The Catalyst Quartet became the first string quartet to perform in Cuba in a breakthrough musical exchange earlier this month that took place in the cities of Havana and Matanzas. It’s a clear sign of the thawing musical relations between Cuba and the U.S. after decades of strict political separation that created very different approaches to music making in each country.
Cuba has had its small share of musical exchanges through organized trips and concerts by artists from the United States. But as far as American string quartets go, none have ever performed on the island until now.
For quartet cellist Karlos Rodriguez, it was an incredible opportunity on both a professional and personal level.
“I’m a first generation Cuban,” he says. “When I went to Cuba for the first time in May 2018, it was an emotional trip for me. I also knew a friend who went to Cuba with the Minnesota Orchestra to do an exchange there, which was what inspired me to have my group become the first American string quartet to visit Cuba.”
With support from the Cuban American Youth Orchestra and Sphinx Organization, Rodriguez was able to help turn the quartet’s Cuba trip into a reality. The five-day residency involved a rich mix of activities including one-on-one lessons, masterclasses, and performances hosted by the quartet, which featured pieces by Latinx classical composers.
“We had an inspired time working with students and young professionals from both Havana and Matanzas,” Rodriguez says. “The string playing and chamber music making is on an internationally high level as well as exhibiting a special style. We also had the opportunity to meet exciting composers writing fantastic new music which we hope to play in the future.”
Furthermore, Rodriguez was pleasantly surprised by the differences in musical practice in Cuba, noting their unique approach to sound and phrasing, especially with their vibrato techniques. Such contrasts made the mixing of musical ideas during the exchange enriching for the quartet members.
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Flashback to our concert last week in Havana! It was an amazing experience playing in such a special place, for such an incredible audience, and making a little history. @cayo2018 @sphinxorg #placesweplay #catalystquartet #somuchfun #concert #havana #cuba #oratoriosanfelipeneri #history #special #fbf #stringquartet #chambermusic #ambassador #classicalmusic #newmusic #latino #latina #latinx #first
The Catalyst Quartet is immensely proud to have pioneered a bridge connecting the music community in the states to the streets of Havana, Cuba. Their work in Cuba is only the latest addition to their impressive resumé: the quartet has performed in renowned concert venues around the world, collaborated with acclaimed artists, and manage a YouTube channel that has reached thousand of viewers.
For the group, the trip created some strong and fond memories. They are still in contact with the Cubans they worked with and intend to spread the word about what is happening musically in Cuba.
“There is a tremendous amount of well deserved support that is needed on the island in the form of mentorship, instrument maintenance, and access to creative inclusion off the island,” Rodriguez says.” With so much shared and experienced on both sides of this exchange, we eagerly look forward to a return.”