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News Release: Juntos en Armonía / Together in Harmony Tour


Glenn Petry (212) 625-2038


Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO) Makes Debut in Cuba
with “Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony” Tour

The Cuban American Youth Orchestra will embark on its first full orchestra tour this spring (May 20-27). The inaugural tour will be the first large-scale artistic collaboration between the United States and Cuba. Presented by the international concert tour management company Classical Movements, in association with the Cuban Institute of Music and the National Center for Concert Music, CAYO’s “Juntos en Armonía/Together in Harmony” tour will make its debut in Cuba. Approximately 40 American and 40 Cuban student musicians, aged 18–24 will have performances at the Cubadisco Festival and during official events celebrating Havana’s 500th Anniversary. Under the leadership of esteemed conductor James Ross, CAYO’s program will showcase the world premiere of a new composition by the island republic’s Guido López-Gavilán, commissioned by the Paulus Fund in conjunction with the American Composers Forum. Building on the success of pilot programs conducted over the past year, CAYO’s inaugural tour harnesses the power of cultural diplomacy to support Cuban musicians and promote harmony and understanding between the U.S. and its long-estranged neighbor.

A non-profit cultural exchange program, CAYO is the brainchild of Executive Director Rena Kraut. She explains:

“The 2019 ‘Juntos en Armonía’ tour will be an historic collaboration of young Cuban and American musicians, signaling mutual goodwill and a desire to grow a relationship between our two countries. The culmination of an idea that began with the 2015 Minnesota Orchestra tour to Cuba, CAYO is a testament to the power of cultural diplomacy, giving voice to the next generation to create a better world through music.”

According to Neeta Helms, Founder and President of Classical Movements:

“CAYO’s tour epitomizes to our Cuban partners the ultimate expression of friendship through music. Classical Movements is inspired to see the lasting impact of our work in Cuba help this enormous project flourish – bringing together Cubans and Americans, once again, in the joyous act of music-making.”


CAYO Patron Tour Information

CAYO Patron Tour Information

Havana, Cuba

February 21-25, 2018

Join us for a long weekend in Havana as our musicians participate in the inaugural “La Ruta de Mozart” Festival!

While the politicians talk, we continue to work.

Thrilled to be able to announce our first workshop between Cuban and American musicians, coming in two weeks to Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The Role of the Arts in International Policy

The distance between the United States and Cuba cannot be measured in terms of distance, though the 90-mile gap across the Straits of Florida is stunningly short. The cessation of commercial, economic, and financial relations stopped the island in its tracks in the early 1960s, widening that insignificant distance to a gulf. For decades, we Americans knew nothing of the “forbidden island”. Despite the loosening of some restrictions by President Obama in 2014, Cuba remains one of the five most difficult countries for Americans to enter, keeping company with the likes of North Korea and Angola.

As a result of President Obama’s initial steps to relax tensions, however, Cuba has seen a dramatic increase in visitors from the United States. These visitors will find a population ready and willing to engage with their neighbors. They will find a fiercely independent and entrepreneurial spirit born out of the experience of privation. They will find, as we did, an insistent desire to interact with Americans and to improve a stagnated relationship.

Although the embargo continues, the veil has been lifted between our two countries as more Americans find a way to travel to the island. We are in the moment where the arts can have the highest impact. The experience of shared artistry between the young people of our two countries will create a continuous dialogue that knows no language or cultural barrier, and that cannot be subject to the whims of politicians. This is why the time is right for the Cuban American Youth Orchestra.

The Betsy South Beach Welcomes CAYO!

The Betsy South Beach Welcomes CAYO

Hard to describe the role of The Betsy South Beach hotel in Miami, but Liz Tracy of the Miami New Times makes a good stab at it:  “One might think it strange that a major cultural locus in Miami is a hotel on South Beach. But in the Magic City, hotels are like churches, and the Betsy is a cathedral.”

Priding itself on its role as a catalyst for big ideas, this week’s Betsy Breakfast Salon was a place to hear music, see photos and plans for CAYO, and talk with community members about our plans for bringing together young American and Cuban musicians in 2018.

Havana, April 2017


Heartbreakingly beautiful, Havana is a city steeped in the past and looking with hope and excitement to the  future. Walking through streets devoid of posters, billboards, logos, you find your pace slowing, your focus drawn to the crumbling facades of the buildings, the resting dog splayed on the doorstep, the intense  green of a courtyard set against pastel walls and dusty alleys. An old woman, cigarette clutched between her teeth, sweeps garbage from the sewer grate. Children in school uniforms wait at the curb for the bus. Black exhaust belches from ancient rattling cars. Then, drums—a rumba band starts up in the plaza, draws a crowd, then continues up a side street in a slow rolling march.. You walk toward the sea, past buildings under repair and others long ago condemned but still inhabited. These fall away at once, surrendering to Avenida de Maceo. You cross Frogger-style the six lanes of unceasing rumble and then—the Malecon, the vein holding the lifeblood of Havana in its long seam – grit, sand, seaspray—laughter, joy, love—and the pescadores stand like monuments on the seawall, patiently, patiently waiting. And casting again.


The Promise of the Blank Slate

The Promise of the Blank Slate

The Promise of the Blank Slate

by Rena Kraut


Last summer, my almost-six-year-old learned how

to swim. I sat at the edge of the pool, watching as

he was launched forward by the instructor and

managed only a few dog paddles before he was

pulled aside for extra help. He tried not to cry;

I peeked from behind a shrub. Later, when he

stumbled, shivering, into his Stormtrooper towel,

the only thing between him and quitting was the

post-lesson reward from his teacher, a piece of

candy clutched wetly in his hand.

Learning is hard; without willing participants,


Playing clarinet in college, I had to virtually start

over and relearn a host of things I had been doing

wrong. It was miserable. I sounded like a beginner,

and the joy of making music was gone. What a

humiliating experience, after soaring through high

school on golden wings, to admit that there was so

much I didn’t know.

That admission is easier for a six-year-old, much

harder for an adult. But it blazes the trail for

learning. From my current perspective as a teacher, I

see how differently things turn out for students who know

they are not yet a finished product and those

who think they have nothing to learn. As Socrates

said, “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know

nothing.” Which is why, I suspect, so many private

music instructors keep a box of tissues in their

studios. The intimate relationship we have with our

students is not unlike therapy: it involves breaking

down bad habits, undoing patterns, returning to a

“blank slate” stage until the rebuilding begins, to

become the musician, and the person, the student

wants to be.

Some of you may recognize my byline from the days

of the Orchestra’s tour to Cuba in 2015: thrilled to

go along as a substitute musician, I also wrote blog

posts for MPR. Over the subsequent 18 months,

days the revelation that they were to every single

person involved. I believe we—Cubans, Americans,

management—came into the situation as blank

that route, touched down in a country we had never

and spent the next 100-odd hours interacting with

people who had been, up to that point, as distant

and foreign to us as fairy tale characters. With no

expectations, no yardsticks, no barometers, we were

wide-eyed and open as six-year-olds. I believe it

was the childlike innocence and vulnerability in our

side-by-side rehearsal that made professional and

student, Cuban and American, turn to each other

with honest curiosity and a true desire for mutual


At turning points in history, the arts can act as a

messenger, sent ahead of the document signings, as

a sign of goodwill and hope for our mutual futures.

And because children are the most crucial recipients

of that message, there is no better way to deliver it

than through arts education. That is why, with the

support of Osmo Vänskä, plans are underway for

a Cuban American Youth Orchestra to launch in

summer 2018, presenting a national tour of both

the Cuban public and broadcast from Havana to

the United States, it is our sincerest hope that the

young people part ways with lifelong friendshipsand

music in their hearts. Because the Minnesota

Orchestra dared to dream big in 2015, those of us

from that trip can promise, without reservation,

that it will be something these students will never

forget; we can hope, without fear, that music will

help us all become the humanity we hope to be.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

The IRS gifted CAYO with official 501(c)(3) status just in time for 2017. We are thrilled to be able to launch fundraising for the inaugural season of the Cuban American Youth Orchestra in 2018. Here’s a picture of the celebration desayuno at Francisco’s Cuban Cafe in Rochester, MN.

Thanks to a gift from a major St.Paul-based arts philanthropist and lead backer of the Ordway Concert Hall campaign, CAYO is on its way to a $500,000 goal in 2018. We welcome your support and wish you a Happy New Year!



There is only one place to go in order to start to understand the inextricable link between the United States and Cuba: Miami. Standing at the water’s edge, looking south, it’s incredible to recall the feeling of standing on the Malecón a year prior, looking at the same expanse of water. 90-odd miles and a world away.

Marlins’ star pitcher and Cuban-American darling Jose Fernandez met his tragic end only a few days before I landed, and his name, number, and life loomed large in local media this week.

I visited Marlins Park to see the memorial that had sprung up in the last few days, and read some of the thousands of hand-written notes to #16:

  • “Jose I love you like one of my children”
  • “Jose our family, and all the Cuban family, loves you”
  • “You were the pride of our community”
  • “Tu eres nuestra historia Cubana”/”You are our Cuban story”

Jose was living proof of the power of dreams combined with a relentless perseverance, the ideals we wish to impart to the future young musicians of CAYO.

Descansa en paz.

fernandez-6 fernandez-5 fernandez-4 fernandez-3 fernandez-2