It’s official – the Tacoma-based Northwest Sinfonietta chamber orchestra has been licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department for a 10-day, two-city tour of Cuba in January, 2012. The 10-member ensemble will be only the third orchestra to visit Cuba since the country’s 1959 revolution, due to U.S. government embargoes on trade with Cuba, and will be focusing its stay on cultural relations with Tacoma’s sister-city, Cienfuegos, offering workshops and performing side by side with local musicians.
“Music has the ability to transcend ethnic, cultural, social and ideological boundaries,” said Christophe Chagnard, the Sinfonietta’s musical director and co-founder. “This unique exchange will open vast horizons and enrich the lives of all involved.”
The tour, which runs January 19-29, begins with two days of cultural activities in the capital of Havana before moving to Cienfuegos, in the country’s south. One concert will alternate a Sinfonietta quartet with the Cienfuegos String Quartet; another features the Sinfonietta playing Mozart on that composer’s birthday; and a final concert sees the Tacoma musicians, Cienfuegos Chamber Orchestra and chorus and Cienfuegos Youth Orchestra playing together in a program of Western classical music at the city’s historical performance venue, Teatro Tomas Terry.
“Cubans have a magnificent musical tradition, and are trained to the highest standards with the greatest commitment,” said Chagnard. “Their legendary innate sense of rhythm is contagious and will be thrilling to share on a common stage.”
In between rehearsals and performances, six musicians will offer free masterclasses at institutions including Cienfuegos University and the Beny Moré School of the Arts. The tour also includes cultural discussions with local artists, learning about local teaching methods, touring the city and visiting nearby Trinidad. Community members can accompany the tour, the historical sections of which will be led by University of Washington professor Dr. Cynthia Duncan.
The orchestra will also be taking donated musical instruments to give to needy students.
The tour will “help the Sinfonietta fulfil its unique role promoting cultural understanding and exchange through music,” said congressman Norm Dicks.
Although not affiliated with the City of Tacoma’s sister city program, which has promoted cultural and business contact between Tacoma and similar-sized cities worldwide since 1956, the tour has its origins there, according to committee member Jim Shea.
“I have been promoting it for 10 years in our Cuban sister city committee after making friends…with the director of Teatro Tomas Terry,” said Jim Shea.
Birnbaum says that the orchestra is organizing the tour directly with the Ministry of Culture, funding it themselves with no Tacoma government involvement or support. “We’re keeping politics out of it,” he said.
The orchestra is also planning future similar exchanges with Cuba, including a 2012-13 three-city Cuba tour by the full Sinfonietta, inviting members of the Cienfuegos Chamber Orchestra to perform with the Sinfonietta next season, and including Cuban composers on future programs.
To donate an instrument or participate in the tour, call the Sinfonietta at 253-383-5344.