The excellence, beauty and quality of the work of Tom Jobim, a leading figure of Brazilian popular music during the last century, performed by the Bossa Nova Sinfónico quintet together with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, provided a high degree of distinction to the opening gala of the 20th CUBADISCO International Festival.

The concert, in a packed Covarrubias Hall of the National Theater in Havana, saw performances of eight of the thirteen pieces included in the Bossa Nova Sinfónico’s album Recordando a Antonio C. Jobim, which the instrumentalists and a vocalist, all based in the United States, recorded live with the Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica. In 2014 the album was nominated for a Latin Grammy and won Best CD of the Year at the Brazilian Press Awards, in the United States.

The close-knit quintet, formed by singer Rose Max, guitarist Ramatís Moraes, bassist Jamie Ousley, pianist Michael Orta, and drummer Carlomagno Araya, traveled to the island with the conductor of the original concert, Jeremy Fox, who rehearsed together with the head of the Cuban National Symphony, maestro Enrique Pérez Mesa.

Speaking to GI, Pérez Mesa noted that Fox, author of the arrangements, had an interesting, harmonious and expanded concept of the fusion of the popular music of Jobim, which respected the symphonic sonorities.

Fox is a recognized musician who was also nominated at the 57th edition of the Grammys for the arrangements on “All My Tomorrows”, sung by Kate McGarry, featuring on his album With Love.

The members of the quintet, speaking to reporters prior to the concert, said they were impressed with the “sensational” sound of the Cuban Symphony, while maestro Pérez Mesa later added that the Orchestra is no stranger to Brazilian music as included in its repertoire are “Villa Lobos, Carlos Gomes, an excellent composer, and Vinicius de Moraes, besides having seen, for example, the presence of guitarist Toribio Santos, one of the pioneers of the guitar in Brazil.”

In the first part of the opening gala, Bossa Nova Sinfónico, togetherwith the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fox, performed eight songs, “Águas de Março”, “Chovendo Na Roseira”, “Corcovado”, “Insensatez”, “Retrato em Branco e Preto”, and a combination of “Samba de Uma Nota So”, “Chega de Saudade” and “Agua de Beber”. Antônio Carlos Brasileiro de Almeida Jobim’s (1927 -1994) “Garota de Ipanema” could not fail to be included, which as well as establishing the bossa nova genre, became one of the most recorded songs in the world, with some 240 versions.

Jobim’s songs have been successful around the world and the list of those who have recorded his pieces is impressive: Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Mina, Santana, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Jarreau and Pat Metheny.

A curious fact - Jobim recorded an album with Frank Sinatra in 1967 and managed to get the crooner to accept using his real name on the title: Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim.

In Havana, the quintet, together with the Symphony, was very well received and on the insistence of the audience, beyond the program, performed the popular piece “Carnaval de Brasil”.

In the blue room of the National Theater, singer Rose Max, having just left the stage, told GI that the concert had been an extraordinary experience and reiterated her belief that Brazil and Cuba have much in common, “especially the flavor of the music.”

The second part of the inaugural gala, dedicated to Cultural Diversity Day, saw performances by Cuban singer Raúl Torres, who did something similar by joining his group with the National Symphony, under the baton of chief conductor Enrique Pérez Mesa, to play seven pieces also made into symphony versions by the Cuban pianist and arranger Miguel Núñez: “l Pescador”, “Yo te amé”, “Niña de Misterio”, “El regreso del amigo” and “Frío”.

The now classic “Nítida fe” and “Se fue” (with extraordinary versions by Brazilian singer Simone) were performed by Torres in duet with the harmonious voice of Cuban Vania Borges.

The singer could not leave the stage without an encore, and it was with nothing less than the awe-inspiring “Candil de Nieve”, this time performed just with his own group.

The presence in Havana of the Bossa Nova Sinfónico quintet was made possible thanks to the efforts of TOCA Culture, a non-profit cultural organization based in Miami, “that promotes the visual and performing arts through cultural exchange and encounters throughout the Americas,” Director Robson Coccaro told reporters.

Following the concert in the Covarrubias Hall, Coccaro told GI that it was very emotional to witness the standing ovation the group received from the Cuban audience.

Despite being a Brazilian music project, all the artists live in the United States, he added, and so far have performed concerts in Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States and eastern Cuba, while their biggest dream is to perform in Río de Janeiro and São Paulo, which would be “a greater challenge.”

The 20th edition of the CUBADISCO International Festival (May 14-22) is devoted to popular music, and nominations have been announced for over one hundred musical productions: record label Producciones Colibri has 34 nominations, the Enterprise for Recordings and Musical Editions (EGREM) has 29, Bis Music has 25, Unicorniohasseven, while a number of foreign and independent labels are also nominated.

Among the nominees for special awards are the albums Tronco Viejo, by Dominican Johnny Ventura, Colección A guitarra limpia, by the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center, and the CD-DVD Umbrales, by the recently deceased National Music Prize winner, guitarist and composer Sergio Vitier.