Students from the Universidad de las Artes in Havana, Cuba, visited Northwestern's Evanston campus on Nov. 11. They also joined professional jazz ensemble members for the Nov. 13 U.S. premiere of Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic concert, “Scenes from Life: Cuba!” at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago.


Northwestern’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music hosted 36 students from Cuba and a group of administrators and faculty from their Havana-based university the morning of November 11.


The event gave the Northwestern music students and the students from the Universidad de las Artes, Cuba’s national conservatory of the arts, an opportunity to meet each other and exchange ideas.


The catalyst for this cultural exchange was renowned Chicago jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis, artistic director of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, and Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Producing Director Mark Ingram.


Davis, an alumnus of the Bienen School’s jazz program, earned a master’s degree in 1997. He visited Cuba twice before relations between the U.S. and Cuba were normalized. (Relations were normalized during his second trip.)


The Cuban students, who ranged in age from 17 to 20, were in Chicago to perform as part of the Nov. 13 U.S. premiere of Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic concert, “Scenes from Life: Cuba!” The group of student musicians joined the jazz ensemble’s professional orchestra members on stage for the performance.


The concert, which took place at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago, was the 2015-16 season opener of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s “Made in Chicago” Music Series. Watch a video about “Scenes from Life: Cuba!”


Last December, Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic musicians were witnesses to the historic re-establishment of U.S.-Cuba relations when they were in Havana for the debut performance of this new work during the 2014 Havana International Jazz Festival.


“The scope of this project extends beyond the November concert,” Davis said. “We are developing a relationship that will strengthen the ties between our two countries and help bridge cultural and political differences. This is a model for long-term cultural diplomacy where music and the arts create a common language that sets the stage for ongoing conversation and understanding.”


During their Evanston campus visit, several students from Northwestern and the Universidad de las Artes performed in a brief recital and participated in a panel discussion at the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts.


The architecturally striking building, located on the shore of Lake Michigan, is the new home of the Bienen School of Music and the theatre and performance studies departments and administrative offices of the School of Communication.


Both the mini-recital and the panel discussion were held in the Ryan Center’s 400-seat Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall, which faces south and has a spectacular view of downtown Chicago’s skyline.


The discussion was moderated by School of Communication faculty member Henry Godinez, associate professor in the department of theater. Godinez, who was born in Havana, also is resident artistic associate at the Goodman Theatre, where he is the director of the Latino Theatre Festival.


Prior to their visit to Northwestern, the Universidad de las Artes students stopped at the Evanston Band and Orchestra store in Skokie, Ill., to shop for instrument accessories. The music store opened an hour earlier than usual to accommodate the students. The visit was arranged at the express request of the students, as quality music accessories are difficult to find in Cuba.


Kerry Griffith, owner of Evanston Band and Orchestra, underwrote the students’ purchases. This generous offer is Griffith’s way of contributing to the cultural diplomacy and international understanding that is at the heart of the Cuban students’ visit. “Music builds bridges,” says Griffith. “It’s better to build bridges than walls.”


After arriving at Northwestern, the Cuban students and administrators received a 30-minute bus tour of the Evanston campus led by Devora Grynspan, Northwestern’s vice president for international relations and assistant to the president for global initiatives.


The Cuban delegation included the Universidad de las Artes’ C. Rolando González Patricio, president (rector), who also holds a position in Fidel Castro’s government; María Del Rosario Hernández Iznaga, dean, faculty of music; Marilín Cruz Insua, vice president, University Extension; Ernesto Lima Parets, choir conductor; and Diana Pascual Garcia, professor of foreign languages, who served as the group’s translator.


To read the original story, visit the Northwestern News Center.