Notes from Cuba: Second movement

A convertible in CubaRena Kraut

May 16, 2015

We have groupies. They are the four young clarinetists from the youth orchestra whom we met two days (ten years?) ago. They appear whenever we get delivered to the hall for rehearsal. Like a cluster of butterflies, they approach us while we are warming up and flutter around, smiling, waiting to lean in for the customary kiss on the cheek.

By now we all know one another's names. We hand them our instruments to try and they pass them around, exclaiming over the high quality, beaming. More photos, more besos, and they flutter off the stage to listen to rehearsal from the audience.

I decided to join them since I don't play on Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Listening to this orchestra from the audience is a rare treat; when we're on break in Orchestra Hall, we are generally warming up backstage or hanging out in the lounge. I imagine it's easy for the full-timers in this group to take their level of performance for granted, but since subs never know when the next call will come, I try to soak up as much as I can.

Some performances sound more technically clean than others, and sometimes a particular solo shines, but what most of us wait for is the indescribable moment when everyone is breathing and playing together like one organism, the moment that gives you chills and makes your hair stand on end.

There was a chord at the end of the first movement of the Eroica last night that did it to me, even from backstage: a wash of sound that rolled out like an organ. This afternoon it was the tragic climax of Romeo and Juliet, the soaring and falling string lines that seem to scream at the top of their range with all the raw anguish of the tragic story.

These moments usually don't come in rehearsal, but this has been a week laden with emotion; everyone seems to have their guard down, from board members to president, orchestra to administration.

Everyone is okay with being a little more vulnerable, a little more open; I watched part of yesterday's side-by-side rehearsal from the wings and saw one of the more dour musicians smiling broadly and even laughing with his young stand partner.

While the lockout still figures in their memories, and stories continue to be told and retold as a therapeutic release of a difficult time, this trip is truly the opposite: a lock-in, one of those dreamlike times like the last night of high school, where everyone forgets their social status or their grudges from the past and comes together without judgement to breathe, and to play, together.

Rena Kraut is playing in the clarinet section during the Minnesota Orchestra's tour of Cuba, and she is writing about her experience for Classical MPR.

Classical Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of the Minnesota Orchestra's historic tour to Cuba is made possible by Glen and Marilyn Nelson. Additional support comes from 3M, Pentair, Ecolab, and from Lorraine Hart.

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