For Enrique Pérez Mesa, director of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, music transcends politics.
"The language of music is universal," Pérez Mesa said from Havana in a telephone interview with Centro Tampa.
The Cuban director will conduct The Florida Orchestra in three concerts Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
The concerts are part of a multiyear cultural exchange with the island nation that began with a visit to Havana in September by The Florida Orchestra's wind quartet.
In the fall, musicians from both orchestras will perform at the Cuban Club, which was founded by Cuban immigrants in 1899, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba will perform at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Pérez Mesa began his career as a musical director in 1991 with the Symphony Orchestra of Matanzas, Cuba. In 2002, he joined the Cuban orchestra as an adjunct director.
Q: What do you have prepared for Florida symphony fans?
A: We are going to perform "Penthesilea" by Carlos Fariñas, one of the most important Cuban composers of the 20th century. It is a musical piece with a very strong, very big orchestration that emphasizes the percussion instruments. Then we will perform "Huapango," which is an emblematic piece by the Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo. We will also perform "Ritmotiv," which has a very important rhythmical pattern, by Cuban composer Guido López-Gavilán. Those two Cuban pieces will be premiering in the United States. And a piece by (Serguéi) Prokófiev, the renowned "Symphony No. 1."
Q: As a director, is it really necessary to speak the language to communicate with musicians?
A: No. I believe that there's a musical jargon, a language that is known to the entire world. It is a system of signals that does not depend on the fact that the director will be able to explain how he wants a certain passage. I believe that it is very easy to be understood throughout the world. The musical language is universal; the signs are the same. The director's gestures can change, but everything is really similar.
Q: What is the most difficult part of conducting an orchestra?
A: Everything. It is complex. It is a single person with 90 or 100 musicians, with each musician in his own world and perhaps thinking of something different. The important things are to try to grab the attention of the musician, to make a very detailed study of the orchestra, to make sure that the musician has your attention and that he really likes the interpretation. You have to know what each person is thinking, which gesture is the most important, when a musician is tired and how far you can push him
Q: How many musicians play in the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba?
A: The Orchestra has 92 musicians, all Cubans, and all of them are a product of the system of artistic education of Cuba. All of them studied (in Cuba), and it is quite a young orchestra, with an average age of around 40 years old, and the orchestra was created 52 years ago.
Q: What's your take on this cultural exchange program between your institution and The Florida Orchestra?
A: It is very important. Art is universal, and music needs all of these exchanges, of course. It is important that they see the musical level and the technical level of the Cuban musicians, and that we could be able to see the Florida musicians as well.
Q: What's the benefit of this exchange for Cuban musicians?
A: First of all, you perform in front of a different public. Secondly, you can show the repertoire of Cuban music to the North American public. The relation between the musicians is very easygoing, and, in addition, the interaction of two cultures that have been very connected throughout history.
Q: Because of this cultural exchange, have you received complaints that are politically motivated?
A: Not at all. We even had the opportunity to host The Florida Orchestra's wind quintet that did an excellent work with our students. They interacted with them, they performed, they could see the technical level of the Cuban students, and it was beautiful.
Q: Do you think music can make people forget about ideological differences?
A: Music is capable of cleaning and capable of getting rid of any differences that could exist between people. I, as a musician, consider music the greatest art. Throughout history, music has been present at different historical moments, different political moments, and has continued being music.