HAVANA, July 11 The head of the New York
Philharmonic met with Cuban officials and toured facilities in
Havana on Saturday ahead of a possible visit to the
communist-led island by the orchestra later this year.
Orchestra president Zarin Mehta told Reuters he was
encouraged by what he saw and heard on the island and noted
that Cubans appeared to appreciate classical music. But he said
a final decision on the proposed concert trip still lay ahead.
"It has to be done soon. We have to go and work very hard
with our board (of directors). We have to raise money, we have
to arrange transportation," Mehta said.
The orchestra, a pillar of U.S. high culture, was attacked
in 2008 when it made a concert trip to North Korea, and Mehta
said he was certain it would be criticized by opponents of the
Cuban government if it performed on the island.
He added that Cuban and U.S. officials have said they favor
the visit, which could occur at the end of October and would
come at a time when long-bitter U.S.-Cuba relations may be
The United States and Cuba have been at odds since Fidel
Castro took control of the island 90 miles (145 km) south of
Florida 50 years ago in a revolution against a U.S.-backed
Washington has imposed a trade embargo and travel ban
against Cuba since 1962, but President Barack Obama has eased
it and said it could be lifted if Cuba improves its human
Mehta said orchestra officials contacted Cuba about a
possible trip and eventually received an invitation from its
They also got the blessing of officials in Washington who
support normalizing relations with Cuba. If the Philharmonic
decides to go to Cuba, its members will have to get a license
from the U.S. government.
While noting that the Philharmonic was a good ambassador,
Mehta downplayed the political implications of a tour.
"We don't do any kind of political statements, but the fact
that we as Americans come and play in a particular country has
to make those people smile on the United States," Mehta said.
"We just come and play music and then let the politicians
and governments work out what they can."
His visit coincided with the arrival in Havana of Britain's
Royal Ballet. Officials said the London-based company would
perform five days of sold-out performances in the its first
visit to Cuba.
(Reporting by Jeff Franks; Editing by Paul Simao)