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The Alonso Brothers Play Cuban Classics on Two Steinways at Merkin Concert Hall
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The Alonso Brothers Play Cuban Classics on Two Steinways at Merkin Concert Hall

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Kaufman Music Center
The Cuban Cultural Center of New York

Cuban Classics: The Alonso Brothers

Merkin Concert Hall
Press: Joan Jastrebski

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 23, 2019

Kaufman Music Center and the Cuban Cultural Center of New York presented one of the most sublime concerts of the spring season, with brothers, Orlay Alonso and Orlando Alonso on two grand Steinways. Seated in the front row tonight, the Cuban classics, by greats, like Ignacio Cervantes and Ernesto Lecuona, were evocative of the Cuban Orchid Show, years ago, at the Bronx Botanical Garden. I have long been a devoted fan of Cuban performance and social dance, Cuban and Afro-Cuban music, and Cuban cultural icons. These pages will reveal reviews of Bebo Valdés at 88 with Arturo O'Farrill's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, as well as Bebo’s grandson, in Chuchito Valdes and His Trio Bring Havana to the Iridium. Numerous reviews of the renowned Cuban artist, Paquito D’Rivera are found, as well, on these pages, like Paquito D'Rivera and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Present Latin Orchestral Rhythms and Song.

So, it was quite a thrill, thanks to Kaufman Music Center and the Cuban Cultural Center, to discover these vibrant pianists, who also tell stories, introduce works with educational, historical, and entertaining content, and tease each other humorously in a quasi-vaudevillian manner, but with gentle, mutual adoration. Their fans were abundant, and the vivacious accolades throughout the evening were a testament to their popularity. In fact, the brothers introduced fans who traveled long distance, just for this show. Orlay and Orlando faced each other at the Steinways, and the four-handed piano works filled Merkin Hall with sumptuous, grand musicality. They opened with Lecuona’s “Malagueña”, with magnetically powerful rhythms and tones, after we were told this program of Cuban classics of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s was a New York debut, and that decades ago, Lecuona was a “superstar”. Lecuona’s “Siboney”, evocative of longing and languor, was a sumptuous two-handed arrangement, seamlessly performed. At times Orlando might begin a phrase, and Orlay might finish it, or they might play together in unison or harmony. I could not help thinking that this tune would be a stirring ballet score.

Moisés Simons’ “El Manisero” from the 1930’s was a stunning waltz, hugely successful in sheet music sales, we learned, while Miguel Matamoros’ “Son de la Loma” was a dance, as well, called “Son”, a dance I have experienced, more sultry and smooth than mambo. Jorge Gómez’ “Para Ti” kicked it up several notches in clavé rhythm and volume, to a fiery mambo, a throbbing, danceable tune, with tumbling, tonal waterfalls. Cervantes’ “Danzas Cubanas”, with nostalgic sadness, like a traditional tango, was also romantic and yearning, enhanced with hand percussion.

Dámaso Pérez Prado’s “Mambo No. 5” brought the audience in, with vocal crowd responses, mid-song. Full-throated dance rhythms, party style, exploded to the audience’s delight. But, when the Alonso Brothers introduced Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo” from “West Side Story”, the house was leaning in. The fact that Kaufman Music Center was built on land in or around the location of the “West Side Story” setting, added to the intrinsic connection. Sharp atonality amidst melody abounded. Orlay and Orlando played with breathless abandon.

The remaining program, so inviting and intriguing that it was impossible to totally focus on notes, included the lovely Lecuona “Y la negra bailaba”, Astor Piazzolla’s contagious “Libertango”, and Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va”. We learned that my favorite Cuban bass artist, Cachao, was Tito’s bass player in the band, for this original Mambo favorite. A wild dance encore followed the raucous finale and accolades. Kudos to Orlando Alonso and Orlay Alonso, who are also acclaimed classical virtuosi, performing and recording internationally, while also teaching at the university level. I look forward to experiencing their performances again, hopefully soon.