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Interviews Marcos Madrigal. Photo: Riccardo Musacchio & Flavio Ianniello. Marcos Madrigal. Photo: Riccardo Musacchio & Flavio Ianniello.

Marcos Madrigal: ways of rethinking "the classic".

When I was three years old I put my hands on the piano for the first time, although it is really something that I have been told because I have almost no memory of that time, so honestly, I do not have a clear idea of how it was the first time. What I have been told is that I owe it to the lady who took care of me, who was a family friend and came from a family of musicians, while mine comes from the world of cinema. She took care of me since I was eight months old and she was a piano teacher. Because of that circumstance, I spent practically six hours a day listening to the piano since I was a baby, in what in Cuba we call the corral, while she taught her classes. Until one day the lady, Marta García -may she rest in peace-, saw me leaning and playing part of a melody in the high part of the instrument and decided to teach me how to play. 

I started, therefore, as if it were a game and I was fortunate that he also taught me to read music even before I started learning the letters, the language. The first graphic language I approached was the musical score, and I developed all that playful childhood stage, around the piano and music. I came to be almost the first professional musician in the family, but, anyway, being in an artistic and cultural family environment, it was easy for them to understand and support me from a very young age and to be aware of how far what seemed like a game at the beginning, could really be a talent and become a profession. 

I was a very curious child, not only for music, but I liked the arts in general, also a little bit philosophy. I was probably an atypical child, who spent many hours in front of the instrument... Although I really dreamed of being a swimmer... The truth is that, in that context that I am telling you, for me playing was something very natural, almost a physiological need. So, despite the fact that I was so busy between all that was music, and that I went to swimming school in the evenings, I was a rather withdrawn child and concentrated on things that were perhaps more for adults -like reading-. In general, I think I was quite a dedicated adolescent and youngster throughout my career in the Cuban conservatories. 

I traveled to Europe for the first time on a tour with Ars Longa, an early music group with which I began to collaborate at a very early age. I participated in their records; they had a recording contract with Armonía Mundi, and so, little by little, I began to travel for concerts or other engagements with that group. Until at a certain moment I understood that, more than studying in Europe to continue improving myself, I wanted to live what the European musical and artistic movement was, in first person and not only in tours or concert seasons. It is very different for an artist, especially in the case of classical music, to live in the historical center of the repertoire we perform. So I took advantage of a scholarship I won at the Piano Academy of Lake Como and moved the epicenter of my life from Havana to Rome. It was a great opportunity and a privilege to be able to breathe the cultural life of European cities and try to have, as an artist, as many experiences in the contemporary European world; to live a rhythm and experiences that are quite different, let's say, to what we are used to in Cuba. 

Marcos Madrigal. Photo: Riccardo Musacchio & Flavio Ianniello.

Marcos Madrigal. Photo: Riccardo Musacchio & Flavio Ianniello.


I don't know about other cases, but in the case of musicians it is very interesting how your teachers, in this case piano teachers, practically become life teachers or spiritual guides. And it is very important that that person who guides you in so many aspects, not only in the specifically technical-performance or artistic ones, has positive, strong, clear values, that can instill in you, and help you in your formation as a human being to face the artistic world. In my case, I am very fortunate to have had in my path two people like Teresita Junco and William Grant Naboré. And I speak of them because they are the piano teachers with whom I could share more years and from whom I could learn the most, but I include all those I had before like Mercedes Estévez, and also the others who at the Academy of Lake Como, along with Grant Naboré (and I speak of Fou Ts'ong, Dimitri Bashkirov, Andreas Staier and others) helped me to form me and to foster in me an idea, a concept of where my steps could be directed; about the concept of interpretation itself; not only technical, I insist, but in general as an interpreter, musician and artist. So, when I think of them, especially Teresita and William, I feel that they are like a second mother and a second father, because both of them have really enlightened me in practically every sense of my existence. And they are both pedagogues who always respected the individuality of the student-artist, and this is not so common; because many of the great teachers tend to have classes in which, I am not saying that you find uniform pianists, but with many common characteristics. And look, Teresita and William, although they came from two completely different schools, both gave me that leitmotiv, that guide, the security that I could be respected from my essence as a human being and as an artist and that I should develop myself trying to bring out my own way of saying, my way of playing, my sound and my "voice". They are very present in my life, always. In the case of Naboré, still every time I am in the middle of some new creative process I go to visit him, to ask his advice. Many times I even ask him to come to the studio when I'm recording and I feel safer if he is in the production, helping me... The real masters are these people who stay in your life forever, being part of your family, not only musically but also emotionally.


I have a very interesting relationship with the Cuban musical repertoire, which has varied throughout my career. As the years go by I realize that, although we from Cuba sometimes do not notice it, there is a deficit of music, not only Cuban, but Latin American, in the circuit of what we call classical or academic music, concert music. In the European market, which is the one in which I move the most, our composers are sometimes known in Spain, because of the historical-cultural connection, but I was surprised when I came to the tours -and the first years I was studying here- how unknown were composers that we thought were known all over the world. In Italy, I discovered that many people had perhaps heard La Malagueña or another work by Lecuona, but they had no idea who the composer was or what country he was from. And when I talk about the classical music circuit I mean festivals, discography, performers, the public in general... Then doing some research, I began to discover that it was partly our fault, the fault of Latin American performers, that many of us are focused on doing the standard classical repertoire (European or from other latitudes), leaving a little aside our repertoire, even in the discography. It was very interesting to discover this; it made me think that I had a duty, first of all with the Cuban repertoire, but also with the Latin American repertoire; especially to make recordings with a quality that is at least within the standards of classical music recordings in the world. Because I also found very good artists with very good versions of our works, but with a recording quality that left much to be desired. Then I began to dedicate myself more and more to create projects around the Cuban and Latin American repertoire and, of course, to record and collaborate with composers who have been an important part of my life such as Ernesto Lecuona, José María Vitier and later with some younger ones, within the contemporary panorama such as Yalil Guerra. That has caused more to come, even without looking for them. I would not say it is a personal battle, but it is part of my intention, within my possibilities, which are not very many, to try to contribute as much as possible to the promotion of that repertoire written for piano.

Marcos Madrigal during Habana Clásica. Photo: Fabrizio Sansoni.

Marcos Madrigal during Habana Clásica. Photo: Fabrizio Sansoni.


I am often asked why I do a solo concert today and tomorrow I work for ballet or do something else. In principle, I am a person who gets bored very easily and let's say that doing only one type of work is a bit reductive and tedious. Of course, music is the only thing I know how to do, I only know how to play the piano, but there are many facets and nuances in which one can develop playing piano, isn't it true? As I have matured, I have been discovering repertoire and also new performative possibilities of the instrument. From a very early age I felt that chamber music gave me a lot of satisfaction, that I loved being able to share that creative process with other performers and that the chamber repertoire was musically one of the most exciting for me. Also, although solo piano has always been the center of my career and still is, when I was very young I began to play the harpsichord and organ with Ars Longa, to accompany classes and exams of other instruments while studying at the Conservatory, I began to learn operas -I am a compulsive operatic music lover; as soon as I moved to Europe I began to attend opera performances regularly and I know that repertoire in an incredible way-. Then I discovered that dance, especially contemporary dance, was the art form that I liked the most as a spectator; I also began to walk around, to understand the creative processes of dance and to be part of some of them... In the end, all this made me assume or incorporate the role of pianist in each of these environments. That's how we got to the present day, in which I still play a lot as a soloist, but I am also all the time with chamber ensembles. In fact, I am part of two stable chamber ensembles: a duo with the Italian pianist Alessandro Stella and the Hemisphaeria Trio with the soprano Damiana Mizzi and cellist Roberto Masueto. 

More than a coldly thought-out strategy, it has to do with my personality and with the luck I have had to be able to find in each of these areas related to the piano, people, artists, who have made me fall in love with each of these possibilities. I also find it attractive that in this way I am not all the time alone, but one tour I do with the trio, one with the duo, one maybe solo, one maybe on a festival circuit sharing with new artists... Today, especially in the youngest European festivals (Mantova, Vicenza) these interactions are the center and the intention of the creative processes of the event. You can be invited to make your solo concert, in another session your duo or trio concert, another day your master class as a pianist, or to collaborate on another instrument... Today in Europe, classical music is full of nuances and is very interactive, which gives you the possibility to move in different fields. In the end, of course, everything is centered on the music, in my case on the piano. So I don't know if you want to call this a strategy, but I can tell you that it has come in a natural way, and that it has perhaps been the result of my character and my fortunate life story. In fact, that is the principle of the festival in Cuba; just that: the chamber music and being able to share from art the experience of the creative process and, at the same time, to enrich oneself within the same process. 


The event was an idea that I had brought inside, that had been growing conceptually for some time and, at a certain moment, I wanted to try if it was feasible; because I was talking to colleagues of mine from the European circuit who wanted to come to Cuba... The idea was to create a meeting point, a way of joining what was my reality in Europe with what is lived here, it was a platform to bring together all the talent that exists in Cuba with part of the people and the processes that are lived in other environments. I started by formulating the possibility of doing a series of concerts or a meeting; I had collaborated for many years with Miriam Escudero when Ars Longa and I thought that the Gabinete de Patrimonio Musical that she directs and the team that conforms it were the platform, the ideal Cuban organization to help me realize all these ideas that I had in my head. They were absolutely receptive, so I found in them the executing arm, under the protection of the Office of the Historian of the City (OHC). At the beginning, it emerged as a meeting between European artists -or artists who had their career in Europe- and artists from Havana to make chamber music, and that was, let's say, the driving model of the first year. However, we soon understood how much we could offer so that many European musicians could discover what was going on in Cuba. And so the idea began to become an interdisciplinary platform, where other arts could converge. Because from the very beginning we considered a kind of structure in which, instead of planning and promoting concerts that had already been previously prepared, the confabulation of creative processes would take place, making a group of artists coincide at a certain moment in Havana and that confluence would be what would give rise to the festival program. 

This, of course, was a great challenge; it still is, because all the programming has to play with the artists, both invited and from the patio, who are the ones who can make it work so that it becomes a reality every year. We were lucky that, from the very beginning, great Cuban and foreign artists fell in love with the idea and, after the first experience and everything that happened in Havana, we noticed that it was a project that felt very young because of the way it was designed and thought out. Because even for those of us who live outside Cuba, the work routine is usually that of several programs or projects that we move in different festivals. So, this fact of arriving in Havana with a general idea of what is going to happen in terms of concept, but without having tried it out before, and creating it precisely in the days we have to rehearse; doing master classesThe creation of this creative family space, which I believe has been the key to success so far, has resulted in social projects, getting to know a little about the reality of the city. 

This is what makes it different from other festivals held in the country and the case of the Young Pianists Encounter, also coordinated by the Cabinet. Let's say that the main difference is that the former is an event around the piano and, in Habana Clásica, the piano has not been -and I think it will not be- the center. In the beginning, we focused on chamber music with or without piano, and then it opened up to the repertoire of soloists, then to the confabulation between the arts, then to interdisciplinary events; dance began to play a very interesting role; the functions between what would be academic and non-academic music, theater, plastic arts, visual arts also began. 

This has also led us to rethink "classical". For the event, "classic" is that which can transcend if it has an added value to survive in time and not only strictly what we call today academic music. From this principle we have opened the boundaries of the festival and given room for conceptual experimentation, as well as the novelty that the experience for the protagonists, both from the performer and the audience, is somehow different. I don't know if there are other festivals that work with this concept in Cuba. For example, in Habana Clásica, we work in two weeks and there are two groups of artists who are the protagonists in each of them. Thus, people who come to enjoy the Festival and who, in general, follow one of the artists, find him in almost all the concerts of the week, because we plan or curate programs with an idea, we mix the artists. So if I, as an audience, want to see, for example, a violinist like Tai Murray (who has come in past editions) I can go to a whole week of concerts and I know that at a given moment of each show, she will be performing a work that has to do with the concept that is being developed that day. These are things that, of course, are changing, enriching, but it is still the axis that moves us, the way of conceiving, thinking and executing the organization and curatorship of the event. 

Habana Clásica is designed for a sensitive public; in fact, one of the fundamental objectives is to bring the "academic" artistic fact to a public that is not necessarily used to receiving it; and that is why many of the actions we have are in the community, or are about interacting with other arts, with the aim of being able to reach groups of public that are not regulars. We are also fortunate that the Cuban public that attends these events is younger than the European public. The event is also made, for the most part, by young people and I would like to think that it has a bit of this freshness. Those who love music will enjoy -because the first objective is that the concerts be of a very high level-, but also those who are more accustomed to contemporary dance or theater can have a cultural experience that moves them, moves them or makes them reflect... in any sense. As we know, art is there to communicate, to provoke from beauty or to suggest discomfort, discord, dichotomies that make the spectator reflect and raise doubts about taste, existence, sensibility, life or death.

Marcos Madrigal during Habana Clásica. Photo: Fabrizio Sansoni.

Marcos Madrigal during Habana Clásica. Photo: Fabrizio Sansoni.


The challenges for a festival today in Cuba, and anywhere in the world, are many. The fundraising process is always very arduous. We focus the search for specific projects or for specific artists with private sponsorship in the same way as we apply for funds of a multiple nature, funds from a nation or funds for a cultural project that come from foundations. Over the years, we have learned that there is a whole range of opportunities to find funding for this type of activities and that, depending also on the results you show, there are possibilities of finding them. Habana Clásica is an event organized by the Habana Clásica International Association, which I created for this purpose, and the Esteban Salas Musical Heritage Office of the Office of the Historian of the City, but it also dialogues with the Cuban Institute of Music, the Ministry of Culture and other Cuban institutions. Because there is a whole logistical part that is essential to make it happen and that has to do with locations, concert halls, personnel working in these spaces, electricity, advertising spots on public television, etc. It is a part to which we have access through the institutions and which, if we are going to quantify it, is a considerable amount of money. Then there is another part to cover, which has to do with the artists we invite, with being able to bring them, so that they can exhibit. In the case of our event, which is born with a social approach, all the artists, both those who come to Cuba and the Cubans who are here, in principle give their performance to the festival and dedicate this week to interact. They are great soloists who are committed to the festival, putting aside their personal projects and also want to help in some way to build a bridge. Many donate instruments or through them there are possibilities of scholarships for Cubans, or potential collaborations open up between them. Then, depending on how it is organized each year, the event has to adapt and use strategies to find funds. In the last year, for example, the main sponsor The Swiss Embassy in Cuba and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (Cosude) are in charge of the edition. Also this year we have an interaction with the Italian Embassy within the framework of the Italian culture week in Havana, and we are doing a project with the Dutch Embassy and so on... then there are other funds and sponsors private. In my case, it has been a new world that I have had to get to know and the event has helped me to understand how it works, to gradually create organizational strategies and alliances to carry out each edition of the festival.

As for the curatorial process, given the characteristics of programming and organization we were talking about before, 95% of the concerts offered at the festival are finalized during the previous work week, when all the artists are already in Cuba. Every year, after we have an idea of who are the artists, orchestras and ensembles we can count on, I start to draw the idea of what I would like to develop in the edition, from the artistic point of view. There are, of course, some actions that work as a common denominator year after year, such as the issue of composers in residence (this year it will be the Cuban composer Juan Piñera and the Italian Nicola Sani, artistic director of the Fondazione Accademia Musicale Chigiana), which helps us to think of musical works that will be created or premiered in the edition, sometimes for specific artists who will be among the guests. 

There are many other aspects, such as when we consider what will be the interdisciplinary events of the edition, what will be the collaboration with dance... In this case we will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Malpaso Company; we also have a performance in tribute to Brindis de Salas with the actor Jorge Enrique Caballero, directed by Luis Ernesto Doñas. In other words, we create, together with the artists, the events to be developed. Then..., the musical selection is mostly my responsibility, in the sense that I almost always talk directly with the artists we invite and, of course, with the other artistic directors of the board, because I am the artistic director of Habana Clásica, but we have three other artists who are vice-artistic directors. With them, we make proposals and choose, with the negative or positive experiences of previous years.

Sometimes we encounter unsolvable difficulties, such as halls that are closed or that for whatever reason we can no longer use, but between the halls in the historic center of the city -which are the ones managed by the OHC-, and others such as the National Theater or the Cuban Art Factory, or this year we also invaded the small hall of the National Museum of Fine Arts, we are solving the spaces. With time you begin to understand how to plan or program music as well as other artistic events, with the acoustic, technical and lighting conditions, etc., of each of the spaces you actually have. It is a challenge, but at the same time it is very stimulating because, in a way, you adapt to the reality you have and incorporate all that into the concept of the show. 

Anyway, although I am in principle a very positive person, although I am always trying to look for the flower in the midst of darkness and mud, of course sometimes I get tired; especially because I have my solo career and Habana Clásica is something I do out of love for my country and because I think I owe it everything it gave me and continues to give me, and because I am interested in contributing to the artistic and cultural development of the city. But then, as in anything you organize, you encounter a million problems... And there are days when I ask myself: ... why am I doing this? But I must say that generally, when the festival arrives and you start to see the impact it has on the public, on the city... the concerts, the social events, the master classes, you think it's worth dedicating that time to it. If those of us who were born in Cuba don't do it, nobody will. And on the other hand, with my experience working in events in Europe, I know that anywhere in the world it is very difficult to make a festival. 

In every place there are pros and cons. I realize that even if the problems or the difficulties or the challenges are different, in the end it's always a crazy mission, but there have to be crazy people to do it and people who love art and love culture to try every time.

Download the complete program of Habana Clásica 2022 here

Avatar photo Darsi Fernández Hyperlink with human figure. He has a bad memory only for what suits him. He dreams of retiring to read. More posts

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