Cuban orchestra makes raucous impression in lightweight program at Kravis Center

By Lawrence Budmen

Enrique Pérez-Mesa conducted the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

The Regional Arts Concert Series opened Saturday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach with a largely pops concert by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. A Mendelssohn masterwork replaced the originally scheduled early Schubert symphony as the only substantial work on the program. Unfortunately, while the visit of the Havana-based ensemble was noteworthy—especially in South Florida—the orchestra’s music-making proved provincial at best.

The raucous, uneven brass playing of the American and Cuban national anthems that opened the concert carried over into the ensuing Cuban Overture by Gershwin. Music director Enrique Pérez-Mesa set a lively pace and the strong principal clarinet reveled in a bluesy solo. The energetic percussion section created a splendid racket with the native sounds of maracas, bongos and claves.

Guido Lopez-Gavilan took over the podium for his own Guaguanco and Tribute to Lecuona, both scores featuring the Cuban-born, Minneapolis-based pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera. Herrera’s arrangement of Ernesto Lecuona’s Malaguena and Ante el Escorial is a jazzed-up affair, reflecting the pianist’s pop bona fides. Unrelenting extreme volume and blurred passagework marked his superficial versions of these classic vignettes, lacking the idiomatic elegance that Thomas Tirino and Santiago Rodriguez bring to Lecuona’s music.

Attractive writing for mallet percussion was the most interesting aspect of Gavilan’s composition. With audience clapping, string players pounding out rhythm on the wood of their instruments and Herrera standing and doing a dance while pounding at the keyboard, the piece seemed better suited for the ambience of a nightclub than a concert hall. The audience seemed to love it, interrupting the performance with applause, standing ovations and cheering at the conclusion.

Jorge Lopez Marin’s Danzon El Medico de Pianos offered a kind of Cuban Leroy Anderson, complete with catchy plucked string figures and an upbeat trumpet tune. Instead of performing such fluff on its first American tour, the orchestra could have revived scores by such pioneering Cuban modernists as Alberto Caturla and Amadeo Roldan.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 (Italian) was substituted for Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 without announcement. Pérez-Mesa’s plodding, earthbound conducting failed to channel the Mediterranean sunshine of Mendelssohn’s profusion of inspired melodies. Brass burbles, sour winds and ragged string playing marked by faltering intonation were consistent problems, the ensemble’s sonority coarse and unpolished. Pérez-Mesa’s range of dynamics was two tiered—loud and louder. The horns effectively negotiated the sliding melodic patterns in the trio of the third movement but the violins’ scrawny sound and lack of recision made a chaotic mess of the concluding Saltarello.

While the renewed effort to bring closer cultural ties between the United States and Cuba is welcome and laudable, sending a third-rate orchestra doesn’t do much to enhance the musical stature of the Caribbean island nation.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba plays music by Lecuona and Lopez-Gavilan with violinist Ilmar Gavilan as soloist in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto 2 p.m. Sunday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. 800-572-8471;

Posted in Performances

4 Responses to “Cuban orchestra makes raucous impression in lightweight program at Kravis Center”

  1. Posted Nov 12, 2012 at 8:42 am by Millie McCoy

    I heard the Symphony perform last month in Scotia, New York at the Proctor where the acoustics are superior to the Kravis Center and the harshness of the percussion was less obvious.

  2. Posted Nov 12, 2012 at 12:27 pm by Alex Russell

    There should have been more advertisement about the significance of this presentation. It was the first time a this terrific Orchestra played in the United States. This has a far more significant meaning than just a musical presentation! Kudos for the Kravis Center!

  3. Posted Nov 13, 2012 at 2:16 am by Marsha

    You are SO rude! Shame on you!

  4. Posted Nov 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm by Fernando Lecuona

    I Fernando Lecuona (nephew of Ernesto Lecuona), who attended the concert in Daytona Beach, find your rhetorical analysis of concert both false and a bore. I think the Orchestra showed it’s modern day arrangements of pieces played – as well as that of my Uncle’s. Everyone can have a different opinion but I saw no lack of enthusiasm and merriment at just the mere thought of Castro”s orchestra being right in front of me. The love of music and the co-existance of shared loved for the orchestra and the feeling that they felt that for us, was more than just your critque of composing. I’d like to ask what is your musical background, what insrument do you play? I find your tone insulting and your criticism offensive. I guess you had to say something offensive, but in this case, if you have nothing good to say, just shut up. What were you expecting Desi Arnaz and Baba-Lu???
    I say this in disgust as I was enchanted after I left the concert and first hand exchanges with every orchestra member as well as Nachito. Everyone else I encoutered felt the same way. SHAME ON YOU

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Sun Nov 11, 2012
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