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MONTREAL GAZETTE: Musical diplomacy: Is Cuba next?

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  • Walter Lippmann
    MONTREAL GAZETTE Musical diplomacy: Is Cuba next? ARTHUR KAPTAINIS The Gazette Saturday, March 01, 2008 Is there anything great music cannot do? This week, it
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 1, 2008
      MONTREAL GAZETTE
      Musical diplomacy: Is Cuba next?

      ARTHUR KAPTAINIS
      The Gazette

      Saturday, March 01, 2008

      Is there anything great music cannot do? This week, it forged a diplomatic link between two of the staunchest foes on Earth, as the redoubtably American New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel played a concert at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang, North Korea, before an audience that included members of the isolated republic's political elite.

      There were churlish dismissals of the visit from the White House, but the initiative clearly creates an opportunity in 2009 for the successor U.S. administration, of whichever party, to nudge relations with North Korea a few degrees above absolute zero. Even if the concert signalled nothing more than a desire by the Communist dictatorship to seem more open to the Western world, it was a major event. Millions heard about it. David Letterman saw fit to air a spoof.

      So which nation is next? Cuba, post-Fidel Castro, is the obvious candidate. And the obvious ambassador organization is the Montreal Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano.

      There are few good reasons to think about a Cuban tour. More than half a million Canadians visit the island yearly, more tourists than from any other nation. Canadian imports, at around $600 million, are robust. Cuba is rich in natural resources, especially nickel. Canadians know a thing or two about natural resources. Sherritt, a Canadian mining company, has substantial operations in Cuba. There is our corporate sponsorship?

      Two Canadian prime ministers have made official visits to Cuba, Pierre Trudeau in 1976 and Jean Chrétien in 1998. The friendship of Trudeau and Castro was legendary, and while Castro disputed Chrétien's observation that Cuba incarcerates dissidents - "Don't you have prisoners in Canada?" was the president's response - the visit a decade ago did not go badly. This is a good time to renew the political friendship.

      There would be few logistical difficulties. There are more than 100 flights weekly to Cuba from Canada. And the fact the orchestra's music director is an American would add a touch of U.S. rapprochement to the visit. Nagano might endure some criticism from U.S. conservatives, but the point of such cultural initiatives is to remain above the frey, an art for which the MSO music director has shown some aptitude. And for crying out loud: Maazel, his fellow American, conducted in North Korea.

      The idea works on the Cuban end. If Castro's brother and successor, Raul, is at all serious about modernizing Cuba and opening the island to trade, a visit by the MSO would make a fine public relations statement. Not that such trips are all about imagery. Cubans are cultured people, not with any orchestra to speak of, but a noted classical dance company, the Ballet Naconal de Cuba. The 1837 Gran Teatro is one of the notable arts venues of the Americas. Enrico Caruso sang there.

      Repertoire? Gerswhin's Cuban Overture is a splendid piece, not heard as often as it should be. The MSO is, or was, the greatest Ravel orchestra in the world. This composer's Rapsodie espangole has a sultry Habanera movement. Of course, the MSO playlist should include a Canadian piece (as the repertoire taken by the orchestra next month to Japan and Korea, quite reprehensibly, does not).

      There are other places on the island the orchestra could play. A work by Messiaen in a cathedral might be a nice means of asserting Canadian views regarding freedom of religion. Guantanamo Bay? Impossible. But the tour could include appearances elsewhere in the tropics, say at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico (which the MSO visited in 1996 under Charles Dutoit) or, even more daringly, at the Carnival Centre of the Performing Arts in Miami.

      The possible soloists are many. The Cuban guitarist Leo Brouwer could play one of his own concertos. A pianist never hurts. Condoleezza Rice might have some openings in her 2009 agenda.

      By all reports, Kim Jong Il was not present for the New York Philharmonic concert of Tuesday. This is surprising, since the Dear Leader (as North Koreans know him) is a published music critic. His 178-page tract On the Art of Opera, based on what must have been a lengthy talk to Creative Workers in the Field of Art and Literature in September 1974, outlines a revolutionary way of reviving that bourgeois pastime.

      "There is no need to portray life exclusively by stage songs, sticking to the outmoded pattern," the dictator writes. "The introduction of pangchang in opera, along with that of stanzaic songs, is a particularly important success in the opera revolution."

      Not having heard a pang-chang, I cannot vouch for its efficacy in performance, but I gather it is a chorus that represents the indomitable will of the people. There are plenty of pangchangs in Sea of Blood, the long-running North Korean opera to which Kim makes repeated reference.

      Now, what are the Opéra de Montréal plans for next season?

      akaptainis@...

      © The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

      http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/arts/story.html?id=eb1f5beb-e426-443e-9c3d-67bed7360466

      =========================================
      WALTER LIPPMANN
      Los Angeles, California
      Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/
      "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"
      =========================================
    • Walter Lippmann
      Canadians are very lucky. They can, and thousands and thousands do, simply fly down to Cuba for a weekend. Normalization makes that one of the favored options
      Message 2 of 2 , Mar 1, 2008
        Canadians are very lucky. They can, and thousands and thousands do,
        simply fly down to Cuba for a weekend. Normalization makes that one
        of the favored options for people from Canada. It's precisely that
        which has the Miami militants - not an athletic team - scared more
        than ever now. Here's the link to a piece in today's MIAMI HERALD
        by the paid opponents of normalization, while below is one of many
        articles I've seen advocating expanded musical contacts with Cuba
        in light of this week's visit to the DPRK by the NY Philharmonic.


        Walter Lippmann
        Los Angeles, California

        WHY TRAVEL TO CUBA MUST BE REGULATED (Miami Herald)
        http://www.miamiherald.com/851/story/439886.html

        WHEN WILL CUBA BE OPEN FOR BUSINESS? (Business Week)
        http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/08_10/b4074000185600.htm
        =====================================================================

        MONTREAL GAZETTE
        Musical diplomacy: Is Cuba next?

        ARTHUR KAPTAINIS
        The Gazette

        Saturday, March 01, 2008

        Is there anything great music cannot do? This week, it forged a
        diplomatic link between two of the staunchest foes on Earth, as the
        redoubtably American New York Philharmonic under Lorin Maazel played
        a concert at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang, North
        Korea, before an audience that included members of the isolated
        republic's political elite.

        There were churlish dismissals of the visit from the White House, but
        the initiative clearly creates an opportunity in 2009 for the
        successor U.S. administration, of whichever party, to nudge relations
        with North Korea a few degrees above absolute zero. Even if the
        concert signalled nothing more than a desire by the Communist
        dictatorship to seem more open to the Western world, it was a major
        event. Millions heard about it. David Letterman saw fit to air a
        spoof.

        So which nation is next? Cuba, post-Fidel Castro, is the obvious
        candidate. And the obvious ambassador organization is the Montreal
        Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano.

        There are few good reasons to think about a Cuban tour. More than
        half a million Canadians visit the island yearly, more tourists than
        from any other nation. Canadian imports, at around $600 million, are
        robust. Cuba is rich in natural resources, especially nickel.
        Canadians know a thing or two about natural resources. Sherritt, a
        Canadian mining company, has substantial operations in Cuba. There is
        our corporate sponsorship?

        Two Canadian prime ministers have made official visits to Cuba,
        Pierre Trudeau in 1976 and Jean Chrétien in 1998. The friendship of
        Trudeau and Castro was legendary, and while Castro disputed
        Chrétien's observation that Cuba incarcerates dissidents - "Don't you
        have prisoners in Canada?" was the president's response - the visit a
        decade ago did not go badly. This is a good time to renew the
        political friendship.

        There would be few logistical difficulties. There are more than 100
        flights weekly to Cuba from Canada. And the fact the orchestra's
        music director is an American would add a touch of U.S. rapprochement
        to the visit. Nagano might endure some criticism from U.S.
        conservatives, but the point of such cultural initiatives is to
        remain above the frey, an art for which the MSO music director has
        shown some aptitude. And for crying out loud: Maazel, his fellow
        American, conducted in North Korea.

        The idea works on the Cuban end. If Castro's brother and successor,
        Raul, is at all serious about modernizing Cuba and opening the island
        to trade, a visit by the MSO would make a fine public relations
        statement. Not that such trips are all about imagery. Cubans are
        cultured people, not with any orchestra to speak of, but a noted
        classical dance company, the Ballet Naconal de Cuba. The 1837 Gran
        Teatro is one of the notable arts venues of the Americas. Enrico
        Caruso sang there.

        Repertoire? Gerswhin's Cuban Overture is a splendid piece, not heard
        as often as it should be. The MSO is, or was, the greatest Ravel
        orchestra in the world. This composer's Rapsodie espangole has a
        sultry Habanera movement. Of course, the MSO playlist should include
        a Canadian piece (as the repertoire taken by the orchestra next month
        to Japan and Korea, quite reprehensibly, does not).

        There are other places on the island the orchestra could play.
        A work by Messiaen in a cathedral might be a nice means of asserting
        Canadian views regarding freedom of religion. Guantanamo Bay?
        Impossible. But the tour could include appearances elsewhere in the
        tropics, say at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico (which the MSO
        visited in 1996 under Charles Dutoit) or, even more daringly, at the
        Carnival Centre of the Performing Arts in Miami.

        The possible soloists are many. The Cuban guitarist Leo Brouwer could
        play one of his own concertos. A pianist never hurts. Condoleezza
        Rice might have some openings in her 2009 agenda.

        By all reports, Kim Jong Il was not present for the New York
        Philharmonic concert of Tuesday. This is surprising, since the Dear
        Leader (as North Koreans know him) is a published music critic. His
        178-page tract On the Art of Opera, based on what must have been a
        lengthy talk to Creative Workers in the Field of Art and Literature
        in September 1974, outlines a revolutionary way of reviving that
        bourgeois pastime.

        "There is no need to portray life exclusively by stage songs,
        sticking to the outmoded pattern," the dictator writes. "The
        introduction of pangchang in opera, along with that of stanzaic
        songs, is a particularly important success in the opera revolution."

        Not having heard a pang-chang, I cannot vouch for its efficacy in
        performance, but I gather it is a chorus that represents the
        indomitable will of the people. There are plenty of pangchangs in Sea
        of Blood, the long-running North Korean opera to which Kim makes
        repeated reference.

        Now, what are the Opéra de Montréal plans for next season?


        akaptainis@...

        © The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

        http://www.canada.com/montrealgazette/news/arts/story.html?id=eb1f5beb-e426-
        443e-9c3d-67bed7360466

        ========================================
        WALTER LIPPMANN, CubaNews
        Los Angeles, California
        http://www.walterlippmann.com
        http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews/
        "Cuba - Un Paraiso bajo el bloqueo"
        ========================================
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