Members of Cuba’s Lyceum Mozartiano of Havana are completing a visit and cultural exchange program with the Georgetown University Orchestra after travel complications threatened the annual program.
As a part of its fourth annual exchange with Georgetown, the cohort will sit in on orchestra classes and rehearsals, as well as lead master classes for students in the Georgetown University Orchestra from Feb. 17 to 21. Prior to this year’s exchange, the Havana Lyceum Orchestra performed at the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the production of the Clemency of Titus from Feb. 13 to 15. This year, Lyceum Mozartiano of Havana musicians faced visa difficulties that complicated their travel to the United States for the performance and exchange.
Maintaining the exchange has been logistically difficult due to ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Cuban governments. Previously, the two countries had a poor relationship due to the Cuban government’s association with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, according to BBC. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has instituted provisions that make travel arrangements difficult.
The Havana Lyceum Orchestra and the Georgetown University Orchestra have collaborated in an exchange program since 2017. Although the program has grown in recent years, the changing political dynamics between Cuba and the U.S. have complicated the travel process, according to Georgetown University Orchestra music director Angel Gil-Ordóñez.
“It was an incredible experience for us,” Gil-Ordóñez said. “Then the administration changed, so it was much more difficult to keep the relationship. This year we were able to bring them here because the Kennedy Center took care of the visas.”
The Kennedy’s Center’s International Programming team usually submits visa applications for the international artists it presents, according to Brendan Padgett, a senior press representative for The Kennedy Center.
“The Kennedy Center did help with the visas,” Padgett wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This is standard procedure that presenters follow with any company that requires work visas.
The Havana Lyceum Orchestra had to travel to Mexico before being able to enter the U.S., according to Gil-Ordóñez. Despite these travel barriers, it is still important for Cuba and the U.S. to partake in cultural exchanges.
“My only hope is that politicians understand that cutting bridges with such a culture is such a terrible decision. I think that these people can bring so much to us, and everytime they come here they do,” Gil-Ordóñez said. “I hope that politicians understand that the best way to understand different people is knowing them better, traveling to their countries and understanding them.”
JoJo Farina (COL ’23), who is serving as a translator for the group, said the experience has been enriching as the two orchestras bonded through music.
“I feel like music is something that the language barrier kind of goes away with. I think it’s kind of a cool way of bridging that gap,” Farina said in an interview with The Hoya. “Almost every group of people creates music, and I think it’s pretty cool that you can share that connection even if you can’t really understand.”
The two groups hope to complete further exchanges in Georgetown and Cuba, pending further cooperation between the two governments. Hopefully, the program continues to offer lessons and experiences to students, according to Gil-Ordóñez.
“Definitely we want to keep the cooperation, and hopefully it will happen again next year,” Gil-Ordóñez said. “They really discovered wonderful things here. And, for our Cuban visitors to be in a place like Washington, D.C., it’s such an incredible experience.”
At the Kennedy Center, the seven members of Havana Lyceum Orchestra performed with Latin American theater director Carlos Diaz and other musicians to create a Cuban adaptation of Mozart’s opera “La Clemenza di Tito,” according to the Kennedy Center website.
The experience of performing with the orchestra offered both professional and cultural development for everyone involved, according to Bryce Robinson (SFS ’22), who performed alongside the group at the Kennedy Center as a member of the chorus.
“My experience with them was incredibly professional. They are really good musicians, and they’re super nice,” Robinson said in an interview with The Hoya. “The biggest thing is, obviously we have distinct cultures, but we’re still all people. Yes, we are from different countries with different political systems, but we all got in a room and we made music and we hung out after.”