Ricardo Morales played a new Clarinet Concerto by Aldo López-Gavilán

By Peter Alexander Jan 8 at 12:15 a.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra and renowned clarinetist Ricardo Morales presented the world premiere of a concerto by Cuban composer Aldo López-Gavilán yesterday afternoon (Jan. 7) in Macky Auditorium. Michael Butterman conducted.

Ricardo Morales

Principal clarinet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Morales is one of the most distinguished clarinet soloists today. His performance of López-Gavilán’s concerto—a work at times dreamy, quirky, playful and jazzy—had all the hallmarks of a top-rate performance. His fluid, resonant tone was captivating, and he was fully equal to the fiercely virtuosic passages of the scampering final movement. The Boulder Phil has a record of bringing notable soloists to Macky Auditorium, but none will exceed Morales for flair and artistry. (Disclosure: as a clarinetist I was delighted to hear Morales in person.)

The concerto unfolds in a traditional three-movement format. The first starts with pensive lines floating above the orchestra before settling into oddly off-beat rhythms in the orchestra. The movement proceeded energetically, even when the tumbling lines of the solo part were not clearly audible above the orchestra. These roulades colored the music without leaving a memorable imprint.

The second movement began as a mildly jazzy lullaby in which Morales’s velvety sound perfectly fit the music’s mood. Later, the soloist offered flitting, bird-like decoration over a gentle ebb and flow in the orchestral strings.

The final movement emerged suddenly with playful, romping rhythms that featured the clarinet at its best: brilliant, jaunty, scampering here and there with abandon. This frisky material was interrupted by a contrasting passage with a lazy clarinet line accompanied by pinging mallet percussion. As soon as the listener got into that calmer mood, the scampers began again, skipping to a breakneck finish.

Under Butterman’s firm direction, the Phil made a strong case for López-Gavilán’s music. This is a concerto that should be welcomed by all clarinetists. It will please audiences with its varied moods and overall good nature, while the soloist has opportunities for both gentle expression and virtuoso flourishes.

Also López-Gavilán

The concerto was paired on the first half of the program with López-Gavilán’s three-movement piano concerto, titled Emporium, with the composer as soloist. A work that López-Gavilán and the Phil presented here in 2019, it was nevertheless welcome again. First begun as a birthday gift for López-Gavilán’s twin daughters’ ninth birthday, it is a gently ingratiating piece rather than a heroic concerto in the Romantic mold.

López-Gavilán was an ideal soloist, both in his command of the various classical, Afro-Cuban, jazz  and even church-hymn elements of the score, and in his evident devotion to the music. I particularly enjoyed the middle movement, which featured ominous drum rolls and eerie chords—a scary story for López-Gavilán’s girls?—that resolves safely into a hymn that almost sounds familiar before settling into sweet and comforting material. That benediction suddenly sweeps into full chords as the boisterous finale busts forth. Here I imagine that the children have awakened with energy.

It was in this movement that López-Gavilán showed his formidable technique. A cadenza-like passage leads to a grandiose finish. Once again the orchestra performed admirably, especially the solid, punctuating chords of the finale. Butterman apologized for bringing Emporium back to Macky again so soon, but the audience embraced the return enthusiastically.

The concert concluded with a somewhat subdued performance of Mussorgsky’s much-loved Pictures at an Exhibition in the familiar Ravel orchestration. After a brisk opening promenade in the solo trumpet, the character and mood of each picture—from the “Old Castle” with its saxophone minstrel, to the romping children of the “Tuileries,” to the lumbering oxcart “Bydlo, and on to the concluding “Great Gate of Kiev”—was carefully attended to.

Too carefully? The performance seemed restrained. The individual solos were generally well played by the Phil’s first-rate players, especially the woodwinds, and the contrasts between pictures were well delineated. I would single out the saxophone solo, and the flittering woodwinds in the “Tuileries” and “Unhatched Chicks” for special praise.

But the Macky stage cannot hold an orchestra large enough to provide the full impact of the “Great Gate,” even with strong brass and staunch percussion sections. “Baba Yaga’s Hut,” with its percussion blows and emphatic chords, was a fierce highpoint of the performance, but elsewhere more was wanted.


Original article appeared at:


Recording of performances will be Phil’s first commercial release

By Peter Alexander Jan. 4 at 7:40 p.m.

The Boulder Philharmonic welcomes two guest artists from Caribbean islands for their concert Sunday (4 p.m. Jan. 7, Macky Auditorium)‚ composer/pianist Aldo López-Gavilán from Cuba and clarinetist Ricardo Morales from Puerto Rico.

Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra in Macky Auditorium

Morales will play the world premiere of the Clarinet Concerto by López-Gavilán, who will also reprise his Emporium for piano and orchestra, which he played with the Phil in 2019. Completing the program will be Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in the familiar Ravel orchestration.

And in a first for the orchestra, portions of the program—the pieces by López-Gavilán—will be recorded for commercial release on the Reference Recordings label. Both the dress rehearsal and the performance will be recorded, with a make-up session afterward to patch any problems in the live recordings.

The full recording will feature both the Clarinet Concerto and Emporium, and additional solo performances by López-Gavilán. Conductor Michael Butterman says that “early fall of 2024 would be a likely target date” for the recording to be released.

Aldo López-Gavilán

Butterman first encountered López-Gavilán’s music when he heard a performance of Emporium on the NPR program “Performance Today.” That show has been one of his favorite sources for music he might not otherwise hear. “If it were not for that radio program, I don’t know what I would ever conduct,” he says, laughing.

“In 2018 I heard this amazingly interesting (music). It was one of those moments where you get to where you’re going and well, ‘I’m not going in now because I have to figure out what this is!’” Once he learned the title and the composer, he contacted López-Gavilán’s US management and arranged for him to play Emporium with the Phil the very next season.

That performance was so successful that Butterman started thinking of other ways to promote López-Gavilán’s music. “As soon as we had that success in 2019, the then-executive director and I got together and said, ‘this is a piece that really deserves to be heard.’ (I asked) could we figure out a way to record it with him?

“I knew that he had been writing a clarinet concerto, for his cousin in Cuba, and so the idea of putting them together has been in my mind for at least three years now. And I’m glad that we’re finally able to do it!”

López-Gavilán brings an interesting mix of jazz and classical background to his music. The son of a conductor and pianist, he grew up surrounded by classical music, but he also was drawn to the Afro-Cuban jazz he heard in his homeland. He performs in both realms.

He began Emporium as a gift for his twin daughters. “The whole thing is based on a theme that I dedicated to my daughters for their birthday, when they were nine,” he wrote in program notes. “I improvised this theme in the middle of the night, just to give them a surprise. Later, I started to play what would be the first movement with my jazz trio.

“Later on, I decided to orchestrate it [as a concerto], because I was invited . . . to perform at Classical Tahoe. You find that main theme from the first movement throughout the entire work, but with variations.”

Butterman says that the title Emporium evokes “a retail establishment with little bit of everything. I think Aldo’s use of that title reflects  that he is drawing on all sorts of influences in his musical life—classical music, Afro-Cuban jazz, more traditional jazz, and so on. It has a great deal of organic unity, however. He has a theme that he presents near the beginning that is used throughout, and so while it is eclectic, it’s not without a binding thread.”

Ricardo Morales

The Clarinet Concerto is written for a chamber orchestra, rather than the full Romantic orchestra of Emporium: single winds, horn and trumpet, plus fairly extensive percussion. As Butterman describes the style, “the outer movements are rhythmically complex, and it gets jazzy. The second movement is more lyrical and starts slowly but gets quicker.

“There’s lots of opportunities for the clarinetist to do pitch-bending [and] the sorts of jazz-derived inflections that you might expect in a concerto by somebody that has so much jazz background. It feels very Latin, very Cuban, especially the last movement.”

The soloist, Ricardo Morales is from a neighboring island to Cuba, Puerto Rico, but Butterman says that’s not why he is the guest for this concert. “He’s perhaps that best clarinetist in the world right now,” he says. “And he’s a charming guy, too!”

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition hardly needs an introduction to classical music audiences. It was written in 1874 as a piano piece to honor the artist and designer Viktor Hartmann, a friend of Mussorgsky who had died suddenly at the age of 39. Each movement was inspired by a painting by Hartmann included in a memorial show of his works. Later the highly virtuosic piano score was arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel, creating one of the most colorful and popular pieces in the symphonic repertoire.

# # # # #

“Vignettes and Promenades”
Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, Michael Butterman, conductor
With Aldo López-Gavilán, piano, and Ricardo Morales, clarinet

  • López-Gavilán: Clarinet Concerto (world premiere)
  • Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, arr. Ravel

4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7
Macky Auditorium

Aldo López-Gavilán and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra: Two nights to remember.

Graffiti News / Published: November 6th, 2023.

Milwaukee, WI — The city of Milwaukee was treated to a musical extravaganza as Cuban pianist and composer Aldo López-Gavilán graced the stage alongside the renowned Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO). The two collaborative performances, held at the historic venue last November 3rd and 4th, left the audience in awe and reaffirmed the power of music to transcend borders and cultures.

Aldo López-Gavilán: A Cuban Virtuoso

Aldo López-Gavilán is no stranger to the world stage, having earned international acclaim for his exceptional piano skills and innovative compositions. Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, López-Gavilán hails from a family deeply immersed in music, and his upbringing infused his artistry with a rich blend of Cuban rhythms, classical training, and jazz improvisation.

A Musical Fusion Like No Other

In the program of this concert, Aldo López-Gavilán took the stage to perform his own composition, “Emporium,” a piano concerto that draws inspiration from the worlds of jazz and Cuban culture. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus, led by Music Director Ken-David Masur, joined forces with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) for a vibrant rendition of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. This magnificent work featured echoes of the famous “Ode to Joy” and provided moments for both the chorus and the solo piano, expertly played by López-Gavilán, to shine. During these moments, López-Gavilán’s piano mastery commanded the spotlight as his fingers gracefully danced across the keys, leaving the audience enraptured by the intricate melodies and delightful improvisations.

The concert also included the overture to Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, as well as his cantata “Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage,” which gives voice to two nautical poems by Goethe – “Already I see land!”

Enthusiastic Audience Reception

The concert drew a diverse and enthusiastic crowd, reflecting the universal appeal of López-Gavilán’s music. Attendees were clearly moved by the power of Emporium’s contagious and powerful melody had the concert hall echoed with thunderous applause. It was evident that the performance struck a chord with this audience, as the fusion of Cuban and classical music resonated deeply with both seasoned classical music enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

Aldo López-Gavilán’s Musical Vision

Aldo López-Gavilán’s collaboration with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is a testament to the power of music to bridge cultural divides and create a shared, transcendent experience. His ability to seamlessly blend genres and showcase the beauty of both Cuban and classical music is a testament to his virtuosity as a musician and composer.

Looking Ahead

As the final notes of the concert filled the air, the standing ovation that followed was a clear indication of the audience’s appreciation for the extraordinary talent of Aldo López-Gavilán and the exceptional musicianship of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This musical partnership serves as a reminder of the magic that happens when diverse musical traditions come together in harmony.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s collaboration with Aldo López-Gavilán will undoubtedly be remembered as a highlight of the city’s cultural calendar. As music lovers eagerly anticipate future performances, the echoes of this remarkable evening will continue to resonate, serving as a testament to the enduring power of music to inspire, unite, and elevate the human spirit.

Aldo with  Ken-David Masur

Aldo´s commissioned work ” Oceans to Cross” to have its world premier in Arkansas next January 20th

Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA) Season Unveils Exciting Premieres and Timeless Classics

Prepare to be enchanted as the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas (SoNA) embarks on an extraordinary musical journey with its 2023-24 MainStage Season. Showcasing a blend of premieres and timeless classics, this season promises to captivate audiences and elevate the cultural landscape of the region.

Kicking off the season on September 23rd at 7:30 p.m., the orchestra will be under the masterful baton of Music Director Paul Haas. The evening’s program opens with the spirited rhythm of Leonard Bernstein’s iconic “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.” The rich tapestry of melodies will take the audience on a compelling exploration of the human experience, showcasing the orchestra’s exceptional range and versatility.

Continuing the journey, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 will envelop listeners in lush harmonies and soaring melodies. Haas’s interpretation will breathe new life into this Romantic masterpiece, offering a profound connection between the music and the hearts of the audience.

However, the highlights of the season do not stop there. An event of unprecedented significance awaits on January 20th, 7:30 p.m., at Baum Walker Hall in Fayetteville’s Walton Arts Center. Pianist Lara Downes, a luminary in the world of classical music, will take center stage as the soloist for SoNA’s first-ever commissioned piano concerto.

Aldo López-Gavilán’s “Oceans to Cross” is a musical tapestry specially woven for Downes, and it will receive its world premiere during this breathtaking performance. This momentous occasion marks the convergence of artistic brilliance, as the synergy between composer and soloist unfolds through intricate melodies and masterful piano techniques.

The evening’s program gains further depth with Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1, a monumental work that showcases Barber’s prowess as a symphonist. The symphony’s emotional depth and melodic richness will resonate deeply with the audience, solidifying its place as an integral part of this remarkable performance.

Additionally, the “Negro Folk Symphony” by William Dawson adds a distinctive layer to the concert’s narrative. This symphony masterfully weaves together elements of African American musical heritage, creating a soundscape that celebrates cultural diversity and unity.

Under the guiding hand of Paul Haas, the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas continues to push the boundaries of artistic expression while honoring the traditions that have shaped the world of classical music. The 2023-24 MainStage Season promises to be a transformative experience, inviting audiences to immerse themselves in the power of music’s language and connect with the emotions it evokes.

As the orchestra prepares to enthrall music enthusiasts and newcomers alike, make sure to secure your tickets early and be part of these unforgettable musical moments. The Symphony of Northwest Arkansas is poised to redefine the cultural landscape of the region and inspire generations to come.


Tickets for the event can be purchased at:

Aldo invited to “Hollywood Concert”

The Marti Theater in Havana will proudly showcase an extraordinary musical spectacle next Sunday, May 28th. Prepare to be captivated as the timeless melodies of renowned composers such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Alan Anthony Silvestri, Alexandre Desplat, and more, fill the air. These masterpieces have left an indelible mark on the cinematic world, gracing the soundtracks of numerous beloved films.

Under the masterful direction of Daiana Garcia, the essence of classical music will intertwine seamlessly with the projection of enchanting film excerpts. Witness a harmonious fusion of sight and sound that will transport you to captivating cinematic realms.

Joining this exceptional ensemble, the virtuosic pianist Aldo Lopez-Gavilan, the accomplished clarinetist Alejandro Calzadilla, and the talented wind instrumentalists from the National Symphony Orchestra will grace the stage. Adding to the grandeur, the esteemed Entrevoces Choir, under the guidance of Maestra Digna Guerra, will lend their angelic voices to this extraordinary performance.

Enhancing the musical production and orchestrations, the Havana Chamber Orchestra proudly collaborates with the distinguished composer, pianist, and arranger, Jose Victor “Pepe” Gavilondo. Together, they will weave a tapestry of melodies that will leave you spellbound.

Be prepared for an unforgettable evening of musical brilliance, where the Marti Theater will come alive with the symphonic prowess of these remarkable artists.

Gavilán Brothers Gallivant

JULY 11, 2022
by Stephen Martorella

The Gavilán Brothers, violinist Ilmar with pianist and composer Aldo-López led a fascinating musical odyssey. PBS has just released a film about the brothers called Hermanos (Brothers) who were separated for decades because of the political situation in Cuba and only recently reunited to perform and record together for the first time, arrived in the Breakers on Saturday.

Aldo opened with a World Premiere. Newport commissioned American composer Shawn e. Okpebholo for a piece that reflected some of the history surrounding historic Rhode Island, and that would speak to our time. The result, Okpebholo’s Crooked Shanks, develops a tune of the same name composed in the mid 1700’s by a former slave, Newport Gardner, who resided in Newport. Gardner was born Occramer Marycoo, possibly from Sierra Leone, and at age 14 transported and sold as a slave to Newport ship captain Caleb Gardner, who gave the young Occramer the name Newport, and legally adapted the family name as his own. Gardner was trained in English, French, and music. He purchased his freedom in 1791 and obtain a home in Newport, where he became a music instructor. He composed several tunes, of which Crooked Shanks appeared in books of English dancing-tunes as early as 1768. For more on Newport Gardner click here.

Okpebholo’s free adaptation of Gardner’s tune produced a tone-poem of immense beauty infused with Afro-Cuban flavorings. It was written specifically for Aldo López Gavilán, who performed it with sensitivity and dynamic energy. The Crooked Shanks tune was not easily identified, as its original conception as a dancing tune in 6/8 time was never present. Only the notes of the theme were hinted at, gradually rising out of an impressionistic mist, perhaps reminiscent of a heavy fog out at sea, gradually emerging in the dawn. After a long dramatic pause, the second section began with a primal, rhythmic coursing, evoking in spirit something like Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro but using Afro-American and Cuban infused rhythms, some associated with ‘rag-time’ music, and building in speed and intensity. Some of the phrases took on an improvisatory character, while others became more and more chromatic, until all settled back into the dreamy mists of the opening.

Aldo’s compositions performed by his brother Ilmar on violin and himself on piano formed the balance of the concert. Many of the romantic and nostalgic,  themes recalled bygone and heady days of Havana, at times the writing becoming expansive and sweeping, at other times energetic and virtuosic, infused with the timeless rhythms of African inspired Cuban dances and folk music. Aldo is completely at home in both jazz and classical idioms, and a skilled jazz improviser with an impressive technique, all of which fused into the compositions, while Ilmar’s soaring violin rose above the fray with memorable melodies, and at times the brothers executed very rapid passages in unison with exacting precision.

A few songs deserve special mention, Caipiriñame brought us not only the rhythm of Cuba but also of Brazil and the Bossa Nova, with an extended and brilliant piano solo, while Eclypse was an intimate slow jazz ballade incorporating improvisatory elements interwoven within its poignant themes, an expression of the separation the brothers had to endure for a significant part of their lives. Related to that was the song Hermanos, which is also the title of the PBS film about the brothers and the title of their debut album as a duet. Ilmar described this piece as “intimate and soulful.”

Quick Tune contained rhumba rhythms underlying virtuosic violin writing and an exciting toccata-like piano solo, culminating in a unison tour de force finish. This earned one of many standing ovations the brothers received throughout the evening. Several of the works told stories. Momo’s Tale was inspired by a little girl who brought stolen time back, from a children’s novel by German writer Michael Ende, while Viernes de Cuidad depicted a day in London, starting in a Middle Eastern district at dawn, with themes and sounds reflecting the sounds of Persian instruments, which included strumming the fingers across the bass strings with an open pedal to create the sound of a santur (the Middle Eastern equivalent of the hammered dulcimer). Suddenly we find us at midday dancing in the streets of an Irish quarter, and the day concludes with all the bustle of a cosmopolitan city, ending in the pubs of London to the sounds of tunes recalling the Beatles.

The closer, Pan con Timba (Bread with Whatever), offes a humorous look at Cuba today, with remembrances of Old Havana and the unique, complex, and iconic rhythm of Cuban son and salsa music called tumbao. All combined to create an evening of unforgettable memories and melodies.

Original Article appears on:

Gavilán Brothers Gallivant

Aldo’s new work “90 miles” debuts in Carnegie Hall

Review: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Troy Chromatics
Feb. 19th, 2022

TROY — The revered Orpheus Chamber Orchestra made a return appearance with the Troy Chromatics on Friday night and brought along a different kind of soloist – Arturo Sandoval, the legendary jazz trumpeter, band leader and composer. He seemed more than at home in this classical setting and was onstage most of the night playing his own compositions.

Trumpeters don’t tease and Sandoval’s first note was as powerful as anything else in the program. Fast and brilliant flourishes and that all-encompassing sound launched his Trumpet Concerto No. 2, in its American premiere. Across its three movements Sandoval delivered vibrant highs and gracious melodies. Bits of the tunes and the character of the orchestrations brought to mind Hollywood soundtracks as diverse as “Gone with the Wind”, ”E.T.” and “Jurassic Park.” Nothing wrong with that.

Sandoval was more subdued, seductive even, in the Johnny Mandel song “A Time for Love.” In one of numerous asides to the audience, he described the just finished performance as “feeling like a fish in nice warm water.” After that came“ Every Day I Think of You,” Sandoval’s tribute to his mentor Dizzy Gillespie, which had him singing more than playing. It’s a tender and sincere ballad with lyrics that boarder on the romantic.

Gershwin’s Cuban Overture opened the program and showcased the 25-piece Orpheus playing with characteristic ease and elegance plus some Latin style. The same goes for Ernesto Lecuona’s “Andalucia,” during the concert’s second half. Yet the charm and dark flavor of the suite of six dances wore off about halfway through.

As a finale, contemporary Cuban composer Aldo Lopez-Gavilan’s “90 Miles” was a fresh and lively take on the mambo, that included sighs and shouts from the players. It had lots of tight and knotty solos tailor-made for Sandoval, who spent the orchestral passages swaying about. The piece was commissioned for the program, which plays at Carnegie Hall on Saturday.

For the encore, Sandoval joined the percussion section in the rollicking good fun of “El Cumanchero,” a staple of Latin music. Bassist Gregg August, who grew up in Schenectady and teaches at Williams College, arranged the encore, concerto and songs.

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.
Concert review
Arturo Sandoval, trumpet
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Presented by Troy Chromatics Concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Length: Two hours; one intermission


Original article on: https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Review-Orpheus-Chamber-Orchestra-Troy-Chromatics-16932305.php

Aldo López-Gavilán returns to Carnegie Hall with resounding success.

New York, NY, February 20 2022.

The talented Cuban pianist and composer Aldo López-Gavilán had his second debut last night at Carnegie Hall, the legendary New York concert hall.

The first had been as a pianist and composer, when he performed at the Zanke Hall in 2012, as part of the Voices from Latin America festival where, accompanied by his band, he performed several of his own works.

His return, now as a composer and in the majestic Stern Auditorium of this theater, has been no less notable.

With his work “90 miles”, an afro-mambo that was commissioned by the prestigious Orpheus Orchestra for its opening concert with the renowned Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, López-Gavilán, seduced both the musicians who performed it and the audience present, who rewarded him with a standing ovation and heartfelt applause.

Aldo, who traveled to New York a few days before his next concerts in the US to be able to participate in this very special night, was requested on stage at the end of the recital and from there he thanked maestro Sandoval and the musicians of the orchestra for an impeccable interpretation of his work and of the others that were part of the program.

The Cuban musician’s upcoming performances include concerts with the Harlem Quartet at the Saint Thomas and Saint Johns in the Virgin Islands, Akron, OH, Lincoln, NE, and with renowned US orchestras in various cities such as Pasadena, CA, North Bethesda, MD, Shreveport, LA, among others.


Aldo López-Gavilán’s Personal Fusion of Classical and Jazz Comes to Napa

Aldo López-Gavilán

Jeff Kaliss on July 20, 2021

When we connected with Cuban pianist-composer Aldo López-Gavilán last week, he was being driven by his local host, arts patron Rick Swig, to a rehearsal for Festival Napa Valley’s Novack Concert for Kids, at an amphitheater at the Culinary Institute of America’s Copia site in downtown Napa. López-Gavilán, featured at the festival over several years and in more of this year’s events, would be performing three winning compositions by Napa Valley public school teens and would also accompany the young audience’s experience of composer-vocalist Nia Imani Franklin, a former Miss America, singing Puccini’s “Quando m’en vo.”

The 41-year-old Havana resident is well acquainted with the delights of youthful exposure to music. Raised in Cuba by esteemed conductor Guido López-Gavilán and the late concert pianist Teresita Junco, alongside his 6-year-older brother and violinist Ilmar, young Aldo started chording on the family piano at age 4 and began studying music in school, as is the case with many Cubans, at 7. A Danny Kaye International Children’s Award, created by UNICEF, had him performing an original composition in Holland when he was 11, and the next year he made his professional debut on piano with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Matanzas.

López-Gavilán matured his improvisational skills alongside his classical studies and appeared at the Havana International Jazz Festival; he was declared “simply a genius, a star” by Cuban jazz titan Chucho Valdés. López-Gavilán has recorded a half-dozen albums covering his multi-genre repertoire and has toured globally, sometimes in the company of the Harlem String Quartet, where his brother Ilmar is principal violinist. His infectious exuberance and romanticism are showcased in both his compositions and in performances of his and others’ works.

The longed-for reunion of Aldo with Ilmar, who has long lived in New York, is celebrated in the documentary film Los Hermanos, directed by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider and screened as part of Festival Napa Valley, as well as earlier this year by San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. It will be seen on PBS stations in September. López-Gavilán is fluent in English, some accent and idiosyncratic usage extant.

I understand you’ll be doing a Q&A with the kids following the music today. They might be a bit curious about, and envious of, your early start in Cuba.

I guess that’s true, though I know you have music schools for kids.

When Rick and I were kids, we had more in the way of music education in our public schools. Now we have the wonderful Crowden School in Berkeley and the pre-college program at the San Francisco Conservatory, but they’re both private. Is it public in Cuba?

Absolutely. In Cuba, there are zero private schools.

Some Cuban musicians I’ve interviewed told me that though Western classical music was maintained after the communists took control in 1959, that other genres, like American jazz and pop, were repressed or discouraged in your country.

Those musicians were probably referring to the time before I was born. I’ve been able to be surrounded by all kinds of music, including hip-hop. But in Cuba, jazz is way more popular than many other genres of American music, especially because of the [Havana Jazz] Festival running every year [inaugurated in 1978]. And there are fusions with Cuban dance forms, and other styles.

You appeared at that festival with Chucho Valdés. Wow! Were you onstage with him?

I was 14, and we actually had a two-piano duet, with members of the legendary band Irakere [founded by Valdés in 1973]. And I performed, together with Chucho, one of my earlier compositions, called “Black Magic.”

Early on, did you find yourself composing in classical forms or jazz or some kind of fusion?

It was a combination. In general, my way of composing has a lot to do with improvisation, with jazz techniques and phrasing, harmonies. But the structure is somewhat close to concert music, meaning it has solid classic structure. It’s all written down, and it should be played as written. But when I’m performing, there are substantial parts with improvisation. [He’s also improvised during Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.]

Can we talk about your piece Emporium, which you’re performing later here, with Festival Orchestra Napa? Tell me about the piece and how it sits within the genres.

Let’s start by saying that this is a piano concerto, with full orchestra and piano solo and the classic structure: three movements. But of course, it’s very influenced by jazz and by Cuban and African culture. The whole thing is based on a theme that I dedicated to my daughters [Adriana and Andrea, with his wife, conductor Daiana Garcia] for their birthday, when they were 9. I improvised this theme [formed on an alluring rippling ninth chord] in the middle of the night, just to give them a surprise. [Adriana and Andrea both won the top award last year in the Pequeño Pianista category of the inaugural Concurso Latinoamericano de Piano.] Later, I started to play what would be the first movement with my jazz trio. It was more like a jazz-structured piece, where I could play the theme, then improvise around that. Later on, I decided to orchestrate it [as a concerto], because I was invited by the late great conductor Joel Revzen to perform at Classical Tahoe [in 2017, where López-Gavilán also appeared with Joshua Bell and in jazz settings]. You find that main theme from the first movement throughout the whole entire work, but with variations. I didn’t tell you that my daughters are twins, so they are always told that they’re so alike, but in a lot of details they are very personalized, and I tried to achieve that in my work.

Do tell us more. Will this piece be recorded?

We are planning to record it properly next year. The second movement is more lyrical, it tries to blend two different styles that I think are connected. One is the Black church music, like spirituals, the other is what we call in Cuba the vieja trova tradicional, beautiful romantic songs with amazing poetic lyrics, always describing love and beauty. I tried to embrace the idea of uniting the cultures. The final movement has more dramatic, unsettling rhythms, changing keys, more jazz elements [and reggaeton]. It’s very exciting but also carries the beautiful things from the first movement.

Any place for Cuban percussion in the orchestra?

There is not. I try hard to make it more universal. That’s one of the goals of my career: to not try to impose my culture over the true message you want to send, which is the beauty and deepness of emotional and spiritual language.

And the love of family seems a standard for you. Last night, the Festival presented the movie about you and your brother Ilmar, Los Hermanos. For those of us who haven’t seen it yet, tell us a bit about it and your take on it.

First of all, I’m very happy that the film was shown here, in the Cameo Cinema [in St. Helena]. I want to especially give thanks to my friend Rick Swig, who was the mind behind this. It’s hard for me to describe, because it’s about me and my family, but it’s basically about love to the family, love to music. And it describes many events of our lives, and how we got to reunite in the U.S., to tour and perform in different cities of this country, with my brother and the Harlem Quartet.

Were you two separated for a long time?

He went to study his violin in Russia when he was 14 years old and I was only 8, so he left home. Then he studied in Madrid, then came to California, and he finished his studies at the Manhattan School of Music. He basically stayed here, made a life and a family. He would go to Cuba to visit our family every year, but he was only visiting, we were not living together.

Does the documentary talk about the lifestyle differences between the two countries?

A little bit. In a very nice way, though. It’s all covered in love.

What’s been your reaction to the news over the past couple of weeks about protests in Cuba? Are American media looking for another way to make communism look bad?

First of all, I will say that I am very sad to see my people suffering so much violence between them. The people of Cuba have suffered scarcity for a long time. And, of course, there are different interests from the Cuban government and the U.S. government, especially in the Florida community, which I don’t want to talk about, because I don’t have full knowledge of that thing. What I can say is that I wish this leads to a better solution for our country.

A solution from the Cuban government?

I’m not sure that they can or are willing to. But I am not a politician, and I don’t know many of the laws that make the government do what it does. What I do know is that the people need to be heard, though there are some who just want to take advantage and make chaos. And I’m against any brutal response of the military and the police.

Is there anything in Cuba that’s like Napa?

Oh, I don’t think so! [laughs]

You’ve become a regular in Napa, and you also played the San Francisco Jazz Festival in 2014.

It was a beautiful set of concerts, in the Joe Henderson Lab, a piano solo recital, and I really enjoyed the response of that wonderful audience.

What did you play for them?

Many of my own solo piano compositions. I knew I was in a jazz venue, so there was a lot of improvisation, but you will always find in my compositions this fusion of concert and jazz and Cuban music; it doesn’t matter where I do it or how I do it. [For an example, a musical quote from the venerable Cuban son “El manisero” is audible in López-Gavilán’s performance of his Pan con Timba, with the Harlem Quartet.]

Anywhere we should be looking for you, later?

Oh, yes! I’ll be touring with the Quartet and my brother, and you’ll find that information on my website, https://aldomusica.com. [The Harlem Quartet, with Aldo López-Gavilán, will perform at Kohl Mansion on Oct. 31, and the brothers will appear as a duo for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall on Jan. 23, 2022.]

The Brothers / Los Hermanos gets released and immediately captures the media’s attention

The multi-awarded documentary The Brothers / Los Hermanos about the two talented Cuban musicians Ilmar and Aldo López-Gavilán Junco had its national release in the US on May 14th and immediately captured the attention of the media with positive reviews in major outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Miami Herald among many others.

The film is also available online for streaming on-demand and has been invited to premiere in Canada at the very prestigious Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema on Thursday, June 3.

“A moving documentary with generous amounts of music…
Electrifying musical collaborations!”

-Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times

“This endearing documentary is an Oscar-caliber film
for the family and one not to be missed!”
-Jeffrey Lyons, WCBS News Radio

“A joyful U.S. tour featuring Aldo’s blood-pumping compositions that meld jazz, classical and Latin music.” -KQED, San Francisco Public Media

“Exquisite – so much poetry, heart, and exemplary craft.
The editing is just sublime.”
-Rob Epstein, Two-time Oscar Winner

“Expertly and beautifully paced, like a great piece of music.”
-Joshua Bell, Celebrated American Violinist