By Ricky O’Bannon
Culture almost always finds a way to flow through the cracks of the walls established by political barriers.
But with the announcement last week that a 53-year-old embargo and diplomatic stalemate between the United States and Cuba is coming to an end, that trickle of cultural exchange could become a flood of new musical energy for the classical world.
The trade embargo with Cuba prohibited travel between the two countries and the purchase or selling of goods. However, the embargo did have an exception to allow the sale of “information materials,” which included recorded music and certain artworks. The law did mean a halt of trade in musical supplies like recording equipment, which previously was largely imported from the US.
Even though buying Cuban art was technically legal, the ease of travel — as well as anticipation that there will be a new demand from American audiences for the perspective of artists from a formerly forbidden country — has caused art collectors to predict a “stampede” to Cuba.
A similar stampede could happen in classical music as new musicians travel freely between countries or American audiences celebrate Cuban composers who have already found homes or concerts in the United States. With that in mind, below are five Cuban composers worth investigating for curious classical fans.
1. Tulio Peramo
Peramo trained as an opera singer before becoming discouraged by the flamboyant opera world and starting a new career in composition relatively late at age 25. Peramo writes for traditional European ensembles but often combines a Cuban-style of classical guitar. Peramo currently teaches composition at the Academy of Music in Havana.
2. Ileana Pérez Velázquez
Like many 21st-century composers to come out of Cuba, Velázquez was trained at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. Velázquez composes both acoustic and electroacoustic works that have been played in festivals in Latin America, Europe and the United States. She currently is a professor of music at Williams College.
3. Fernando (Archi) Rodríguez Alpízar
Alpízar is a staple in Cuba’s healthy electroacoustic scene that was started by composer Juan Blanco in 1961. Alpízar was trained in and later taught at the Instituto Superior de Arte before moving to Spain. He has run several workshops on modern and electroacoustic compositions at US universities such as the University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University. (Music excerpts can be streamed through Alpízar’s website.)
4. Louis Aguirre
Aguirre’s music is not for the faint of heart. Drawing on an often atonal and aggressive style, Aguirre has written nearly 90 works for opera, chamber ensembles and full orchestras. Aguirre was born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1968 and served as the artistic director of the Camagüey Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 2002. He now lives in Denmark and has had works performed across Europe and South America along with several US performances.
5. Yalil Guerra
Guerra won the International Competition & Festival of Classical Guitar in Poland when he was only 16. A Havana native, he worked in Poland for several years after the festival before eventually moving to Burbank, California. Guerra writes both classical compositions and crossover works for several US television networks, including Univision and Telefutura. In 2012, Guerra’s work Seducción won the Latin Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.