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John Lamb, Published November 14 2009

Lamb: FM Symphony to make history

Even before the first note at tonight’s concert, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra has struck a chord nationally.

The group made national news with the announcement that Zenaida Romeu would be the guest conductor at tonight’s performance and be the first Cuban artist to receive a visa to America since 2003.

And while regular conductor, Bernard Rubenstein, will sit in the audience for this weekend’s performer, he hasn’t been sitting on his hands waiting for this to happen.

For the past seven years, Rubenstein visited Cuba to conduct and study the culture. The more he saw, heard and experienced, the more determined he was that sanctions against the island country, what he calls “stupid bureaucracy … stupid State Department policy” had to end.

He considers Romeu’s visit a small personal victory and while it doesn’t completely break down the walls it does gets something started.

“I want to see complete travel for everyone, open exchanges so Cuban artists, doctors and scholars come to the United States,” he said, acknowledging that things are changing, but, “much too slowly for my taste.”

“It’s very important and historic because it’s a bridge between countries so close with so much in common,” Romeu said during a break in Thursday’s rehearsal. During practice, the maestro rocked back and forth, her left leg thrust forward in stride as she fluidly directed the musicians, often singing melody to them. Dressed in high heals, tight black jeans and a white turtle neck sweater, with short blonde hair, the maestro looked more like she was going to a dance club. Even talking to her during a break, she keeps moving.

A dance club wouldn’t be completely foreign to the music in tonight’s “Carnival Latina.” The playlist includes three classical Cuban pieces before closing with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3.”

Rubenstein describes the Cuban music as “great rhythm, great color, very expressive and deeply felt,” with big percussion parts, pointing out that composer Alejandro García Caturla’s

“Tres Danzas Cubanas,” (“Three Cuban Dances”) was one of the first classical pieces to incorporate African rhythms.

Though he’s sitting in the crowd tonight, he’s already looking to bring the F-M Symphony to Cuba, which would only be the second American symphony to play there in 50 years.

“Music is genetic, we speak the same language with the same interests,” Romeu says, giving Rubenstein a hug.

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Readers can reach Forum columnist John Lamb at (701) 241-5533