There is good news, and there is good news.
And then there is fantastic news.
Today the Minnesota Orchestra announced that it was going to perform in Cuba later this spring. The performances will take place on May 15 and 16 as part of the CubaDisco Festival, the country’s biggest music festival. Bravo!
By any standard, the performances are historic—they will be the first performances by a major American orchestra in Cuba since President Obama moved to normalize relations between the countries last month. But they are also a beautiful nod towards history, too; Cuba was the destination of the Orchestra’s first-ever international tour in 1929. How fitting that the Minnesotans will help start (hopefully!) a new era of exchange and cooperation.
And the Cuban performers and audiences are in for a treat! The concert program includes Beethoven’s Third Symphony and Choral Fantasy—and no one performs Beethoven better than Osmo and our Minnesota Orchestra. I’m jealous that the Cuban National Chorus (a mighty fine group of singers) gets to sing the Choral Fantasy with them… I had a chance to sing the work with Osmo and the Orchestra a few years ago, and it was an absolute joy.
So… this is good news. Very good news indeed.
But let me take a moment to say why this qualifies as truly fantastic news—news so wonderful that I can’t stop smiling.
First, it is nearly exactly one year ago that the 16-month lockout ended and we got our Minnesota Orchestra back. A year ago, there was happiness and relief, but there was also a fair amount of raw feelings, tension, and trepidation on everyone’s part about what was going to happen next. Don’t get me wrong—we were all excited, and committed to make things work. But we knew that we were at the beginning of a long, challenging process of rebuilding. In effect, last year we were collectively looking at a gutted-out fixer-upper that we hoped to rebuild into our dream house. We knew what we wanted the end to look like, and we were committed to making it happen, but… well, the task was still daunting.
The fact that this tour is happening is a milestone that tells us how far we’ve come. It is a testament to the hard work that everyone has put into the rebuilding process—musicians, board, staff, volunteers, and the community as a whole. I hope we can all take a collective moment to pat ourselves on the back and say, “You done good, kid.”
Related to this, it’s not just the fact that we’ve landed a historic tour to Cuba that is so remarkable—it is how this tour came into being that is so remarkable. My God, this came together in just a few weeks? Orchestras often plan out three years in advance. The flexibility, determination and can-do spirit the administration has shown in pulling this off is stunning. Huge kudos to Kevin Smith and everyone on staff for amazing work! At the same time, the fact that the musicians cheerfully postponed vacation time to help make this tour happen shows just how dedicated they are to their art and the organization’s success, and how willing they are to working with the administration. Can we finally put to rest the idiotic notion some were floating during the lockout that the musicians are inflexible union dinosaurs? Kudos to the musicians! And, the tour is paid for by board member Marilyn Nelson. What a wonderful statement of support for the Orchestra. I can’t thank Ms. Nelson enough for her leadership… and by extension, the entire board for its leadership. Again, this is a powerful example of the board’s engagement and commitment to the Orchestra’s success. Together, these things provide proof positive that the administration, musicians and board are not only working together… they’re firing on all cylinders.
Kudos… to everyone!
And finally, I can’t emphasize enough just how important these cultural exchanges are. Several years ago, while I was still on staff at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis hosted the World Choral Symposium… and I got to see just how important these cross-cultural exchanges were in person. That event was an incredible opportunity to show the best side of American culture, to share stories and build understanding in ways that enriched the visiting musicians and the community as a whole. I firmly believe that exchanges like these are the best way to change minds… and although it sounds grandiose, the best way to change the world. I am so proud that the Orchestra will serve as ambassadors—they really do embody the best of us. Our highest aspirations. Our dreams and values. Our sense of a shared community.
And… how an organization should come together and get things done.
So, to everyone at the Minnesota Orchestra I offer profound congratulations for this wonderful announcement.