Radio26.Cu – Matanzas, Cuba


The symphonic legacy of Matanzas.

Tamara Caridad Mesa González 26 noviembre, 2020

The 70th anniversary of the founding of the Matanzas Symphony Orchestra is celebrated today, November 26th , the date on which in 1950 the Chamber Orchestra offered its first concert on the splendid stage of the Sauto theater.

Studies indicate that symphonism in Matanzas dates back to the 19th century. Later, in the first 50 years of the 20th, there was silence due to a lack of interest from the authorities of the time. Only the Concert Band starred in the interpretation of some works within their style and structure, until in the middle of that century there was an awakening with the union of prominent instrumentalists and the so-called Matanzas Chamber Orchestra emerged.

To offer evidence about this event, we interviewed the musicologist from Matanzas María Victoria Oliver …

Thanks to the efforts of the patrons in the city, of figures who watched over culture from the 40s and some institutions such as the Ateneo and Friends of Cuban Culture, the project of this group and its first performance are presented it was held in public on November 26th , 1950 in Matanzas Coliseum, under the direction of Narciso Velasco. «

The musicologist María Victoria Oliver.

Other conductors that this orchestra had were Rafael Somavilla (father), Justo Ojanguren, Lino Hernández. And the most relevant batons, those who fought the most for their preponderance were Mario Argenter Sierra and Reynold Álvarez Otero.

Already in the revolutionary stage it received the attention of the Government, the Ministry of Culture of the MINED and in 1962 it became official as the Matanzas Symphony Orchestra. A significant step that led to the influx of generations, with the incorporation of graduates of the National School of Art and later, in 1976, graduates of the Higher Institute of Art who regularly join the orchestra, which conditions the raising the professional level.

«The older ones are offered the Artistic Improvement schools in Matanzas and Havana. This contributes to a very even knowledge and a leap in quality can be made.

« The 70-year history of the Matanzas Symphony Orchestra stands out for periods of intense brilliance, after a period of organization and adjustment in which old and new talents were brought together, the permanence of principal conductors was achieved, as well as the presence of renowned batons. There was a notable interpretive growth, which allowed him to occupy outstanding seats on national stages, with significance in international events.

On this fertile stage, Professor Oliver deepens:

If you want to assess its impact and why it is considered the second symphony orchestra in the country, it is worth saying that essential requirements were met: the repertoire, with a great technical development, with difficult works and that only groups with a privileged professional status they managed to execute; even in the 80s and especially in its second five years, the orchestra reached, in my opinion, a higher rank than the National Symphony.»

At that time, eminent figures from the concert music universe came to direct the Matanzas group.

I remember very well the last concert that Leo Brouwer conducted in this city, whose program was Mozart’s Symphony 39; Finland, by Sibelius; and Star Wars, by John Williams and that sounded great, up to the times and very well done in the style of each of the works executed.

There was also the direction of Tomás Fortín, Sánchez Ferrer, López Marín, Guido López Gavilán, Gonzalo Roig, Elena Herrera from Matanzas, who I consider that there was a before and after with her presence, because she not only directed, but gave classes to instrumentalists, marked a milestone in the development of the group.

«Also highlighted Alberto García and Enrique Pérez Mesa, current director of the National Symphony, both emerged from the lecterns of our Matanza’s Symphony.»

He has participated in the most relevant festivals in the country such as the Havana Ballet, the New Latin American Cinema, and the Jazz Festival, to which are added his successes on tours to Nicaragua, Spain and Austria.

The teacher María Victoria Oliver also highlights as a requirement for her evaluation, the power of the musicians as soloists …

Not every orchestra can have a plethora of instrumentalists who can get up to do a solo work. Hilda Elvira Santiago stands out on the piano; on the strings, Alberto García himself, Irina Vázquez, Adita Villalonga, Bienvenido Quintana, Felipa Moncada; in the winds, the teacher Avilés, Reynaldo Pérez, Roberto Medina, Carlos Hudson (father), Miguelito Hudson. This orchestra has accompanied guitar masters such as Ildefonso Acosta, Rubén González and Edel Muñoz.

Without forgetting to take into account the best of Cuba. Frank Fernández is godfather of the same, were Cecilio and Evelio Tieles, Olga Valiente, Hilda Melis, Jorge Luis Prats; the list would be endless.

 Concert by Frank Fernández with the Matanzas Symphony Orchestra.

And another requirement is that this group was considered a teaching unit and talents such as Zenaida Castro Romeu, the first female conductor to graduate in Cuba, have graduated; Marlene Urbay, la Mendiola, among others, not to mention our mid-level youth. «

The Matanzas Symphony Orchestra from the 90s was not immune to the onslaught of the special period and its aftermath, fundamentally exacerbated by the imperial blockade, and also the rise of tourism in Varadero, which has competed against the systematic nature of the musicians in the group.

However, despite the great material limitations, due to lack of instruments, accessories and even premises, the group maintained its symphonic yearnings with extraordinary will and has continued to perform pieces by great composers such as Beethoven, Mozart; romantics like Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev; Modernists from the lineage of George Gershwin, as well as other great Cuban composers, even conducted with guest batons from Spain, Germany, Japan and the United States who have passed through this group

Aware of the impact of these traces, the musicologist María Victoria Oliver points out:

The orchestra is an instrument in itself and needs a strong work that will be achieved with this young blood, which is continuously nourished and we hope that with José Antonio Méndez Padrón, current head, together with César Eduardo Ramos and the young Yeni Delgado, Esther González and Ariadna Benítez, the work will be consolidated. Their maturity will be appreciated in a few years, when they reach the level of timbre and filling necessary among musicians.

Current principal conductor of the Matanzas Symphony, José Antonio Méndez Padrón.

There are now chamber orchestras in Santiago de Cuba, Camagüey and Santa Clara. Matanzas has a previous symphonic legacy that stands out among the country’s provinces and what we appreciate here is an advantageous musical environment. «

Throughout these seven decades we Matanzas feel a special pride in our emblematic group. It is as if its existence places us in a seat of cultural supremacy that is difficult to match.

Congratulations to our symphonic musicians on the day that the Sauto Theater pays tribute to the first instrumentalists of the Chamber Orchestra, the forger of what is today the admired Matanzas Symphony Orchestra.



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