New Minneapolis nonprofit pairs Cuba and U.S. musicians for classes, concerts

Above: A quartet of Cuban string players spent the week studying with University of Minnesota musicians. (Courtesy Rena Kraut)

By Terry Blain, Minneapolis Star Tribune, November 3, 2017

It’s been two years since Minnesota Orchestra travelled to Cuba, becoming the first American orchestra to perform there since diplomatic relations were re-established by the Obama administration. And the trip keeps on giving in terms of spawning goodwill between the state and the island.

Earlier this week four young string players from Cuba arrived in the Twin Cities for the inaugural Cuban American Youth Orchestra Fall Academy. They spent the week paired with four University of Minnesota students for lessons, masterclasses and rehearsals. The goal? Building connections and better understanding between young musicians in the U.S. and Cuba.

The tuition-free educational trip was organized and funded by the Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO), a new Minneapolis nonprofit founded by Twin Cities musician and educator Rena Kraut. A freelance clarinetist who also played on Minnesota Orchestra’s Cuba tour, Kraut said the CAYO experience was “a step-up for these extremely gifted musicians. They deserve every opportunity to show the world what they can do.”

Next up, the Cubans have the chance to play for Minnesota audiences. They’ll perform in the Target Atrium at Orchestra Hall before Friday’s Minnesota Orchestra concert (performance begins at 7:15 p.m.). Minnesota Orchestra musicians will join them later in the atrium for a post-concert recital of the Mendelssohn Octet.

Saturday brings a performance (7:30 p.m.) at the University of Minnesota School of Music, with the quartet recording a short CD to take home.

A second CAYO workshop is scheduled for February in Miami, followed by a more ambitious orchestra tour to several U.S. cities (including Minneapolis) and Havana. For more information, visit

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