Diplomacy often takes its first steps not in politics but in the exchange of culture and friendship. The Minnesota Orchestra brought its music to Havana as a gift for the Cuban people. In return, the Minnesotans were able to demystify a people and culture that holds a unique – if not opaque – place in America’s imagination.

The May 13-17, 2015 trip was the first by a major American orchestra since President Obama announced in December 2014 that he wanted to normalize relations between our two countries. In those five days, the city of Havana revealed itself in color, architecture, music, laughter and the busy rhythms that constitute daily life.

Graydon Royce, Star Tribune arts reporter

A bicyclist rides past a Cuban flag and a Che Guevara mural in Old Havana.

Paula Arozareala holds 5-month-old Patricia Alejandra moments before her baptism at the Iglesia de la Merced church.

Kevin Espinoza Gonzalez, 8, takes a boxing lesson from Coach Rene Pedroso at the Rafael Trejo Gimnasio de Boxeo in Havana.

Lino Salvador Mejia Herrera sells fruit at the Mercado Egido in Havana.

A man in military uniform crosses the street in Old Havana.

Marilenis Cobas Pompa arranges flower bouquets and sells them at an open-air market in Old Havana.

Cuban soldiers socialize outside an armory in Old Havana.

A man jumps off rocks near the Malecón, an esplanade-like seawall that stretches for 5 miles along the Atlantic Ocean.

Tourists from Columbia take selfies with the Havana skyline at Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro.

Two members of a mariachi band break away to pose for photos in Havana’s Plaza De San Francisco.

American flags are an increasingly popular fashion statement for Cubans. This woman modeled a pair of USA-themed pants while waiting for her bank to open in Havana.

Dayton Perez, a student at the Escuela Nacional de Musica, waits at the piano before performing for members of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Samira Karbalaii, a tourist from Iran, gets her hair braided by Dora Navarrete, center, and Yaquelin Carauallo in Plaza de la Catedral.

Concertgoers watch and listen to the Minnesota Orchestra's first concert at the Teatro Nacional in Havana.

A woman tries to attract taxi fares with an antique American car in Old Havana.

A girl sits in La Piragua park in Havana.

Yasiel Cruz Rodriguez, 6, takes a boxing lesson at the Rafael Trejo Gimnasio de Boxeo in Havana.

The Malecón is always buzzing with life. Cubans and tourists congregate there every night to watch the sunset.

Minnesota Orchestra musicians and board members dance about Havana’s Plaza de la Catedral. Violinist Deborah Serafini dances with principal trumpet player Manny Laureano are in the foreground.

A woman and a girl take a walk in Old Havana.

Cubans head to their balconies for a taste of comparatively cool afternoon air.

Cuban piano soloist Frank Fernandez, left, and Minnesota Orchestra music director Osmo Vänskä take a bow after the orchestra’s first performance in Havana.