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Cuba as a violin

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Lissy Abreu, one of the soloists at Habana Clásica and deputy artistic director of the Festival. Photographer: Fabrizio Sansoni

A singular concert took place in the old Havana Opera House one night in December 1863. The great Ignacio Cervantes shared the hall with Maestro Joseph Van der Gucht at the Havana Opera. In the middle of the concert, a violinist of unusual presence captured the attention of the audience: an eleven-year-old black boy carrying a violin that he played with an unusual virtuosity.

That black child who played on a great stage, hand in hand with two masters of music, was called Claudio José Domingo Brindis de Salas y Garrido, Brindis de Sala, who knew how to take his name and his art to the most important stages of the world when racial prejudices derived from four centuries of slavery on the island became serious obstacles to the full realization of a marginalized population, in any human manifestation, including the artistic ones.

Claudio was born in 1852 into a musical family. His father was a distinguished violinist who, although he was black, shared the best and most notable parties offered in salons of the Havana aristocracy and could send his son to the Paris Conservatory, at seventeen, where he was a student of Niccolo Paganini’s student, Maestro Camilo Ernesto Sivori, his great influence in the dramatic gestures of Paganini’s typical romantic virtuosity.

Since then, he has proclaimed himself worthy of praise in the main auditoriums of the world.

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His life was spent alternating between the lyric and the bohemian. On June 2, 1911, El Rey de las Octavas died in Buenos Aires. After twenty years of absences from stages and newspapers, he had arrived from Europe poor, broken, and tubercular. After having wandered the world with his soul, which was a violin sold for ten pesos, he died alone in a boarding house, identified by a German passport, without even the consolation of dying embracing the violin that made him famous.

His image watches us crossing Mercaderes Street between O’Reilly and Empedrado. A figure reminds us of him in the mural of the Artistic and Literary Lyceum of Havana, at one end, like someone who goes out to the passerby and reconstructs a passage of history.

May his musical spirit be the breath of the IV Edition of Habana Clásica, a special occasion after such a long wait. Winds and percussions will not be enough, strings will capture the fine attention and the violin, in honor of Brindis de Salas, will be the protagonist of much of the program that runs from November 5 to 20.

To our halls, transformed by an era, will come some of the most acclaimed violinists in the world to grace a program that, thanks to the excellence of the organizing team, is unprecedented in the panorama of our musical stages.

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This was the dream of Marcos Madrigal, Artistic Director with the unconditional support of the Swiss Embassy in Cuba, an indispensable patron with a marked interest in the development of Cuban music, executed through generous donations, fundamental collaborations, and projects that will soon see the light of day, for the promotion of young talents, this dream has become a reality.

We move in time and space to Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico, the concert that made Maestro Dmitri Sitkovetsky change his modern gestures for baroque forms and occupy the subjugating place he occupies today in the panorama of baroque music, going out of the schemes and maintaining diverse repertoires. Master graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, who interweaves with Russian virtuosity and Italian cantabilitá, his delicacies as a violinist, conductor, and countertenor. From Bach to Mozart, from Beethoven to Berg, in the greatest orchestras of the world, conducting or performing. Professor at the Moscow State Conservatory, Director of the Nizhny Novgorod Opera, a virtuoso who graces the catalog of the Habana Clásica Festival, and who joins our celebration under the halo of fraternity and the encounter, for the first time, with the Cuban public.

Legend has it that Antonio Stradivari built approximately thirteen violins per year in the first quarter of the 18th century. A tree becomes wood, without hurrying the years it takes to dry, just at the limit of its maturity to complete the life cycle after the instrument is assembled. In 1703, the luthier made a violin of exceptional tone christened Dancla after the French violinist Charles Dancla had played it for two decades. A little over three centuries later, Linus Roth procures the best melodies for it. One of the most interesting classical violinists today, Linus also presents himself as a faithful defender of works and performers forgotten by history. The German, the winner of the Echo Klassik Award, has performed solo, in large orchestras, as a pedagogue, and as the organizer of the Ibiza Concerts International Festival. He arrives in Cuba with the commitment to give us his classical melodies by the hand of Marcos Madrigal and the Havana Chamber Orchestra.

Following the route of the violin, disrupting chronologies to cross the ancient Mesopotamia in a musical journey, we have the excellence of Brusk Zanganeh, a Swedish violinist of Kurdish origins, a versatile musician who embraces the classical, folk and lover of the art of improvisation. Playing a Gennaro Gagliano, as a chamber musician or soloist dedicated to safeguarding traditional music that accompanies his origins, Brusk arrives in Havana to bring a dose of exoticism to our auditorium.

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From stormy violins, we arrive at the bow of Tijmen Huisingh, Dutch laureate in prestigious international competitions, the current leader of the Edinburgh Quartet, and associate concertmaster of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. He arrives for the first time, after touring the orchestral stages of old Europe, to the Cuban stage, and brings the Dutch spirit that accompanies the Cuban musical history since Hubert de Blanck.

But there is a very Cuban trill of violins, particular strings that flourished in the 19th century, braiding the routes of popular and concert music, the aristocracy, and the negritude, and debated in the route of the transculturation. Violins everywhere, in offerings to Oshún, the orisha of gold and cinnamon, Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, and Patroness of Cuba. Violins in the guaracha, the guajira, the danzón, the chachachá.

The Cuban melodies of Lissy Abreu Ruiz, who brings us from Sweden, the enthusiasm of one who returns to her public, will not be missing. Soloist in various formats of chamber music and company.

She has toured the European stages with her sister, classical guitarist Ariadna Abreu Ruiz, and is a co-principal member of the Old Ox Chamber Orchestra. Co-principal member of the Old Ox Chamber Orchestra and graduated as a soloist at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.

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From our University of the Arts, we have the violinists Yilian Concepción and Lisbet Sevila, also members of the Camerata Romeu and the Orchestra of the Lyceum Mozartiano de La Habana, respectively.

Along with these names that will worship classical music that has come to Cuban stages, the orchestral violins of each evening meeting will sound and, as a tribute to that sound range of wood and varnish, so close to our voice, the Festival Habana Clásica remembers Brindis de Salas, that virtuoso of the octaves that faced, with his art, the city and his time.

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