The Minnesota Orchestra's trip of firsts comes to a close

Osmo Vanska conducts the U.S. and Cuban anthems
Osmo Vanska conducts the Minnesota Orchestra's concert in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, opening the program with the Cuban and American national anthems.
Nate Ryan | Classical MPR/Minnesota Orchestra

This has been a trip of firsts. During the Minnesota Orchestra's five-day trip to Cuba this week, musicians took the first direct flight ever from Minneapolis to Havana on Wednesday.

They embarked on the first high-profile cultural exchange between the U.S. and Cuba since both countries' presidents relaxed restrictions on travel and commerce last December.

They held master classes at a Cuban music school, and they rehearsed side by side with the country's national youth orchestra. They were greeted by musicians, teachers and the striking voices of the Coro Entrevoces.

They performed — twice — in the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.

Like many people on this tour, bass player Kate Nettleman says that, to be in Cuba at this time, sharing music after having survived the turmoil of a year-plus labor dispute, has been the experience of a lifetime. "I think that's a testament to what can happen when people dream and believe and work hard together," she said. "That's what an orchestra is, a group of people on a stage doing that."

The orchestra returns home today, but it's clear many in the organization could easily be tempted to visit Cuba again.

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