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Louis Michiels
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Chamber Music in the Americas.

Although they are part of the same hemisphere, the musical relationship between Canada and the countries that make up Latin America has been largely limited to either the reception by Canadians of Latin American touring musicians, or, when Canada itself has sent its musicians to those southern countries to perform concerts and recitals. This arrangement became more formalized in 1944 when Canada and Brazil officially agreed to the promotion of cultural exchange between their respective countries. Soon thereafter, a Canadian vocal quartet travelled to Brazil, and in 1952 and in 1958 Heitor Villa-Lobos came to conduct two of Canada’s most important orchestras.

The Camerata Canada in Cuba

A particularly interesting cultural exchange occurred in 1976. This was the year in which Camerata Canada, an instrumental ensemble that had been formed just four years earlier, undertook a tour of Latin America that took them to Mexico, Venezuela and Cuba, as well as to Canada’s Maritime provinces. Camerata, the members of which were pianists Elyakim Taussig and Kathryn Root, flutist Suzanne Shulman, clarinetist James Campbell, violinist Adele Armin, violist Paul Armin and cellist Coenraad Bloemendal, arrived in Havana on January 27, which was the last stop of its government-sponsored tour. The group was taken to the official residence of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, where Trudeau, as well as Fidel Castro and a large contingent of his security personnel, had been waiting. Since there was a fine piano in the residence an impromptu performance was arranged. While the musicians were performing Castro finally smiled when the ensemble began to play a Cuban folk song. Taussig would later remark that the song had been inserted into their music folders as a musical gesture, and then, only for use at their regularly scheduled events. “We never expected to play it for Castro,” he said. Afterwards, the Cuban leader chatted graciously with the group’s members. Upon finding out that Suzanne Shulman’s husband was a pediatrician, Castro introduced him to the Cuban health minister, who then arranged a personal tour of the city’s hospital facilities. Later, the group performed a concert for Cuban workers, some of whom were even wearing hardhats, in Havana’s largest concert hall. Under immense posters of Castro and Che Guevara, the assembled crowd warmly applauded them.

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