Saturday, June 25, 2011
Boston’s Berklee College of Music in Cuba
Juan Blanco was always close
May 10th, 2011, Granma (Cuba's national daily newspaper)
By Michel Hernández
Berklee College of Music has prepared a rigorous program of concerts for their second trip to the island, where they will perform in the international festival Cubadisco 2011 and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the work “Música para Danza,” by Juan Blanco, (1919-2008) electro-acoustic music pioneer of Cuba and Latin America.
Neil Leonard, saxophonist and organizer of this cultural exchange told Granma that a group of students from Berklee, headed by several vice-presidents of this prestigious North American institution will be offering a series of performances during their stay: Sunday, May 15th, 11:00 A.M., at la Sala Dolores de Santiago de Cuba, Tuesday, May 17th, 3:30 P.M. at the Superior Institute of Art and Friday, May 20th, at 7:00 P.M., at the theater of the National Fine Arts Museum.
Leonard, who is a Professor of composition, programming and performance with video explained that the theme for the program is Music and Movement; with shows at the National Theatre, Wednesday, May 18th, 11:00 A.M. along with Danza Contemporánea and on Wednesday at 8:00 P.M. at Casa de Las Américas where the Berklee students will be joined by Los Hermanos Arangos.
Last November Leonard worked with Laboratorio Nacional de Música Electroacústica (LNME) to coordinate the first collaborative concerts of Berklee students with Cuban students that took place on the island. At that time, North-American and Cuban musicians performed a varied collection of songs intertwining imagination and experimental flair including the premiere of the extraordinary work “Nuestro Tiempo” composed by Leonard and students from both countries, honoring Juan Blanco.
“It was extremely valuable for the students to create and perform a piece together. This made it possible for them to collaborate in the deepest sense and share ideas. The public reception was wonderful and it allowed for the sharing of common interests and attitudes towards education and musical interchange.” Leonard expressed.
During the 80’s, Leonard participated in several editions of the International Festival of Electroacoustic Music in Varadero, Cuba, organized by the composer of “Suite Erótica.” “Juan Blanco was a mentor to me. When I started in electroacoustic music I was very interested in his sense of artistic risk. His approach to creating music was very stimulating. The experience of knowing him and his guidance was an inseparable part of my artistic life,” remembers Leonard.
Since then, the US based composer has kept a very close relationship with Cuban cultural events, specially with LNME, an institution which has fostered and important niche for home brew DJ’s within the electronic music scene. “Cuba is known around the world as one of the most important producers of popular musicians, but it has been one of my fundamental objectives to present Cuba to the academic and artistic circles of the United States with a much broader view, in this case as a country with an important history in electronic music.
“After our first residency in Cuba, there was more interest in this project, both in Cuba and Boston. After the two concerts in May, we would like to organize a third visit to take place before the end of the year.”
Leonard enjoys these exchanges with the satisfaction of one who has seen a dream transformed into to reality. “I grew up as a jazz musician surrounded by both jazz and popular music of the U.S., however in order to fully appreciate my native culture it is imperative to know Cuban music. While in Cuba I learned a lot and I always had the dream of visiting with a group of students, little by little the dream is being fulfilled.”