Exactly in 2010 I first heard the chamber quintet Ventus Habana in a concert offered in the Minor Basilica of the Convent of St. Francis of Assyses. I was already founded for six years. Although the execution of each instrument seemed of high quality, the one that attracted my attention the most was the bassoon.
A few days later I find the group enlivening lunch in the portal-restaurant Santo Angel, located on the corner of the Old Square where the streets of Lieutenant Rey and San Ignacio converge. It aroused my curiosity that, despite the artistic elegance shown by the quintet, its execution was aimed at diners unins interested in the melodic carats they listened to.
He spent time and in the midst of the preparations for the gala for his foundation, I decide to interview its director, the master’s degree Alina del Carmen Blanco Puentes, whose group has continued to delight connoisseurs and ignorants for fifteen years, with a repertoire of Cuban international and popular cultured music, which is its hallmark.
Alina, how is the quintet born?
“The idea of forming the group arises as a student of the Higher Institute of Art. At that time, several companions and I agreed to form a female wind band to perform so-called cultured music after the race. In this way Ventus Habana was founded in January 2004 by young artists who have just graduated, all with a Golden Title.
“Initially, the group consisted of four instruments: clarinet, oboe, flute and bassoon. Soon after, a cornist joined and thus formed an original classical quintet with clarinet, oboe, flute, horn and bassoon, which is the current format of the group.
“Her composition has always been feminine; this type of format is not common in our medium. In addition to simplifying communication between its members, a female quintet draws more attention than a mixed grouping. It is currently made up of the flutist Lena Ross Cruz; Marlene Neira García (co-founder), oboe; Susana Venereo Martín, horn; Maray Viyella Claussel, clarinet; and I, who in addition to playing the bassoon, am the representative, utility, coordinator and director of the group.
“The elements that are considered to select a new member are, first of all, their human values, then their formal education and finally interpretive quality, which is paramount. Notice that I’ve ordered the choice requirements in three places, but in reality they all occupy one place. If only one of the trio is missing, the wannabe is rejected.”
In our environment the bassoon is not as common an instrument as piano and guitar are, that is why it is striking that you have dedicated to this musical instrument. Vocation? How did you decide to study it?
“No vocation! Life forced me. Actually, I wanted to be a dancer, I never thought of a musical instrument, but I was very fat. When I was in third grade my mom took me to the Pinar del Río School of Art and the dance teacher who received me, Mayda (I don’t remember her last name), told me I should lose weight. I promised her I was going on a diet, but I admit I only did it on the first day and I realized I couldn’t adapt to such a rigorous feeding regimen.”
Then by a purely dietary inconvenience you reach the bassoon.
“None of that! The story is a little more complicated. I never thought I’d go into bassoon. I’ll make it clear to you that I’m a pine forester. It happened that on the ground floor of my house I rehearsed the Lyric Choir of Pinar del Río (present-day Polyphonic Choir of Pinar del Río) because there lived a family that sang in that group and the son of that couple, Frank Silva, was provided as a preparer, during my vacation, to take the entrance exam in art school. At the time I was eleven years old and in fifth grade.
“I submitted for a free call, almost at the end of the exam period. I was accepted and the only deficit instrument at the time was the bassoon. There was no longer capacity in guitar, clarinet or flute courses, instruments I knew and liked. I had no choice but to begin the study of one that was totally unknown to me, but I was attracted to his name. I didn’t even know what it was like. Now, however, I wouldn’t trade it for any other.
“We were five students in that first year of study and I spent a month without manipulating the instrument, not even seeing it. Professor Jorge Alberto González first prepared us in the pipe1 and the tudel2. When I finally saw a bassoon… I confess I didn’t like it and started crying. Well, we all really started crying. Don’t laugh, remember I was only eleven.
“Thanks to the pedagogical mastery of Professor Jorge Alberto, who taught us to identify the bassoon in the musical background of American dolls – Tom and Jerry for example – and Russians, I began to like the bassoon. I was lucky enough to have a great teacher.
“From there I went to the National School of Art and graduated in 1994. I continued my studies at the ISA where I completed my career in 2003. Finally, I reached the master’s degree in 2012.”
In these fifteen years you’ve always run it?
“My companions choose me. They support me and don’t want me to stop, although sometimes I feel tired of directing. It is always necessary in any grouping a cohesive person, who organizes, plans, coordinates the presentations and directs their operation, someone who carries the baton and that task is not easy. You have to know the work you perform and my experience as the first bassoon of the Matanzas Symphony, directed by the teacher Elena Herrera, during my social service, has helped me a lot in this performance. Besides, I have to deal with each other’s problems and mine.
“When things don’t work out for me, I think I’m not ready yet. An artist’s life has its highs and lows, as happens to everyone, but the audience has nothing to know about your personal drawbacks. No one is to blame for the artist’s problems. When you’re wrong, crying or suffering, no one has to notice.
“I must point out that Ventus Habana has been a school for all of us. Also in the Holy Angel we have learned, without a doubt, to interpret a music for which we were not prepared. In this place we play since May 2004 for people with little or no taste for music, but the need forces. It was hard at first, but it was imperative to do it for a living. Concerts alone are not enough. We have to fight!
“With the time I have been in the restaurant I have discovered that this mode of work prepares you physically because you have to stand for several hours, helps you memorize and also shapes you culturally because you must interpret traditional Cuban popular music, despite not being the style of the quintet, but it is what the tourist asks for and this demand is new for a classic format set. A real challenge. Can you imagine the work that gave us to do it? But our music brings a lot of joy to the whole. Making a bass with bassoon is very difficult, only with a lot of practice did I achieve it.
“The elements that support the quintet’s performance are that the renowned conductor Ivan del Prado, who was conductor of the Opera and Ballet Orchestra of the Grand Theatre of Havana, whenever he needs wind calls the Ventus Habana, also having shared stages with the Chamber Quintet of the University of Alabama, with the assembly of the Orchestra of the Opera of Rouen Haute-Normandie of France , with the American violinist Erick Grossman, with the Schola Cantorum Coralina, with the Camerata Romeu and with the Havana Chamber Orchestra, among others.
“In the religious sphere, Ventus Habana has played in Havana Cathedral with organist Moisés Santiesteban, in the Cathedral of Matanzas, in the Christ of the Good Journey, in the Holy Spirit and in St. Francis of Assyses (during Mozart Havana), also in the Seminary San Carlos and San Ambrosio, in the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center… In addition, we have provided our art in Cáritas Habana and Cáritas Cuba.
“I must add that in 2008 the work Sopra was premiered the French Monica of ancient music, composed for bassoon and organ, where I was a soloist with the teacher Ileana García, recognized specialist in harmony, at the Methodist Church of Luyanó. I was also a soloist at franz Danzi’s premiere of the C major concerto for bassoon and orchestra with the Ensemble Solos chamber orchestra in Havana at the Minor Basilica of St. Francis of Asses.
“I confess that I feel recognized for my work as an elementary and middle level teacher at the National School of Art for the lauros obtained by my students in various presentations. I clarify that I love all students, but I like working better with those with technical impairments. I’ve been working at that centre since 2003.”
Institutional support in these fifteen years?
“None! However, in recent months we have received some support from the National Concert Music Center in terms of uniforms and promotion, which is still insufficient. In order for you to get an idea of the actual cost of a quintet presentation, I must tell you that the gala suits cost 50 CUC and up to 80 CUC raises the capital repair of any of the instruments. There is no help in terms of springs, slippers, lubricants, etc.”
“Lots of them. First of all, continue to overcome me, continue the work as a teacher in the ENA and, of course, do not stop enlivening the lunches of the Holy Angel… to weigh, as they say, though I like the word amenize more. Also in 2020 we will record an album with Bis Music of Cuban music unreleased for our format, because it is the label of Ventus Habana, as I told you, and I intend to do it, in addition, with guest musicians”.
Would you give up what you do for undertaking another, better-paid activity?
“No, I wouldn’t give up what I’m doing for going to try my luck at another activity. But I confess that as a spiritual completeness I would like to dedicate myself to the protection of animals, I love them, and if I ever left my profession for any reason, then I would devote myself full time to this protective activity even without remuneration. I feel sorry for the suffering of stray dogs and cats, as well as for those others who are not well treated by their owners.”
They start to occupy the tables with hungry tourists… “I must go to work,” Alina warns me. That’s how the interview concludes.
The girls collect their instruments and begin to interpret the music requested by the foreign visitor. I want to continue sitting and have lunch listening to the exquisite interpretation of the group, but I cannot give myself that pleasure, even if I have been increased the salary of university professor, it is still insufficient for the letter of this site.
I leave the establishment, through the Old Square and despite the distance I am chased by the high-carat music of the Ventus Habana quintet performed for diners uninterested in the melody that surrounds them.
It also cymbras in my spirit as a lament the phrase “You have to fight!” by Alina. Ω
1 Cañita: it is where the artist blows, it is made by the performer himself.
2 Tudel or mouth: is a metal duct half a centimeter in diameter that joins the pipe with the body of the instrument.
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