Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cuban pianist Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera and wife bring their native music to U.S.

 Cuban-born pianist Nachito Herrera 
has four albums of his own and has contributed to many more.

Front, from left, National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba conductor Enrique Pérez Mesa, composer and guest conductor Guido Lopez-Gavilan and pianist Nachito Herrera take a bow during the orchestra’s first-ever U.S. tour.
Photo courtesy Phil Lem

Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 9:00 am 
Updated: 9:18 am, Wed Nov 28, 2012.
by Kristine Goodrich/Editor 

More than 30 years after the 12-year-old piano prodigy performed with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera and his manager wife recently brought the famed orchestra to the U.S. for the first time. The Cuban couple, who now call White Bear Lake home, soon will return to Cuba where Nachito will perform with and record an album with a jazz band they formed. They hope to bring the band for a U.S. tour next year.

The pianist, who has performed internationally and locally, has four albums of his own and has contributed to dozens more, and advises student musicians at a St. Paul music school. He’s won four Minnesota Music Awards and is a two-time Grammy nominee. Last winter he was the first Cuban musician to receive an American Heritage Award from the American Immigration Council.

Both his parents were pianists.The Havana native started piano study at age 7; by age 12 he was playing Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2 with the national orchestra. After earning a master’s degree from a notable arts school, Herrera became musical director of the famed Tropicana Club and later toured internationally with the Cubanismo jazz band.

An artist-in-residency with the Dakota Jazz Education Foundation brought the Cuban pianist to Minnesota in 2001. His family came a year later — delayed by the terrorist attacks. They decided to stay and now are American citizens.
His wife, Aurora, is his business manager. “She does all the hard work,” he says, including scheduling, travel arrangements and other logistics.

His daughter, Mirdalys, 22, has sung with her father and with the Minnesota Youth Symphony, but now is in the ROTC program at the University of Minnesota and hopes to go on to law school. Son David, 19, attends Century College and aspires for a career in business or marketing.

When he’s not touring, Herrera is a regular at the Dakota Jazz Club (his next gig there is Nov. 30). Two of his albums were recorded there live. He’s also still involved in the club’s foundation, which provides educational and performance opportunities for young artists.

For more than a decade he also has worked as a teacher and advisor at the MacPhail Center for Music. He primarily helps advanced musicians seeking admission to premier post-secondary music schools. “It’s real rewarding helping them make their dreams come true,” he said.

Last summer Herrera toured solo, mostly on the West Coast, in a series he called “Alone with my piano.”

 In 2009 Herrera toured with the Afro-Cuban All Stars, a prominent Cuban band. Aurora helped facilitate the visit — the first Cuban group to come after the U.S. government started easing visa restrictions to allow Cuban artists in.

The Herreras started working soon thereafter to bring the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba here, as well. “This has been our dream for many years,” Nachito said. He has known many of the members of the more than 70-piece orchestra since they started music school together as children.

The orchestra played 21 shows across the country from mid-October to mid-November. To the Herreras’ disappointment, it couldn’t stop in Minnesota because Orchestra Hall is under construction. They hope to bring the orchestra back next year for another tour and to record an album.

In a few weeks the Herreras will go to Cuba where they’ll bring together 17 artists. They’ll perform at the Havana International Jazz Festival and will record an album they hope to release in early 2013. They hope to bring the group for a U.S. tour next year.

The Herreras also are working to start a foundation supporting opportunities to expose young local musicians to Cuban music and culture. One goal is a student exchange program between their two countries.


JG: I was privileged and happy to see "Nachito" and Cuba's National Symphony Orchestra, when they performed their historical concert in St. Petersburg, Florida, on November 7th, 2012.  

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