At the Sanctuary of the Arts, a musical tribute to ‘El Maestro’ Ernesto Lecuona

Written By Miguel Sirgado
December 5, 2023 at 12:21 PM

Cuban pianist Aldo López-Gavilán will perform as part of “Ernesto Lecuona: El Maestro,” at the Sanctuary of the Arts in Coral Gables, for three nights on Thursday, Dec. 7, Friday, Dec. 8 and Saturday, Dec. 9. (Photo by José V. Gavilondo/courtesy of the artist)

In the Cuban cultural repertoire, there is an endless list of eminent composers, but perhaps none has reached the stature of Ernesto Lecuona. The great Cuban composer and pianist has been considered a genius for his ability to synthesize in his works the feelings of an entire nation. With music that combines the popular and the traditional, the history and the presence of his people, Lecuona conquered stages throughout the world without ever forgetting the land where he was born.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of his death, musicians, singers and dancers will gather to pay tribute to Lecuona in a show entitled “Ernesto Lecuona: El Maestro.” The event, to be held at the Sanctuary of the Arts in Coral Gables, for three nights on Thursday, Dec. 7, Friday, Dec. 8 and Saturday, Dec. 9, will feature a performance by Cuban pianist Aldo López-Gavilán.

A multi-disciplinary homage to Cuban composer and pianist, Ernesto Lecuona, is at the Sanctuary of the Arts in Coral Gables for three nights. (Photo courtesy of the Sanctuary of the Arts)

“In my opinion, the most important thing about Lecuona’s legacy is how he managed to fuse elements of Cuban music with classical and popular influences, creating a unique style that has resonated worldwide,” says López-Gavilán. “I, like many other musicians of various generations, have followed that path that now (perhaps) is more commonplace for artists and for the public. However, his ability to manage to blend our musical roots with other genres was something very novel for his time and, in my opinion, his greatest contribution.”

For López-Gavilán, the importance of this tribute lies in, among other things, the continued discovery of the greatness of work that perhaps (for many Cubans) is not completely known. “I think there are still many aspects of his career that are not sufficiently . . . recognized, especially outside Cuba,” he explains.

The young pianist insists that Lecuona, in addition to being an extremely prolific composer with more than 500 works, was an outstanding educator who assisted numerous young musicians. He also made significant contributions to the zarzuela genre, opera, and composed music for films and outstanding musicals.

“All this (happened) at a time when the structures we have today for musical communication and promotion did not exist. So even though Lecuona is widely recognized, there is still room for a deeper appreciation and understanding of his work, and I am very happy to participate in this concert and do my bit in that endeavor,” says the pianist.

With a prolific songbook of more than 600 compositions that includes pieces for piano and symphony orchestras, film scores, songs and zarzuelas, Lecuona has been hailed as one of the most illustrious graduates of the prestigious National Conservatory of Music in Havana, Cuba. Some have even referred to him as “the Gershwin of Latin America.” Maurice Ravel is even reported to have remarked that “the Malagueña is more melodic and beautiful than my own Bolero.”

(Listen: Lecuona plays “Malaguena” and “Andalucia”)

During his career, Lecuona’s popularity was such that he had many of his compositions featured on Desi Arnaz’s “I Love Lucy” program. In addition, he composed eleven film scores, including “Always in My Heart,” whose theme song of the same name was sung in English and Spanish around the world, and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1942. Lecuona was born in Guanabacoa, Cuba, in 1895. After the Cuban revolution, Lecuona settled in Tampa, Florida. He died in 1963 and is buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

About the Lecuona repertoire that López-Gavilán will perform as part of the Sanctuary of the Arts tribute, the musician says there will be no shortage of the must-haves that his fans want to hear in every corner of the world.

“His catalog of songs is immense, but undoubtedly themes such as ‘Malagueña,'” ‘Siboney’ and ‘La Comparsa’ are mandatory pieces in any repertoire that intends to pay tribute to  (Lecuona). Making arrangements of these well-known themes for different formats and being able to perform them live in front of an audience that knows his work is a challenge that has motivated me a lot and that has me very excited,” says López-Gavilán.

“Hopefully, in these concerts, we can capture the essence and magic of Lecuona,” says pianist Aldo López-Gavilán. (Photo by José V. Gavilondo/courtesy of the artist)

The pianist will be accompanied on stage by a group of musicians from the Miami area, as well as mezzo-soprano Solange Merdinian and tenor Martin Nusspaumer, among others. In addition, dancers from the Sanctuary of the Arts choreographic group will perform to some of Lecuona’s emblematic compositions, choreographed by Director Rafi Maldonado-López and by teacher/choreographer Alice Arja.

Isabel Custer, filmmaker and co-founder of the Key Biscayne Film Festival, will also premiere the documentary “Ernesto Lecuona, El Maestro,” narrated by award-winning actor and Miami native Andy Garcia.

López-Gavilán insists that this tribute is much more than a simple performance, but rather is in praise of Lecuona’s enormous influence on multiple generations of musicians.

“I started playing the piano at a very early age and have been influenced by numerous musicians, composers and teachers throughout my life. However, there is something in particular that deeply identifies me with Lecuona, and that is his ability to combine technique with emotion,” says López-Gavilán.

“In many of his works and performances, I think he achieved a perfect balance between these, which translates into a depth and expressiveness that is very inspiring to me. Hopefully, in these concerts we can capture the essence and magic of Lecuona,” he says.

WHAT: “Ernesto Lecuona: El Maestro”

WHERE: Sanctuary of the Arts, 401 Andalusia Ave., Coral Gables 

WHEN:  8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, Friday, Dec. 8, and Saturday, Dec. 9

COST: $65 and $100

INFORMATION: is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at 

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