Feedback report by David P. Graham
1995-2001 or so I traveled annually to a festival of contemporary and ancient classical music in Camagüey, Cuba, always with musicians from Germany, Italy and Denmark. Again and again we were proven that Cuba has a classical side it is not all salsa that is invented there. At that time everything was difficult: the US blockade caused a periodo especial, a time when, for example, parts of the city were sometimes without light, or articles such as paper, violin strings, etc. could not be found. Nevertheless, with harmonious cooperation and inventiveness, we created beautiful programs. There was always a great interest in European musical developments, but also in Latin American ones.
I was eager to see and hear what the capital could offer 20 years later. In the meantime, the periodo especial is over (although the recent blockade tightening makes gasoline scarce) and La Habana shows many shiny skyscrapers in addition to countless streets that have never been renovated.
Music education, like the entire Cuban school and university system, is free, and those who are talented are supported. We had as partner the music school Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán, whose students were about 14-20 years old. The handsome, renovated building, built around a small colonial-style patio three stories high with a more modern addition, had a large auditorium that was made available to us for rehearsals the entire time. The young Cuban musicians were introduced to us in a welcome activity accompanied by the big band, the director of the school Enrique Toledo conducting. The Cuban musicians were prepared differently and extra rehearsals were set up for them. The area around this school was unadulterated Cuban, our young musicians could also get food and drinks in Cuban pesos (25 times cheaper than usual).
We rehearsed for 4 days; especially when Peter Veale arrived, it was a pleasure to follow the work of these charismatic, always humorous full-blooded musicians. Our musicians were a very harmonious group, made friends quickly with the young Cubans, learned just as quickly under Peter. The rehearsal work was efficient despite very high noise levels (it was hot, all windows and doors were always open, at the same time audibly many others were practicing in the building), one learned to filter unnecessary things.
The first concert followed on 7.11, at the Conservatorio. In the audience some VIPs of the festival, some teachers of the school, about 100 students. My piece, UA, was played wonderfully. (By the way, composed for Studio Musikfabrik but also conceived in memory of Alexander von Humboldt in his jubilee year). The second concert, Nov. 9, in a beautiful hall extravagantly decorated with frescoes in Spanish style (Sala conciertos Ignacio Cervantes) was also beautifully played and well attended. Neither hall had air conditioning, unfortunately, so the problem of open windows and associated background noise remained.
We were able to attend other concerts in the festival, and they were also well attended. The music presented ranged from solo to (short) opera with symphony orchestra and originated from the following countries: Germany, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Spain, USA, UK, Italy, Mexico and Russia. Classics of early modernism, much that was just composed but rather relatively soft sounding. There were a few avant-garde pieces as well. We – with Varèse, Harvey and Cubans Lopez Gavilán and Cal – presented a Europe-Cuba bridge. Lopez Gavilán is director of the festival and a respected composer and conductor, Wilma Alma Cal a young, very interesting composer.
Overall, I found the Havana Festival of Contemporary Music to be very informative and valuable, the geographic location literally inviting music from all over the Americas and Europe to come together. The festival emphasizes the “serious music” side of Cuba (though some of e.g. Lopez-Gavilán et al is not that serious) and is well organized. The extremely active and support-worthy music school Amadeo Roldán maintains besides jazz formations, big band etc also 4 symphony orchestras (divided into 4 age groups). Its director Enrique Toledo, besides his passion (big band), is also on fire for new music. He would be willing to create a group for such performances.
I strongly suggest to initiate a sustainable partnership between Studio Musikfabrik and Conservatorio Amadeo Roldan for a minimum period of about 5 years, with annual visit and return visit. Accents on Cuban, Latin American and European avant-garde. Performances in the annual (November) festival and in Cologne.
We thank David Graham very much for his initiative and support of this new project and hope for a repetition soon as well as another trip with him to Cuba.