Anna Weber—Carnegie Hall's general manager, artistic and operations—reflects on last Saturday night's Chucho Valdés concert, which marked the culmination of an 18-month journey of discovery for her.
On Saturday, Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés set Zankel Hall alight with a set of Afro-Cuban jazz. I knew we were in for a magical night when Chucho, looking very elegant in a purple velvet jacket, ambled onstage and launched into a solo version of the Mexican classic "Bésame Mucho" ("Kiss Me Again and Again"). Like most people, I have heard this song a million times over the years, but in Chucho's hands, this innocent love song became something much more. Effortlessly weaving bits of classical music with his jazz licks, Chucho transformed "Bésame Mucho" into a virtuosic showpiece, a rollercoaster of different moods. The tone was set for the whole evening. With his quintet—which includes three percussionists!—Chucho took us on a thrilling ride. It was an exhilarating experience for all of us lucky enough to be in the audience. Fans—including some well-known admirers—filled Zankel Hall and could not get enough of this Cuban master.
One of Chucho's more famous fans, Harry Belafonte, greets Chucho backstage on Saturday night.
As I hugged Chucho backstage after the concert, I told him that the event had particular meaning for me as it marked the end of an 18-month journey of discovery. Beginning in April last year, I joined two of my colleagues from the Carnegie Hall programming team—Jeremy Geffen and Andrew Byrne—as guests of Chucho and his wife Lorena in their hometown of Havana. Over three days, Chucho introduced us to many Cuban musicians and groups. We heard traditional Afro-Cuban rumba drumming groups, young up-and-coming jazz musicians, timba dance bands, and much more. And even though we were only too aware that we'd just scratched the surface of this musical scene, one thing we knew for sure was that Chucho was the ideal person to curate a series of Afro-Cuban jazz concerts at Carnegie Hall.
Chucho (in that purple velvet jacket) and me backstage in Zankel Hall on Saturday.
And he has certainly delivered! Under Chucho's guidance, the concerts on Afro-Cuban jazz have played a central role in the Voices from Latin America festival with Saturday's unforgettable concert being the centerpiece of his Carnegie Hall residency and a fitting tribute to one of the greatest voices from Latin America. So, in the spirit of "Bésame Mucho," I and all of us at Carnegie Hall send many kisses and thanks to Chucho—not only a thoughtful and brilliant musician, but also one of the warmest and nicest people you'll ever meet.
Related:Voices from Latin AmericaVoices from Latin America: CubaVoices from Latin America: Afro-Cuban Jazz