For luthier Carl Applebaum, the exchange between the Northwest Sinfonietta and Cuba’s Concierto Sur is just an extension of something he’s done for years: share musical talent and resources with Cubans.
The Tacoma-based string instrument repairer has been traveling to Havana for 12 years to help out at the Conservatorio Guillermo Tomès by showing musicians there how to repair and restore their own instruments.
It’s worth all the effort, he says.
“It’s a real eye-opener for people,” said Applebaum, who owns Applebaum Violins in downtown Tacoma and brings glue, strings, wood and other supplies when he visits the island. “People often ask me about what it’s like: Do I have a minder? Am I followed? I say, absolutely not. No-one cares.
“Cubans are very hospitable, very open, and make a huge distinction between liking Americans and not liking our government. It’s not full of demons.”
Applebaum joined the Northwest Sinfonietta’s Cuba tour in January with his wife, principal cellist Mara Finkelstein.
The tour, approved as a cultural people-to-people visit, included visits to museums, conservatories, artists’ studios, architectural sites, dance events and agricultural locations, as well as rehearsals and concerts with the orchestra.
A second tour, scheduled for January, will have a similar itinerary, and spaces again are open for non-musicians.
“I think a lot of people (on the tour) had the revelation that people are alike everywhere,” Applebaum said.
The tour also taught the Sinfonietta’s musicians a lot, he said.
“In Cuba, there’s a different attitude about music; there’s not as much distinction between popular and classical and jazz as here,” Applebaum said. “The Concierto Sur musicians all teach at the conservatory, but many also play in bands.
“They’re very flexible, and their sense of musical time is much looser than conservatory-trained Americans. There’s a general sense of ease about the whole thing.”
Even the average Cubano has a different attitude toward classical music, Applebaum said.
At the final concert, the theater’s doors and windows were wide open to compensate for the heat, and folks gathered on the street to listen attentively, Applebaum recalled.
One listener was the baggage handler who saw them off the next day at the airport and complimented the Americans on the wonderful music.
“That’s different from here!” Applebaum pointed out.