Mozart y Mambo / Sarah Willis
It is Thursday afternoon, and, like every Thursday afternoon, I am taking a break after having helped set the stage for Nave 3 of the Cuban Art Factory. The heat is stifling, but I know what's coming is worth all this effort. Around five o'clock the musicians of the orchestra begin to arrive. A little later I talk with my namesake Pepito Méndez about logistics, the program, etc. We laugh. Then she appears, surrounded by a European entourage ready to document the concert. Sarah Willis makes her entrance with a smile that does not fit on her face and almost shaking her hips (she does it better than many Cubans, I assure you) to the rhythm of the noise of the ship. The rest of what happens that night at F.A.C. it can be classified as historical. What an honor, what a pleasure to have listened to the exclusive premiere of the album Mozart and Mambo (Alpha Classics, 2020)!
One couldn't wish for a better combination of talents for an album. On the one hand, the Lyceum Orchestra of Havana, in my humble opinion, the best symphonic ensemble in Cuba today, directed by José Antonio (Pepito) Méndez, who can no longer be said to be the promise of orchestral conducting. Cuban. Pepito has been the guardian of this orchestra for more than 10 years and he has not tired of showing why. For this special occasion, three young talents also join in: the trumpeter Harold Madrigal, the saxophonist Yuniet Lombida and the pianist Jorge Aragón; these last two, also arrangers of the project. Finally, the Cuban part boasts the Havana Horns, an ensemble of horns created within the Lyceum Orchestra itself. I remember that during the concert rehearsal at F.A.C., I was already thinking: "What kind of size are we going to see today!"
On the other hand, the incredible Sarah Willis, born in the United States, with a German heart and a Cuban soul. Her career has been nothing but a constant ascent driven by her talent, expressiveness, musicality and charisma, until she broke a historical barrier: in 2001, she became the first female performer of a metal instrument to belong to the Berlin Philharmonic. , one of the most prestigious and historical musical institutions in the world. Like almost all the musicians in this orchestra, Sarah is a world renowned soloist. In addition, she is the host of her own television show for Deutsche Welle, and creator of the famous Horn Hangouts podcasts, featuring the best horn players in the world. But, I swear to you, all of these credentials are secondary when you meet Sarah in person. You just have to see her dancing casino with a musician during rehearsal to know that you are facing someone too special, in every way.
It is tremendously fortunate that Sarah has fallen in love with Cuba and its music, but even more so, that the project of her dreams has been able to become a reality. For this we must not only thank her and her European collaboration team, but also the Lyceum Mozartiano de La Habana, an institution supported by the Office of the City Historian, the University of the Arts and the Mozarteum Foundation of Salzburg, Austria . Thanks to them we can enjoy this unique phonogram of its kind.
I have to say, by way of parenthesis, that I never cease to be amazed by the ability of Cuban musicians to perform classical music at the highest level. It is not easy to be transported away from the heat, the noise, the cubaneo, but the music itself is more difficult. The first five tracks of the album demonstrate the enormous talent that emanates from Cuba's music education system.
Tengo que decir, a forma de paréntesis, que nunca me dejo de asombrar con la capacidad de los músicos cubanos de interpretar música clásica al más alto nivel. No es fácil transportarse lejos del calor, la bulla, el cubaneo, pero más difícil es la música en sí. Los cinco primeros tracks del álbum demuestran el enorme talento que emana del sistema de educación musical de Cuba.
New paragraph. This starts to heat up.
Rondo a la mambo, arranged together by Davis and Lombida, brings us back to Concert K.447 that we have heard just a few minutes before. But boy does it sound different now. All I do is smile at how natural everything sounds. I realize once again that our popular music is the undisputed heir to Mozart and the European musical tradition, and whoever does not listen to it, let his ears tune well ... or, better yet, listen to this record. "Enjoy it with this delicious rondo a la mambo", recites the montuno that the same orchestra musicians sing while they play. And Sarah doing her thing. Pure delight.
Rondó a la mambo, arreglada en conjunto por Davis y Lombida, nos regresa al Concierto K.447 que hemos escuchado apenas unos minutos antes. Pero vaya que suena distinto ahora. No hago más que sonreír por lo natural que se oye todo. Me doy cuenta una vez más de que nuestra música popular es heredera indiscutible de Mozart y la tradición musical europea, y el que no lo oiga, que se afine bien el oído… o, mejor, que escuche este disco. “Gózalo con este rico rondó a la mambo”, recita el montuno que cantan los mismos músicos de la orquesta mientras tocan. Y Sarah haciendo lo suyo. Deleite puro.
The two arrangements by Jorge Aragón, one of our most brilliant pianists, composers and arrangers, close our cornistic journey. Dos gardenias para ti, an anthological theme by Isolina Carrillo, comes to us with an air of a soundtrack, an orchestral aroma from the '50s that produces a real pleasure to the ear. In this piece, Sarah duo with trumpeter Harold Madrigal. Elegance is the word that comes to mind. Ending an album with El manisero, by Moisés Simons, could have been one more cliché, but Aragón and Willis think otherwise. A different and superior arrangement serves as the farewell platform on which Sarah takes the boat home, but not before saying goodbye in the most appropriate way. Soloist horn and trumpet, together with a perfect orchestra, remind us that, like Mozart himself, a good classic never dies and that our lives are defined by music that has been going on for years, centuries, being the universal pulse of all generations that happen.
I finish listening to the album with the same euphoria I had at the end of the concert that night at F.A.C. I almost want to clap. This album is a marvel in every way: music, performer, recording, mixing and mastering, arranging, curating, etc. Also, speaking in good Cuban, there is no way not to download him. It's that easy. The quality of the soloist, the charisma of Sarah Willis, is heard, felt, you feel it inside, you travel from Austria to Cuba and back to the point of not knowing where you are. But the true message I take with me is how music continues to be the true universal mechanism for understanding. From a musicological point of view, it is easy to show how all music comes from the same root. But they are records like this, they are brotherhood encounters, which show you that it is not the musical root, but the common root of humanity, which makes music break the limits of nations, cultures, in pursuit of make us think as a true race.
Compositor, pianista, productor e improvisador cubano. Desde 2014 es tecladista de la banda Sintesis. Además es especialista de Música Clásica de Fábrica de Arte Cubano, y director del Ensemble Interactivo de La Habana (EIH). Ha sido parte del programa 1Beat, y su música se ha tocado en America Latina y Europa.