Mozart y Mambo
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Mozart y Mambo

Sarah Willis, Havana Lyceum Orchestra, Pepe Méndez

Sarah Willis is a tireless ambassador for her instrument, the horn, which she champions around the world. Already a horn player with the Berlin Philharmoniker, in 2014 she launched for the German television channel Deutsche Welle what was soon to become a famous programme, Sarah’s Music , a series of interviews with personalities ranging from Gustavo Dudamel to Wynton Marsalis, which presents music with warmth and in all its diversity.

But Sarah’s other passion was born when she arrived in Cuba to give a masterclass. The music and musicians she met there had a huge impact on her. Since then she has gone back regularly, founding an ensemble, The Havana Horns, that originated in a flash mob filmed for Sarah’s Music. Now she has decided to make an album combining the most famous of classical composers Mozart would have been a good Cuban , a musician told her one day in front of a statue of the Austrian genius in the middle of Havana and the local pride, the Cuban music that is everywhere on the island…

With the Havana Lyceum Orchestra and its exuberant conductor Pepe Méndez, she presents Mozart works for horn and orchestra (the Concerto no.3 and the Rondo K371) alongside a Rondo alla Mambo inspired by another Mozart rondo, a Sarahnade Mambo, a Cuban Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and other treats. A number of famous local musicians take part in this recording, which also pays tribute to Cuban repertory, with the song Dos Gardenias para ti made famous by Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club.


Sometimes grand adventures start with a throwaway comment. Sarah Willis, French Horn in the Berlin Philharmonic, was amazed in 2017 to discover there is a statue of Mozart in Havana, Cuba. Nonplussed by her amazement, one of the local musicians observed that ‘Mozart would have been a good Cuban’. Inspired by this sentence, she decided to blend together her two passions in life, Classical and Cuban music. A keen Salsa dancer, she discovered that there were not only many budding horn players in Cuba, but that some contemporary composers had already blended the two styles of music, with the ‘Sarahnade mambo’ on this album being a particular standout.

This album took three years to complete and was finally recorded in January of 2020. Willis has interspersed the Mozart horn repertoire with the Cuban tunes and created one of those weird Frankenstein’s monster albums that somehow seems to fulfil all your musical needs in one go. It features beautiful soaring horn lines across movements of Mozart’s famous works, countered by the groove and rhythms of traditional Cuban music that will bring a skip to your step.

Kate Rockstrom is a friend of Readings.

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