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  • Writer's pictureThe Rivers School

March 15: Concert at Escuela Nacional De Música, Fábrica de Arte

The culminating concert of our trip took place on this day, in a joyous celebration of friendship, partnership, collaboration, and cultural exchange. It followed our visit to the Escuela Nacional de Música de Cuba on Tuesday, where we met the Cuban musicians of the arts high school and the band’s director, Javier Zalda Suarez.

Maestro Zalda gave an introduction before the late-morning concert to the audience, which comprised students and parents of the Escuela Nacional as well as members of the Rivers and Nobles communities. “We are leaving our doors open to you,” Maestro Zalda said in English. “You will always be welcome to come back.”

With only a short period of time rehearsing together, this “triple big band” came together in an incredibly impactful way, both musically and personally. Musicians are accustomed to listening carefully and following non-verbal cues, and in the case of our combined groups, this made the experience of the concert all the more special. On top of the superb musical communication, the seeds of international friendships and partnerships have been sown, with lasting connections formed between the students and the schools. 

Rivers’ jazz director Philippe Crettien also addressed the audiences before the final set. “Javier, Paul [Lieberman, of Nobles], and I have the best job in the world: to play with young people every day,” he said. He then introduced one of the signature pieces of the program, Oscar Stagnaro’s “Mariella’s Dream,” which featured improvised solos by students from all three schools. It was especially impressive to see the Cuban students of the Escuela Nacional performing a piece that was new to them, having only received the music a few hours earlier. The concert ended with joyous applause and a happy birthday celebration for one of the trumpeters in the Cuban band.

Later, after lunch, we toured the Fábrica de Arte, a cultural center for contemporary art that also serves as an event space for performances and live music/dance. The venue is about 10 years old and located in a former factory, retaining a very industrial feel; its offerings change seasonally, three times a year. Our tour guide emphasized that there is space for many diverse forms of artistic expression—from classical music to contemporary dance to fashion shows to theater performances, with the particular offerings varying each night. Famous past visitors to the Fábrica de Arte include Lady Gaga, Madonna, Jon Bon Jovi, and Michelle Obama. 

One artistic highlight rooted in semi-recent Cuban history was a painting called “La Gran Ola,” by collaborative artists Liudmila & Nelson, an interpretation of the famous “Great Wave” painting by Katsushika Hokusai. The painting depicts a series of portraits of Cuban migrants and pictures of rafts, reflecting the reality of Cuban migration—especially in the wake of the 1994 Cuban rafter crisis, when thousands of Cubans fled to the United States in makeshift rafts, many perishing along the way.

On Saturday, we will continue our musical journey with a joint recording session at Abdala Studios, the premier recording studio in Cuba! 


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