Florida Orchestra Musicians to Travel to Cuba

The Florida Orchestra is among the first to take advantage of slightly relaxed relations with Cuba.

Next September, five of its principal musicians travel to the island in an exchange with the National Symphony Orchestra of Havana.

"For something that is so close to the United States, I'm sure it's going to be drastically different, maybe like stepping back a few decades in time," oboist Katherine Young predicts.

Young and her peers will be teachers, performers and ambassadors.

"Music seems to be the thing that brings people sort of outside their minds, so to speak, and their pre-conceived notions about how things are," she said.

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The September trip is the first phase of a five-year agreement between the two orchestras. Havana's music director will conduct the Florida Orchestra next May.

"Ultimately, we're trying to get the full orchestra to go [to Cuba], perhaps as early as spring of 2013," said operations manager Angela Cassette.

She said the Florida Orchestra's music director suggested Cuba because of Tampa's historic ties to that nation.

For decades, Cuban-American exiles lobbied against relations with the Fidel Castro regime. But a spokesman for the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation said that attitude has softened.

"The population in general is growing towards a feeling where any sort of interaction that benefits the Cuban citizens more than the regime is basically a positive interaction," said Daniel Lafuente.

The Florida Orchestra is also launching a donation drive for musical instruments and accessories, such as violin strings and reeds for wind instruments. Those will be given to students at a music conservatory in Havana.

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