Stories » Havana Lyceum Orchestra set for 'Artes de Cuba' at Kennedy Center / Washington Post

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Havana Lyceum Orchestra set for 'Artes de Cuba' at Kennedy Center / Washington Post

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For two weeks, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will present Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, a festival celebrating the artistic richness that has emerged from this "island archipelago in the sun." This unprecedented gathering of Cuban and Cuban-American artists represents some of the world's greatest from the island and the Diaspora. The festival kicked off at the Eisenhower Theater on Tuesday night with an exuberant cornucopia of music offering a foretaste of two weeks of performances - from a jazz quintet that offered one number a cappella, with only hand-clapping as accompaniment, to an 87-year-old chanteuse, Omara Portuondo, who coquetted with the audience, sang three songs with heart and engagement, and lifted the curtain, after it had come down, to offer a last enthusiastic goodbye.

Classical fans know the Havana Lyceum Orchestra at least for their 2017 recording with Simone Dinnerstein, "Mozart in Havana." The orchestra of a leading Cuban conservatory, made up of students and faculty members (some of whom had to practice on instruments strung with telephone wire, for lack of better resources), showcased a mix of straight classical and more vernacular arrangements on their 2017 U.S. tour under their conductor, José Antonio Méndez Padrón. On Tuesday, their "Samba Son," written by Jenny Peña Campo, their principal second violinist, was on the vernacular side, offering syncopations and pizzicati and solo turns aplenty, and deservedly brought down the house. They perform again tonight - Thursday May 10, with Arango as one of their soloists, and are well worth checking out.