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Bienen School to Host Music Students From Havana

Visiting Cuban students to take part in mini-recital and panel discussion
  • Bienen School to host group of students, administrators and faculty from Havana
  • Students to join ensemble for U.S. premiere of Orbert Davis’ “Scenes from Life: Cuba!”
  • Davis/Chicago Jazz Philharmonic musicians in Havana when U.S.-Cuba re-established ties

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Music students from Northwestern University and the Universidad de las Artes, Cuba’s national conservatory of the arts, will soon have an opportunity to meet, greet and exchange ideas on the Evanston campus.

Northwestern’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music will host 36 students from Cuba and a group of administrators and faculty from their Havana-based university the morning of Nov. 11.

The catalyst for this cultural exchange is renowned Chicago jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis, artistic director of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Producing Director Mark Ingram.

Davis, an alumnus of the Bienen School’s jazz program, earned a master’s degree in 1997.

He visited Cuba twice before relations between the U.S. and Cuba were normalized. (Relations were normalized during his second trip.)

The Cuban students, who range in age from 17 to 20, will be in Chicago to perform as part of the Nov. 13 U.S. premiere of Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic concert, “Scenes From Life: Cuba!” The group of student musicians will join the jazz ensemble’s professional orchestra members on stage for the performance.

The concert, which will take place at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway in downtown Chicago, is the 2015-16 season opener of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s “Made in Chicago” Music Series.

Watch a video about “Scenes From Life: Cuba!” 

Last December, Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic musicians were witnesses to the historic re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations when they were in Havana for the debut performance of this new work during the 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival. 

“The scope of this project extends beyond the November concert,” Davis said. “We are developing a relationship that will strengthen the ties between our two countries and help bridge cultural and political differences. This is a model for long-term cultural diplomacy where music and the arts create a common language that sets the stage for ongoing conversation and understanding.” 

During their Evanston campus visit, several students from Northwestern and the Universidad de las Artes will perform in a brief recital and participate in a panel discussion at the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts at 70 Arts Circle Drive.

The architecturally striking building, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, is the new home of the Bienen School of Music and the theatre and performance studies departments and administrative offices of the School of Communication. 

Both the 11 a.m. mini-recital and the 11:30 a.m. panel discussion will take place in the Ryan Center’s 400-seat Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall, which faces south and has a spectacular view of downtown Chicago’s skyline. (This event is not open to the general public.)

The discussion will be moderated by School of Communication faculty member Henry Godinez, associate professor in the department of theater. Godinez, who was born in Havana, also is resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre, where he is the director of the Latino Theatre Festival.

Prior to their Nov. 11 morning visit to Northwestern, the Universidad de las Artes students will first stop at Evanston Band and Orchestra at 4125 Main St., in Skokie, Ill., to shop for instrument accessories. The music store will open an hour earlier than usual to accommodate the students. The visit was arranged at the express request of the students, as quality music accessories are difficult to find in Cuba. 

Kerry Griffith, owner of Evanston Band and Orchestra, will underwrite the students’ purchases. This generous offer is Griffith’s way of contributing to the cultural diplomacy and international understanding that is at the heart of the Cuban students’ visit. “Music builds bridges,” says Griffith. “It’s better to build bridges than walls.”

When they arrive at Northwestern, Cuban students and administrators will receive a 30-minute bus tour of the Evanston campus led by Devora Grynspan, Northwestern’s vice president for international relations.

The Cuban delegation will include the Universidad de las Artes’ C. Rolando González Patricio, president (rector), who also holds a position in Raúl Castro’s government; María Del Rosario Hernández Iznaga, dean, faculty of music; Marilín Cruz Insua, vice president, University Extension; Ernesto Lima Parets, choir conductor; and Diana Pascual Garcia, professor of foreign languages, who will serve as the group’s translator.

Students from the Universidad de las Artes will head back to Chicago mid-day on Nov. 11 to rehearse for their upcoming Nov. 13 appearance at the “Scenes From Life: Cuba!” concert at the Auditorium Theatre. Ticket prices start at $29. Discounts for groups of 10 or more are available. More information is available online.