The American Virtuosi toured Lithuania from April 4-25, 2016 on the invitation of social, cultural, and religions institutions. Under the theme, “Music: The Best Bridge for All People,” they performed concerts, presented masterclasses, and gave lectures at universities, churches, synagogues, and cultural centers in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipeda, Siauliai, Panevėžys, Alytus, Pakruojis, Trakai, and Anykščiai. Events were sold-out and audiences rewarded the Borowskys with multiple standing ovations. Musical programs featured virtuosic selections by classical composers, as well as the Borowskys’ own compositions and arrangements. In several concerts they performed together with renowned Lithuanian musicians: members of the National Symphony and the Dagilelis Boys Choir.
During their three week tour, the Borowskys were received and honored by public officials, including the Mayors of Šiauliai, Panevėžys, and Klaipeda, the Ambassador of Israel to Lithuania, leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish community, and representatives of educational, cultural and social organizations.
Lithuanian media -- including National Radio and Television (LRT) -- praised their performances and meetings. The Borowsky family was interviewed and asked to share their perspective on the function of music in the age of globalization. Dr. Charles Borowsky summarized, "Indeed, music is the best bridge for all people. I strongly believe that our contributions to foster peaceful, friendly, and mutual beneficial relations between people can also inspire educational, economic, and public policies.”
Among the honors they were presented with:
This tour was part of the Borowsky family’s continued mission to bridge people of goodwill around the world. They perform frequently as soloists, appearing in major venues such as Carnegie Hall, Kimmel Center, Kennedy Center, Gewandhaus, The Penderecki European Music Center, Beijing Art Center, Hanoi and Ho-Chi Minh Conservatories, and Institute Superior de Artes (Havana), and with acclaimed orchestras including the Baltimore Symphony, Israeli Soloists Orchestra, Tianjin Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Budapest Symphony, Berlin Symphony Orchestra, Santa Clara Symphony (Cuba), and Osaka Symphony, among others. They have also been honored by many organizations in the U.S. and abroad with awards and distinctions. Collectively, the family holds degrees from prestigious institutions including Yale University, Peabody Conservatory, Indiana University, University of Maryland, Towson University, Moscow Conservatory of Music (Russia), Trinity College of Music (London), Icelandic Academy of the Arts (Iceland), Chopin Academy of Music (Warsaw), and Folkwang University of the Arts (Germany).
As the iron door into Cuba is slowly creaking open, Americans are eager to visit, discover, share, help, and perform.
My family’s January 2016 tour was my second trip to Cuba, and there were some marked differences this time around.
Back in 2012, my parents, brother, and I spent ten days visiting and performing in Cuba. For that visit, we had to obtain a special permit from the U.S. Treasury Department. Those were the “early days” of Americans being able to gain access to Cuba, and we had a carefully curated itinerary with a host who made sure we saw and experienced only the best side of life in this often complicated country. We marveled at the colorful antique cars, enjoyed the tropical fruit, and performed at Havana’s Cathedral and the Instituto Superior de Artes. We brought gifts of much appreciated school and medical supplies and left with a moderate sense of accomplishment.
This most recent trip was specifically formulated to get us out of our comfort zone and into the homes and hearts of the Cuban people. The official mission was grand: “Music: The Best Bridge for All People.” The schedule featured performances, master classes, and meetings in Cienfuegos, Cumanayagua, Trinidad, and Havana, with regional representatives of the Ministry of Culture as well as with representatives of the Polish and American Embassies. Performances would take place in concert halls, but also in museums, Christian and Jewish places of worship, schools, libraries, and town squares.
This was not our first tour with this theme; similar past tours in Lithuania, Poland, and China were met with enthusiasm. Even so, given the complicated history of the United States and Cuba, and a program which included works by Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin, I wondered what we could expect… and what we could offer. After all, I wasn’t an expert in economics or politics or business, and I only knew a few words of Spanish.
Our journey successfully led us out of our comfort zones and onto the back of a converted flatbed truck which careened through the countryside, taking us from one performance destination to the next. We walked a mile each way for lunch and dinner, shared beds (my sister, my brother, and I), and experienced two weeks of cold showers and occasional electricity blackouts. We had no access to cell phone service or internet, effectively cutting us off from our version of reality and fully immersing us into another.
The result of veering from the well-paved path we had previously traveled was an opportunity to experience Cuba in a way rock stars and politicians might never enjoy. An after-concert celebration consisted of ice cream scooped out of a large plastic bag into disposable cups and eaten with plastic forks. We joined kids in using long poles to knock coconuts out of the tall trees. We were asked to perform in the home of a teenage girl with cerebral palsy, served as special guests at a fashion show in a tiny rural town, joined in the celebration of a young woman’s 21st birthday party, and spent our downtime tutoring school children in English.
We had a peculiar sense of experiencing times gone by, and it wasn’t just because of the brilliant-colored vintage cars which were meticulously maintained to continue running. In the morning, we would see women using a bucket of water to mop their tiled front porches. Little stores selling kitchenware and pipe fittings would appear on the side of the road as we went by.
Throughout the day, we would hear the clip-clop of horses pulling carts filled with passengers. The streets were crowded with people walking, women carrying umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun. In small towns, bicycles are still considered a luxury and they often feature a handmade wooden seat attached to the crossbar for a passenger. The cars and trucks rumbling down the dusty streets would leave behind them a thick fume of exhaust long after they disappeared from view, and we saw an abundance of hitchhikers.
Second story balconies and the staircases leading up to them often lacked railings, and the concrete of many apartment buildings was crumbling at the seams. After school, the streets were full of children kicking soccer balls or playing hoop and stick. Parents sat in rocking chairs on their front porches, observing passersby. Groups of older men gathered together at the park in the center of town, huddled around a concrete table, intense looks on their faces as they played game after game of dominoes.
In the evenings, we could see into the apartments through the screenless, curtainless window shutters or wide-open front doors, and observe families watching a show on one of the handful of available television stations. On weekends, we heard loud Latin pop music playing and discovered crowds of young people partying in private clubs in homes.
We were reminded of how much we Americans have. Simple things we take for granted would catch us by surprise, like our difficulty in obtaining a rubber band to fasten a foam chin rest for a young violinist (we found one in our luggage). As we witnessed everyday items we would throw away without hesitation being cleverly reused and recycled, it seemed that the expression “necessity is the mother of invention” could have originated in Cuba. We gave what we had intended to give, but when we ran out we emptied our suitcases to share the belongings we had brought with us and could easily replace when we returned home.
During our correspondence in the months preceding our visit, we learned that Cuban musicians have many professional needs. With the support of friends who attended our pre-trip benefit concert, as well as IUStrings, D’Addario, and Légère, we were able to effectively respond. We brought them instruments and supplies including professional quality congas and stands; more than 150 carbon fiber and natural reeds; an assortment of sheet music for wind and brass instruments, band, and string ensembles; an electric guitar; two violins and cases; several sets of violin, viola, and cello strings; carbon fiber bows, rosin, and music stands.
The Cumanayagua Band performed a special concert in celebration of the supplies they received. Afterwards, the director told us, “We have been rehearsing for two years and never could perform because we don't have congas… The only piece written without congas is the Cuban anthem! Now, in your presence, we had our first performances. The instruments are first-rate. We are so very happy!"
However, the most personal gift we brought with of us was weightless, shapeless, colorless, and could not be held — music. I wrote a short song, “Hola Amigos,” which we taught the audience at the beginning of each concert and sang together. It moved me to see the entire audience singing along, smiling and swaying from side to side.
Although our programs were comprised of western classical repertoire and our own compositions, some of the loudest applause came when we performed American folk tunes like “Yankee Doodle,” “Camptown Races,” “Oh Susanna,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Each time "Guantanamera" was announced as our encore, the audiences would sing along, sharing verse after verse.
After a performance at a church in Havana, the audience erupted in excitement. A man from the audience dashed into the sacristy, pulling out a conga and gesturing that he would join us. The entire church jumped into the performance, singing and dancing, and two nuns rocked it out as soloists.
There were some professional challenges, highlights for me being a performance on a five-octave, touch insensitive, pedal-less electronic keyboard, and the New York Steinway which I was so excited to see until I opened up the lid and discovered little piles of wood granules made by the termites that were devouring it.
Although the conditions were sometimes challenging, the solidarity we felt with our hosts encouraged us to make the most of every opportunity. They had invested their enthusiasm and energy in presenting us to their communities as ambassadors of goodwill. We noticed that at some performances the American flag was displayed alongside the Cuban flag. When a small town opened a public performance in the town square with the American national anthem, we were genuinely moved.
Throughout several decades of travels, we have marveled at centuries-old buildings which have withstood the rise and fall of empires. Just as each stone in these ancient structures was carefully placed into position in a way that would weather the turbulence of time, the strongest alliances between people and nations are carefully fostered by personal interactions.
During this international visit, we felt the telltale energy of the beginnings of true friendships. Perhaps it was just a single brick in a massive economic, political, and social building project, but we have experienced the power of music bridging cultures and we cherish this highly personalized opportunity to help rebuild the relationship between the United States and Cuba.
On the invitation of a consortium of Cuban citizens representing social, cultural, and religious communities, the acclaimed Borowsky musical family toured Cuba in January 2016 to foster social, cultural, and religious relations between the people of Cuba and the USA.
This was the family’s third visit since 2010. Concerts and meetings under the motto, "Music: The Best Bridge for All People," were held in Havana and Cienfuegos Province. Concerts were well-attended and enthusiastically received. The Borowskys also conducted master classes and performed jointly with a community orchestra. A special composition by the American Virtuosi, “Hola Amigos, Hello My Friends,” dedicated to the people of Cuba and performed at each concert, became an instant hit.
Their visit also resulted in plans for jointly renovating the music center in Cumanayagua, Cienfuegos Province, as well as an intended revisit of the directors to the USA. Dr. Borowsky was also interviewed by the Cuban Radio and press about the American Virtuosi and the function of music in the age of globalization and in international relations.
This type of visit may become a model for future social and cultural relations between the USA and Cuba. As Dr. Charles H.Borowsky summarized this innovating experience, "Indeed, music is the best bridge for all people, as our performances in over 90 countries, including Germany, the Baltic States, China, and Cuba have demonstrated. I strongly believe that our contributions to foster peaceful, friendly, and mutual beneficial relations between the people of the USA and Cuba also matter."
Hernandez Utrilla Yasleidy wrote in the City of Cumanayagua Weekly Report:
"The world knows them. The people embrace them. The Borowsky Family/American Virtuosi are more than universal. These five members carry in their blood an abundance of love for the arts and people. Their music unites hearts, opens doors, and makes the sun shine for everyone…. I've seen them and still feel the rhythm and melody of their music. That's great music. That's the music of their souls which inspires, uplifts, and motivates for a happy and productive life."
During their visit and joint concerts, the American and Cuban flags were displayed side-by-side, and the town bands performed the American national anthem.
Responses from the Cuban people:
PRIME: The long-awaited album of original compositions for violin, cello, and piano by the American Virtuosi is finally here! This CD includes Postcards from Dilsberg, Music from Around the World, HARDY, In Memoriam, These Three Remain, and Northern Lights. Their compositions have been praised by audiences around the world for their fresh harmonies and powerful messages.
JEWISH JOYS AND SORROWS: Music of Jewish and Yiddish origin for voice, harmonica, violin, cello, and piano!
CDs and MP3 downloads (iTunes, Amazon.com, etc) of both recordings will be available June 2014 - details will be announced here.
The internationally-acclaimed musical Borowsky Family, known also as “The American Virtuosi” (www.TheAmericanVirtuosi.com) toured the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – in May and June 2013. The tour theme was “Music, The Best Bridge for All People” with 24 concerts in major performance venues, universities, churches, synagogues, and community centers. They were also received and honored by public officials, including mayors, ministers of culture, rabbis, archbishops, and representatives of cultural and social organizations.
Their composition, In Memoriam was premiered at Pažaislis Muzikos Festivalis in Kaunas, Lithuania (the foremost Lithuanian summer music festival) and repeated in several other Lithuanian cities. Audiences and critics praised The American Virtuosi for their powerful presentation in honor of the victims of the Soviet and Nazi oppressions in the Baltic States. The emotionally-stirring performance brought the audience from tears to spontaneous standing ovation, also holding hands in tribute to the famed Singing Revolution.
The President of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, Simonas Gurevičius, expressed his gratitude for the concert in Vilnius: “Indeed, music is the best bridge for all people. It was an absolute privilege and honor for me to meet all of you and listen to your wonderful performance. You – The American Virtuosi – have made a tremendous contribution to inspire people to overcome prejudice against each other.”
The tour was organized under the auspices of Intermuse Performing Artists Bureau and the International Friends of Music Association, together with the U.S. Embassy of Estonia, the Joint Baltic American National Committee, and respective universities, cities, churches, and synagogues.
The internationally acclaimed Borowsky Musical Family visited and performed in Cuba as part of a Central American tour entitled “Music: the Best Bridge for All People.”
The family ensemble spent most of their time in Cuba in and around Havana. Their concert itinerary was aimed at helping improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Performances were held in churches, schools, and community centers, including the Catedral de San Cristobal, Convent and Church of Our Lady of Belen (for for over 1000 senior citizens), and Instituto Superior de Arte. People of all walks of life filled the halls to maximum capacity and rewarded the American Virtuosi with standing ovations and long-lasting applause.
Pablo, a 20-year-old student from the ISA concluded, "Indeed, music is the best bridge for all people...what a masterful performance.” Clara, the owner of a small private restaurant added, “I hope that they will return soon!”
The Borowskys performed music by European, American, and Cuban composers as well as their own compositions. When performing their own medley, "Music from Around the World” the audience joined them, singing and clapping enthusiastically. Emmanuel Borowsky performed the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto leaving the audience dumbfounded by the musical fireworks.
At each performance Dr. Charles Borowsky proclaimed: "We hope and pray that our performances for the people of Cuba have been not only an aesthetic experience but also an inspiration that all of us share one world, one dream and one family.”
In addition to concert performances, each member of the Borowsky ensemble gave a masterclass for their respective instrument. Their serious dedication to music was apparent by the high level of play each student presented.
Recent years have seen an increase in cultural exchanges between the United States and Cuba, partially due to the Obama administration's encouragement of "people-to-people" contact between the two countries.