Concert celebrates Cuban music

MILWAUKEE – Over 200 people filled the First Unitarian Church on Milwaukee’s East Side Friday evening, May 24, to hear a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Michelle in Cuba. The concert of traditional, semi-classical and classical music from Cuba featured six musicians, including Cuban flutist Ana de la Cuesta.

De la Cuesta, who played with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra and the Musical Theater of Havana before leaving the island in 1998, introduced her fellow musicians and described each piece as it was presented. The program went through the history of Cuban music, beginning with La Bayamesa and two boleros, “Se Fué” and “Profecia.” In those pieces de la Cuesta’s flute was accompanied by simulated pianos, percussion and other instruments she had arranged using a computer, seeking to maintain the feel of the traditional songs. Her fourth number was the first of two pregónes, songs that she explained were based on the musical hawkings of streetside fruitsellers.

Ana Ruth Bermudez, a cellist and former conductor of the Havana Chamber Orchestra, and Milwaukee Ballet pianist Vera Pawlak performed the next few pieces, ending on a prégon by Ernesto Lecuona. Two pleasant flute pieces rounded out the first half of the concert.

During intermission audience members were encouraged to look at literature tables with information on the Cuban Five and to sign petitions on their behalf. T-shirts and books were available about the five Cubans who were convicted in a politically charged trial in June 2001 of espionage for monitoring the activities of terrorist groups operating in Miami.

Members of the audience also enjoyed wine, cheese and Cuban coffee. Many used the time to catch up on the activities of old friends or to meet new ones. The youngest audience member, a six-month-old, was also a big hit.

After intermission, de la Cuesta returned with a variety of pieces, incuding a cha-cha-chá and a Lecuona habanera. Her last solo was a composition of her own old instructor, Alfredo Portela, entitled, “Fantasia Sobre el Final de un Danzón.” True to the title, the composition mused on variations of the traditional five-note ending of the Cuban danzón.

De la Cuesta said the Fantasia was the most complex and difficult piece she performed that evening, and of particular importance as “a contemporary danzón with a lot of the elements of the original danzón, which is our national dance music in Cuba.” It was also important to her to play it, she said, because – as evidenced by her performance – it is just “a very beautiful piece.”

The big finish came with de la Cuesta and Bermudez being joined first by Venezuelan violist Carmen Danielle Pardo, and then also Mexican violinist Dinorah Marquez, currently members of symphony orchestras in Wisconsin, and acclaimed percussionist Luis Diaz. The rich quintet brought the concert to a stunning finale. The entire ensemble played “Guantanamera” for an encore.

The concert’s proceeds were divided, with two-thirds going to the non-profit Cuban American Alliance Education Fund for hurricane relief and one-third to the educational work of the Milwaukee Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba.

The author can be reached at babette37@juno.com