HAVANA (AP) — The Minnesota Orchestra announced Thursday that it will play two concerts in Cuba in May in what's believed to be the first major cultural exchange between the two countries since their leaders announced a move toward warmer relations.
Orchestra CEO Kevin Smith said the Cuban Ministry of Culture invited it to play at Havana's International Cubadisco Festival on May 15 and 16. It will be the first visit by a major U.S. orchestra to Cuba since the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra played in Cuba in December 1999.
"This initiative will demonstrate the power of music to offer extraordinary opportunities for cultural exchange," said Marilyn Nelson, a life director on the orchestra board who is helping finance the trip. "We are thrilled that our orchestra will have the opportunity to make this connection in Cuba."
There was no immediate response to the announcement from the Cuban government.
The opportunity is partly a result of the moves toward normalized relations announced on Dec. 17 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
The Minnesota Orchestra last played in Havana in 1929 and 1930.
"Eighty-five years ago, the Minnesota Orchestra, then called the Minneapolis Symphony, performed Beethoven's music for Cuban audiences, said the group's Finnish music director Osmo Vanska. "It is a thrill and privilege for us to do the same so many decades later.
The last major U.S. orchestra performance in Cuba, by the Milwaukee ensemble 16 years ago, came out of moves by President Bill Clinton's administration to increase people-to-people exchanges aimed at strengthening civil society in Cuba.
Efforts for such better US-Cuba relations were abandoned under President George W. Bush, but were revived by Obama.
Even so, plans for two concerts by the New York Philharmonic in October 2009 were dropped because the U.S. government barred a group of patrons from going along. Without their contributions, the philharmonic said the trip was unaffordable.