Cuban Surprises

Hola, amigos… this is “your man in Cuba,” checking in about how the Minnesota Orchestra tour is going.

Well. I have to say that as I was getting ready to come down here, I spent a fair amount of time planning out what I was going to cover on my blog, and when things would get posted.

As you may have realized, that whole brilliant plan did a massive, sunburned belly-flop into the Straits of Florida. “Surprise!” has become the byword of the trip.

Some surprises were unabashedly pleasant, such as the moment I opened the door to my room. It’s a corner room, with spectacular views of the sea. My reaction to it all may have set off car alarms.

The Havana branch of

The Havana branch of “Mask of the Flower Prince’s” global offices.

This was somewhat countered by the fact that I didn’t get back to it again until quite late Wednesday night—issues with our press visas kept me tied up the press room until we loaded the buses for dinner. By that point, I hadn’t seen my luggage or carry-on for several hours… and with the calming phrase, “I am a leaf on the water,” headed out as-is for our next adventure. And the evening turned out well… my luggage was delivered to the room, and I settled in for some much-needed sleep before the real work of the tour began.

And then there was the phone call.

It was 12:30 AM and I was dead asleep when the phone rang. Blearily assuming I had triggered off some alarm, I groped around for my smartphone, TV, camera—anything that might make some sort of annoying sound—before realizing it was the room’s phone. How… old school.

Anyway, I answered it to hear the voice of the Orchestra’s General Manager, Beth Keller-Long, saying, “Scott, I have a really big favor to ask.”

Who doesn’t love such an opening?

It appears that for a variety of reasons, there was no interpreter available for Osmo the next morning when he did his piano rehearsal with the chorus, and later with the soloist. Everyone from the Orchestra who could muddle their way through Spanish was occupied with the myriad educational engagement activities… could I be Osmo’s translator? At 8:30 in the morning?

“Sure,” I said. Followed by “I am a leaf on the water. I am a leaf on the water. IamaleafonthewaterIamaleafonthewaterIamaleafonthewaterIamaleafonthewater….”

As it turned out, things went pretty well. The chorus has some mighty fine singers—although since many are singing in other sections of the CubaDisco festival, there was a great deal of coming and going.   We also rehearsed with the soloist, and we should all be good to go for the performances.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä works with pianist Frank Fernandez for Beethoven's Choral Fantasy.

Music Director Osmo Vänskä works with pianist Frank Fernandez for Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.

We then raced to catch the remainder of the outreach activities, and by the time I got back to my room, I was thoroughly fried (I’ve always found Cuban Spanish to be fairly opaque, relative to Costa Rican or Mexican varieties). There, alas, I had a new surprise: I was in communications limbo. Hopefully you’re reading these stories, which means I’ve successfully battle a series of glitches that have hit everything… down to my laptop itself. Fingers crossed!

But enough complaining. This trip isn’t just surprising… it’s magical. I mean, last night I was literally sipping 25-year old rum and dancing a mambo in a plaza in Havana that’s more than 300 years old. And doing so with an amazing group of people… none better.

So in the end, it’s not just surprising—it’s wonderful.


2 thoughts on “Cuban Surprises

  1. Hey, Scott! Lookin’ good! How great that you could step in and function as an interpreter for Osmo. I heard the concert last night on MPR and was thinking of you and all the other people I know who accompanied the orchestra — the word that kept coming to mind was “sweet.” Not in the sugary sense, but in the sense that this cannot be beaten. Hope the surprises continue to be interesting and I continue to watch for your posts! Cinda


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