Costumed dancers on stilts, accompanied by congas and cowbells, greeted the Minnesota Orchestra on a walking tour of Old Havana on Wednesday evening.
Musicians, staff and supporters browsed through cobblestone squares that date to the 16th century, peeked into shops and restaurants. Ernest Hemingway’s old haunt, the Ambos Mundos Hotel, offered a great little slice of history, not so much for anything our guide said but simply for the vibe.
Street vendors had stacks of old books for sale, “Che Guevara Speaks,” and “Reflections from Fidel” among the titles. One man dolled up his little dogs and encouraged photographers to have a look along Obispo Street, the oldest and busiest thoroughfare through Old Havana.
At the center of the district is Plaza Viejo — a concentration of preserved and in some cases restored architecture distinguished by Spanish arches and pastel accents. It has all the charm that is absent from the brutalist structures surrounding the Plaza de la Revolucion.
The Minnesotans then decamped to the Hotel Nacional, a storied locale that has hosted dozens of dignitaries and celebrities in its history. Before dinner, the 160-person contingent listed to a brief concert by Coro Entrevoces, a 20-voice group conducted by Digna Guerra and recognized as one of the finest choral groups internationally. The choir will tour the United States this summer, including a stop at Orchestra Hall on July 5.
Dinner was in the 1930 Restaurant, chosen because it was built in the same year that the Minneapolis Symphony made its last visit to Havana.
“Sometimes the sun and the moon and the stars align and when that happens, you need to recognize it and seize it,” orchestra board member Marilyn Carlson Nelson told the group.
Carlson Nelson and her husband, Glen, underwrote the cost of the Cuba trip.
Thursday afternoon, the orchestra will rehearse for the first time in the Teatro Nacional, where they will play two concerts on Friday and Saturday nights.