Alex Cuba (guitar) performs with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra in Kelowna Friday, April 1, 2022. (Submitted photo)

Alex Cuba (guitar) performs with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra in Kelowna Friday, April 1, 2022. (Submitted photo)

REVIEW: Okanagan Symphony Orchestra enchants crowds with Juno-winning songwriter

The OSO performed with renowned singer-songwriter Alex Cuba in Vernon and Kelowna last weekend

Review by Anita Perry

Last weekend the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (OSO) shared the stage with renowned multiple Juno and Latin Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Alex Cuba. The capacity theatre audience enjoyed the unique combination of Cuba’s sunny and infectious music mixed with a dash of OSO pizzaz, resulting in an evening that was uplifting and satisfying.

The concert opened with Fandango by Fred Perkins. Wielding her baton with exquisite finesse, Maestra Rosemary Thomson capably set a passionate, romantic and expressive mood for what was to come. Thusly prepared, the audience eagerly welcomed Alex Cuba to the stage. Always entertaining and ever versatile, Cuba’s relaxed, warm style set the tone for his partnership with Thomson, uniting the world of classical orchestral music with the unique Latin American and North American pop that is Cuba’s signature style.

Alternating between acoustic and electric guitars, Cuba’s vocals were clear, precise and pure. While all of Cuba’s works are poignant and emotionally direct, of special note was Por Donde Vas with its driving rhythmic pulse, satisfying harmonies, and enchanting melodies. The arrangement of Ruido En El Sistema called for the violinists to strum along guitar-like in an infectious rhythm, while Si Pero No featured lush brasses, pizzicato violins and one of several audience sing-alongs.

The second half of the concert opened with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra performing Ernesto Lecuona’s lavish and lush Andalucia. Kudos to Dominique Bernath for her spot-on timpani work and Audrey Patterson for her gorgeous trumpet playing. Having thus warmed up the audience, the OSO once again welcomed Alex Cuba back on stage.

Cuba’s music is like wrapping puppies, ice-cream and baby laughs in sunshine. Well-constructed and satisfying, each song is infused with an infectious sense of joy. From the sunny, popsounds of De Camino to the romantic, intimate and well-written Lamento, the Orchestra and Cuba played as one with beautifully timed entries and perfect balance. Lush and appropriate orchestration brought added colour and dimension to the performance.

In his own words, Cuba states, “The power of music is to unify” and, as musicians, “We try to give you our soul.” Cuba’s easy grace, charm and delight in music making, combined with his warmth, sincerity and sense of hospitality made the evening feel intimate, like friends gathered in his living room. The standing ovation (rewarded by a four-selection encore) indicated the audience’s reluctance to let the evening end. It was a most successful concert, marrying diverse cultures and backgrounds, and, to paraphrase Cuba, proving music has no walls, only bridges.

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Classical music