An international new start up in Havana



Building bridges, creating opportunities for cultural exchange—that is the goal of a new start up in Havana, Cuba called Classical Havana or in Spanish Habana Clásica.  

Over a million people turned out for the Rolling Stones free concert in Havana in March 2016 signaling that it is time to reach out and create opportunities for understanding and the promotion of good will, peace, and friendship through cultural exchange.  

Classical Havana is the brainchild of Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal and serial classical music entrepreneur Kathy Geisler. The idea for creating a meeting ground for musicians and audiences from around the world in Havana came out of a discussion of what would be the most compelling collaboration they could create that would make a real difference in today’s world.  

Madrigal, who makes his home in Rome these days, having spent several years as a student at the world renowned Piano Academy at Lake Como under the tutelage of William Grant Naboré, is Cuban by birth and enjoys a great popularity and familiarity to audiences in Havana. Geisler who has run a successful classical music record label, worked on several projects with the Russian National Orchestra, shepherds the careers of several classical artists and is about to launch another start up called Mozart’s List, loves the challenge of doing something that is positive, world changing, and that would be to some an otherwise seemingly impossible feat.  

“We didn’t know if anyone would want to be part of this because it isn’t for everyone. There are challenges and lots of unknowns. But everyone I spoke to was very excited to perform in Cuba and to have the opportunity to work with the students and musicians there.” said Geisler. “The level of enthusiasm was a little unexpected. It was almost like offering the chance to perform on the moon. Most people have not performed there who have otherwise traveled much of the world. It is one of the great cultural destinations where almost no one has visited less performed. Everyone said yes without hesitation, without skipping a beat. I mean, the Rolling Stones were just there less than a year ago for the first time in their 54 years of touring.”  

Madrigal, who regularly travels to Havana to perform acts as liaison and artistic director for the project, which is being officially presented by some of the cultural institutions within Cuba. The concerts are being presented by El Gabinete de Patrimonio Musical Esteban Salas and are being presented in conjunction with El Taller Internacional de Patrimonio Histórico-Documental de la Música en Hipanoamérica. “Havana is home to four million people. The public is very music savvy. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to bring a diverse group of musicians from all over the world and introduce them to the public there. I am often on tour with musicians and singers from all over and I thought this would be a way for me to introduce people to my culture which so few of my colleagues are familiar with.”  

“We sought out string players who themselves were equally strong as leaders in their geographic home bases as well as respected soloists and pedagogues,” said Geisler. “The first to join the gathering was Alexander Gilman who at 30 runs his own string academy in Zurich and tours with his own group of protégées, the LGT Young Soloists, named after the private bank of the Royal Family of Liechtenstein that often sponsors the group in Europe and Asia. Alexander has already had a very rewarding career as a soloist and has himself come out of one of the most important violin schools in the world run by Zakhar Bron who also famously was the teacher of Vadim Repin, so as a performer and pedagogue, he is one of the youngest and most extraordinary artists in both areas. It was really an affirmation of what we want to do in Havana to have Alexander involved.”  

“Another of the first few to come in was Michel Taddei, our double bassist who besides having already toured to some out of the way places like Kazakhstan with Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, is one of the head teaching faculty at the Crowden School in Berkeley, a very unusual school with a classical music based curriculum for kids grades 4-8. Michel is really one of the most outstanding and versatile double bass players in America, he was also handpicked by Kent Nagano to be principal bass with Opera Lyons in France. He is in demand all over and it is a testament to the compelling nature of what we want to build in Havana that attracted him to the project both as a performer and pedagogue. This is really the theme that runs through all of the participants in the inaugural year of Classical Havana.”  

“Also with us from almost the beginning is composer Michael Fine, who is having a remarkable number of premieres around the world this year while keeping his day job as Grammy winning record producer to some of the biggest names in classical music. Michael began composing a few years ago after his wife was diagnosed with a very challenging illness. It became a kind of healing mechanism for them and his catalog has grown exponentially. He is keeping his publisher in France quite busy.”  

“When we were first putting this together I reached out to some people for advice. We had enthusiastic encouragement and support from Candace Johnson, the ‘satellite lady,’ a singer and technology leader who founded a satellite company in Europe and among other innovations runs an incubator for women entrepreneurs in Europe, and Yvonne Georgiadou who is the Artistic Director of the Pharos Arts Foundation in Cyprus and the Pharos Chamber Music Festival which has been running for 17 years, a model of achievement for what we would like to create in Cuba. I also wrote to Rick Walker who runs the Festival Napa Valley in California who had just been to Cuba and thought it sounded very timely and exciting. We received so much encouragement and enthusiasm. It just seemed like a worthy adventure and a great way to build international relationships for something positive.”




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