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Arts / Culture

Cuban Conductor Weighs In On Music, Authentic Cuban Sandwiches

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Cuban Conductor Enrique Perez Mesa

An ultra-long wait to get through customs and fatigue didn't dim the light of Cuban conductor Enrique Perez Mesa. He is unassuming and funny.

He's in town for performances with The Florida Orchestra as part of its multi-year cultural exchange and makes his U.S debut this weekend. And the orchestra's Henry Adams was gracious enough to translate for us.

Mesa helped me understand how the Cuban system of teaching music compares to the one in Venezuela known for raising up famed conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Mesa says students in Cuba have to undergo a series of hard tests and compete for full tuition at the state-funded arts program which educates with the goal of its students having a career in music or other arts. 

For students of the violin or piano, that may mean a study of 20 years.

He likens it to the "Palacio de Bellas Artes" in Mexico.

And while some compare performing music to a conversation or a debate, Mesa says, "Music is something you have to prepare for, meditate on, to perform well and when somebody answers a question, it's just a quick , short answer and music's not like that."

Mesa says Cuba has a rich cultural life, with seven symphony orchestras on a small island. He says whenever great artists tour South America, they always play Cuba. And the nation has hosted performances by great conductors, such as Eric Kleiber and performers, like Andres Segovia and Jascha Heifitz.

Since he came here directly from Cuba, I had to ask him about the Cuban Sandwich War between Tampa and Miami over whose version is most authentic.  He says, he doesn't know anything about that, but Tampa should win!