Sony Classical will release acclaimed pianist Simone Dinnerstein's new album, Mozart in Havana, on April 21. The new album, recorded in Cuba, may be her most ambitious to date and is a testament to music's ability to cross all cultural and language barriers. For it, Dinnerstein has collaborated with the virtuosic Havana Lyceum Orchestra to perform Mozart's Piano Concerto Nos. 21 and 23. In June, the Orchestra will also make their American debut in a series of concerts, the first time an orchestra of this size has traveled to the U.S. from Cuba since the revolution.
In one sense, Mozart in Havana is a return to Dinnerstein's origins as a musician. Her connection with Cuba started early with Solomon Mikowsky, a Cuban émigré who became her piano teacher when she was nine. Mikowsky would tell stories of his childhood in Cuba and the country's many musical influences. Dinnerstein recalls, "I learned so much from Solomon, and one thing was that a musical culture is not something you have to be born to but something you can choose."
Over the last several decades, Mikowsky became an advocate of Cuba's rich culture and arts landscape. When he inaugurated the Encuentro de Jóvenes Pianistas (Meeting of Young Pianists) festival in Havana in 2013, he invited Dinnerstein to play. "Of course I accepted without hesitation and Havana turned out to be everything he had told me it would be," Dinnerstein explains, "a city profoundly different from any other I knew, with warm appreciative audiences who had a deep engagement with music."
Dinnerstein returned to the festival in 2015, this time to play a Mozart concerto with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Not knowing what to expect, she was deeply impressed. "They played with thoughtful sensitivity and sensual beauty, despite the fact that in some cases the materials they were using were inferior. It was clear that the sound they made came from inside them, not simply from their instruments."
Within a year she had returned to Havana's Oratorio San Felipe Neri to record with the Orchestra what would become Mozart in Havana. The recording was done over three long, sleepless nights using donated strings and recording equipment brought in by Grammy Award-winning producer Adam Abeshouse. His peerless expertise helped navigate the various challenges of the late-night city soundscape including stray dogs barking, a neighbor jackhammering on his roof and sparrows rustling in the eaves of the building.