DW Classical Music.- One year after her beloved “Mozart y Mambo,” project, Berlin Philharmonic French horn player Sarah Willis returns to Havana. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, she and the Cuban musicians she is reunited with are faced with tough challenges.


"Mozart y Mambo" was a huge success in 2020, entering the German classical music charts at number one. The album also reached the top of the charts in other countries, including the UK. "Mozart y Mambo" was a worldwide hit. This album, created by Sarah Willis and performed with the young musicians of the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, was the result of an idea that Sarah came up with after her first visit to Cuba in 2017 and combines Mozart and Mambo - classical music with Cuban rhythms. One year after the project, Sarah returns to Havana, planning to present the successful album live to a Cuban audience.

The concert is planned, but the coronavirus intervenes as the pandemic has also hit the Caribbean country with full force. The queues in front of grocery stores are now even longer than they often are in socialist Cuba and the orchestra is no longer allowed to perform before a live audience. Sarah has to change her plans. Rehearsals are still possible, as is the planning of a continuation of the project with new repertoire, but the planned orchestra concert has to be cancelled. This is a big disappointment for all, but the unexpected extra time gives Sarah the opportunity for new Cuban discoveries.

She wants to explore other Cuban musical traditions, and accompanies conductor José Antonio Méndez Padrón to his hometown of Matanzas. Here, Sarah learns more about Cuban dances like Rumba and Danzón and is even shown how to get different sounds on a conga drum. Of course she returns to her passion for the Cuban mambo. Sarah plays an improvised concert in the evening sun of the capital Havana with musicians from the "Mambo y Mozart” project and also joins in a spontaneous mambo with some brass players in Matanzas.

And finally, after weeks of quiet on the streets, she discovers a trumpet player who makes Havana happy again with the soundtrack that has become a trademark of this otherwise pulsating city. It is a glimmer of hope. Cuba - like the rest of the world - is waiting for the end of the pandemic. Although her trip turned out differently than planned, Sarah Willis broadened her musical horizons despite the coronavirus and finally saw her "Cuban family" again.

 

Cuba revisited — Mozart y Mambo, one year on

One year after "Mozart y Mambo," French horn player Sarah Willis is thrilled to return to Havana. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting the musicians to a very tough test.

In 2020, "Mozart y Mambo" conquered the top of Germany’s classical music charts. The album also reached number one in other countries, including the US and the UK. "Mozart y Mambo" became a worldwide hit. In collaboration with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, Sarah Willis, a French horn player for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, was able to realize an idea that originally came to her after her first visit to Cuba in 2017: combining the classical music of Mozart with the Cuban rhythm of Mambo. One year on, she’s been longing to return to Havana and perform the successful album live to a large audience again.

The dates are booked, but the COVID-19 pandemic is getting in the way. The Caribbean country has been hard hit. The lines in front of the grocery stores are now even longer than they normally are in communist Cuba, and the orchestra can no longer play to live audiences. Sarah must also change her plans. Rehearsals are still possible, and the project can still proceed with an expanded repertoire, but the large concert that was scheduled must be canceled. Sad as that is, it gives Sarah plenty of time to discover more of the country. She embarks on a quest to find out more about Cuban musical traditions and accompanies conductor José Antonio Méndez Padrón to his hometown of Matanzas.

Here, Sarah tries out dances like the Rumba and Danzón, and even learns how to extract different sounds from a conga drum. Meanwhile, she continues to indulge her passion for the Mambo, performing an impromptu sunset concert in the Cuban capital with musicians from the "Mozart y Mambo" project and playing with a Cuban brass quintet in Matanzas on the spur of the moment. And finally, after weeks spent exploring quiet streets, she discovers a trumpeter who is once again gracing Havana with that soundtrack that has become a hallmark of this otherwise vibrant city. It's a glimmer of hope.

Cuba - like the rest of the world - is waiting for the pandemic to end. Despite Corona, Sarah Willis has expanded her musical horizons and is finally reunited with her "Cuban family" - even though the reunion doesn’t turn out quite the way it was planned.

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