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REVIEW: The Return of Nachito Herrera with the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra

Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera at the piano. Photo by Sheilxa Ryan Photography.

When I told a friend that Ignacio “Nachito” Herrera’s performance with the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall would feature Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, my friend was surprised. She knew that Herrera was one of the area’s foremost jazz musicians, a mainstay of The Dakota – he was one of the first performers when that jazz club returned to live performances last month. However, she was surprised that a jazz pianist would choose to perform such a notoriously difficult classical piano work.

What my friend did not know is that Herrera was a piano prodigy who was classically trained at the Institute of Art in Havana. He first performed the Rachmaninoff with the Havana Symphony Orchestra…when he was only 12. 

Herrera received a standing ovation when he appeared at the start of today’s performance. The audience knew what he had been through.  In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to sweep the United States, Herrera became very ill with the disease, and was comatose for 11 days. When he came out of the coma, he immediately asked for a piano (and also for some ice cream). Once he received the piano, he began to develop a tune that had come to him, which he named Esperanza (Hope). The resulting song is wonderful, and on Sunday, he premiered a version he had arranged for piano and orchestra. 

Along with the Rachmaninoff and Esperanza, other works on the main program included:

The encore was a piece that has become a standard in Herrera’s recent performances: a jazzed-up but emotion-filled “God Bless America.”

Throughout the performance, Herrera was well-served by the Wayzata Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra formed in 2009, full of gifted musicians who have a different day job. While many of them teach music, in schools or privately, some have lives of a far different kind:  including a dentist, a chemist, a sociology professor, and a dog trainer.  For the event, Orchestra Hall was packed with people wearing masks – the performers wore black ones to match their formal attire, while the audience was also required to wear masks and provide proof of vaccination. All seemed thrilled to have live music back. 

Brian Bix