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Tiempo Libre

SF Examiner

Tiempo Libre no stranger to classical music

SF Examiner

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

by Bryan Vo

Growing up in Cuba, and now living in Miami, the acclaimed musical group Tiempo Libre is enjoying the American dream.

“Living the American dream means being able to write and perform the music that comes from deep inside you without being censored,” says Jorge Gomez, pianist and musical director for the Grammy-nominated group, which plays two concerts with the San Francisco Symphony this week.

Even though the Cuban government banned American radio, the group’s timba music — a high-energy blend of traditional Cuban son and Latin jazz perfect for dancing — stems from days listening to pirated music on rooftops back in Havana as teens.

Against all odds, the band members fled to the U.S., where they found success, eventually appearing on NPR, “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Tonight Show.”

Tiempo Libre’s recordings are multi-faceted. The latest, 2011’s “My Secret Radio,” is a tribute to the American musicians the band members listened to clandestinely in Cuba: Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan, Gloria Estefan and Earth, Wind & Fire.

The group also appeared with Joshua Bell on the song “Para Ti” on the violinist’s album “At Home with Friends,” and recorded the Grammy-nominated “Bach in Havana,” which fuses Cuban music and Bach.
The mix isn’t too big of a stretch for the group’s seven members, who grew up listening to classical music and studied at Russian-style conservatories in Cuba.

“My father, who was a prominent Cuban classical pianist, played Bach all the time at home,” Gomez says. “I was filled with the power of Bach and Cuban music because of him. In ‘Bach in Havana,’ those two worlds merged.”

Saturday’s performance with the symphony, conducted by Michael Francis, includes traditional cha-cha-chás, traditional sones and excerpts from “Bach in Havana.” After the main performance, Tiempo Libre will play a 25-minute timba concert onstage.

“There is nothing that makes us happier than seeing an audience up dancing,” Gomez says. “Particularly a classical audience who thought they were coming to a concert only to listen.”

On Sunday, Tiempo Libre and the symphony will head to Dolores Park to play a free outdoor concert, which will  also include music from Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and Copland’s “Rodeo.”

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