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Tiempo Libre

REVIEW: With Cuban partners, Sioux City Symphony has audience dancing

Friday, November 22, 2013

by Bruce Miller

SIOUX CITY | If you’ve never seen symphony goers form a conga line, you should have been to the Sioux City orchestra’s concert Saturday night.

They were dancing in the aisles.

Joining forces with Tiempo Libre, a Cuban septet with classical underpinnings, the Sioux City orchestra got its audience to groove to beats we haven’t heard in this setting in years.

The hook? All seven of the guest artists were classically trained. They took the music of Bach and other masters, gave it their own spin and came up with “Tu Conga Bach,” a twist on the C Minor Fugue. (It was the one that got ‘em dancing.)

The result? An infectious evening.

Jorge Gomez, the musical director, keyboardist and translator, briefly explained their journey, demonstrated the adaptation and let the band take over.

The Sioux City musicians? They gave Tiempo Libre a fuller sound, adding heft to sones, cha cha and mambo medleys.

In a Gershwin overture, the colorfully dressed Sioux City musicians (led by their own Desi Arnaz, Ryan Haskins, who was notably sedate) were up to the rhythmic challenges. Holly Haddad offered a fine clarinet solo and Bob Gibson was in his element, providing a trumpet intro that paved the way for Tiempo’s Raul Rodriguez, easily one of the most fluid trumpeters to play the stage.

Squaring off with saxophonist Luis Beltran Castillo, he set the tone and kept the musicianship at a consistent peak.

Dancing? Oh, yeah. Most of the seven did that, too (on the encore “Manos Parr’iba”), proving the music isn’t just moving, it’s infectious.

While a second act opener (Juan Pablo Mancayo’s “Huapango”) was fine, it probably could have been dispensed with to give Tiempo Libre even more stage time.

Although the program said songs would be announced from the stage, very few were. Those that were recognizable ( “Guantanamera,” which was part of a medley) barely grazed the radar.

Instead, it was a time to let the music wash over the audience, inspire an appreciation and make a big connection.

If Bach could have this kind of an effect on Cubans, imagine what other cultures could do.

Like Brule, the Native American group that has also played the Orpheum Theatre, Tiempo Libre showed there’s room for many interpretations of familiar music.

With a group this talented, it was just a matter of surrendering – and enjoying. Never mind the titles.

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