prolonged, enthusiastic ovation from the audience. He noted the consuls of four Spanish-speaking countries in the audience: Mexico, Peru, Spain and El Salvador, commenting: “Cultural connections especially through the arts are what bring nations together.” Owen then gave the downbeat for our National Anthem, followed by the Cuban National Anthem which was conducted by Cuban violist Jesus Manuel Carnero de la Teja.
Before the Beethoven, the musicians under Chagnard together performed three short works by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona: unmistakably Latin in spirit and flavor, lively, languorous, or with tango elements. Another Cuban work by Andrés Alén came after and for this Cuban performers led from first chairs while Carnero conducted.
The Beethoven, though, was the core of the evening, with the orchestra joined by Seattle Choral Company and soprano Jennifer Bromagen, mezzo-soprano Sarah Mattox, tenor Stephen Rumph and baritone Clayton Brainerd.
Chagnard and the 50 musicians gave a heartfelt and polished performance. The well-trained chorus sang its hearts out with a warm, easy tone quality. The big voices of tenor and baritone solos were easy to hear, but at times the soprano and mezzo soloists got a bit overlaid by the chorus. Chagnard held everything together with good tempos and the whole sounded perhaps just what Beethoven intended: a bringing together of mankind.
A Latin band was already playing in the lobby as people filed out, and a party began there and then.