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Reviews Sarah Willis in Art Factory. Photo: Larisa Lopez. Sarah Willis in Art Factory. Photo: Larisa Lopez.

Mozart and Mambo / Sarah Willis

It's Thursday afternoon, and like every Thursday afternoon, I'm having a break after having helped prepare the stage for Nave 3 of Fábrica de Arte Cubano. The heat is suffocating, but I know that what is coming is worth all this effort. About five o'clock the musicians of the orchestra begin to arrive. A little later I talk with my namesake Pepito Méndez about the 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 doesn't 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 FAC can be classified as historical. What an honor, what a pleasure to have heard 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 rise driven by her talent, expressiveness, musicality and charisma, until she broke a historical barrier: becoming, in 2001, the first woman interpreter of a brass 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 program for Deutsche Welle, and the creator of the famous podcasts Horn Hangouts, where it presents the best cornists in the world. But, I swear to you, all these credentials are secondary when one meets Sarah in person. You just have to see her dancing casino with a musician during rehearsal to know that you are dealing with someone too special, in every way.

Concert by Sarah Willis and the Havana Lyceum Orchestra at Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Photo: Larisa Lopez.

Concert by Sarah Willis and the Havana Lyceum Orchestra at Fábrica de Arte Cubano. Photo: Larisa Lopez.

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.  

The premise of Mozart and Mambo It can be summed up in a phrase from Sarah herself: “Mozart should have been born in Cuba”. Honor of this Island to have been able to count Amadeus among its artists, yes; although partying through the streets of Old Havana and unloading at the first gatherings, it would also have come in handy for Mozart. It is precisely with original music by the genius of geniuses that this album begins. Classic, go, so there are no doubts. A Mozartian micro-festival made up of the Concerto Movement for Horn in E Flat Major K.370b, the Rondo in E Flat Major for Horn and Orchestra K.371 and the Concerto for Horn in E Flat Major K.447. But that is only the beginning of the journey that Mozart himself would have made from cold Austria to the heat of our shores. Already in the cadence of the rondo Sarah reveals the real destiny of the disc, evoking a tumbao of mambo. And when you hear a horn doing this, you think: “Wow, what's coming”.

I have to say, parenthetically, 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 transport yourself away from the heat, the noise, the cuban, but more difficult is the music itself. top five tracks of the album demonstrate the enormous talent that emanates from Cuba's music education system.

New paragraph. This starts to heat up.

It is not the first time that Mozart has traveled to Latin American and Caribbean lands. In these types of projects, the danger of ending up with another cliché is just around the corner, but I can assure you that this is not the case with this phonogram. The main responsible: the arrangers. What Cuban has not heard How delicious the mambo, of our eternal Dámaso Pérez Prado? Joshua Davis, arranger of this iconic piece of Cuban music, shows us with subtlety and simplicity (the best ingredients), that the horn, as classic as it looks and sounds, can be one of the picket lines. And look what it is! Edgar Oviedo raises the bar even higher with his arrangement of Sarahnade Mambo (the name is the best possible dedication), a "mambic" parody of the best known movement of the Night Seranata from Mozart. Yuniet Lombida and Sarah Willis make a perfect duo from which escapes both classical counterpoint and, well... cutie. a chorus of "Amadeo how good you play" sums up this delightful piece where two sound iconologies come together perfectly in the same speech.

Rondo to the mambo, arranged jointly by Davis and Lombida, returns us to the Concerto K.447 that we have heard just a few minutes before. But boy does it sound different now. I do nothing but 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 doesn't hear it, tune up their ears… or, better yet, listen to this album. “Enjoy it with this rich rondó a la mambo”, recites the montuno that the same musicians of the orchestra sing while they play. And Sarah doing her thing. Pure delight.

The two arrangements by Jorge Aragón, one of our most brilliant pianists, composers and arrangers, close our cornistic journey. Two gardenias for you, Isolina Carrillo's anthological theme, comes towards us with the air of a soundtrack, an aroma of an orchestra from the '50s that produces a real pleasure to the ear. In this piece, Sarah performs a duet with the trumpeter Harold Madrigal. Elegance is the word that comes to mind. End a record with The manisero, by Moisés Simons, it could have been one more cliché, but Aragón and Willis think otherwise. A different and superior arrangement serves as a farewell platform as Sarah takes the ship home, but not before saying a proper goodbye. Solo 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 spent years, centuries, being the universal pulse of all generations that they 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.

Listen Mozart and Mambo here.

Pepe Gavilondo Cuban composer, pianist, producer and improviser. Since 2014 he has been a keyboardist for the band Sintesis. He is also a specialist in Classical Music at Fábrica de Arte Cubano, and director of the Interactive Ensemble of Havana (EIH). He has been part of the 1Beat program, and his music has been played in Latin America and Europe. More posts

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  1. Sandra Sierra says:

    Impossible better description, a gift for lovers of good music.

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