Jenny Peña, a Cuban violin soloist

By Helson Hernandez

Jenny Peña

HAVANA TIMES – Jenny Peña is a young soloist and concert musician on the island who manages to coax an almost magical sonorous quality from her instrument, infusing deep emotion into each musical note.  “It’s difficult being a woman, but we live through our music just like men do.”

Havana Times: How did you first begin in the field of music?

Jenny Peña: None of my close family members are musicians, but according to my mother nothing entertained me better when I was little than watching someone play an instrument.

Following my father’s death, my mother wanted to help me get through that sensitive time, as these were very difficult events for a child of five. She took me to see if I could pass the admissions requirements for the art school. From that day on, music made its official entrance into my life where it will stay forever.

HT: Was your choice of instrument determined by any special circumstances?

JP:  Actually, the violin wasn’t initially my instrument of choice; I was burning to play the harp. However, in that era there weren’t yet any harpist programs open in Cuba. My second choice was the violin, and I now believe that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. The violin is the instrument that defines me in every sense of the word. It’s like my other half.

HT: Could you tell us something interesting about the transformation that playing the violin exerts over your personality?

JT: We know that playing an instrument is generally a difficult task, requiring a lot of sacrifice, but when you choose it as part of your life and can bring something as wondrous as music out of it you discover that there is nothing more sublime than its sound.

There will always be moments in which you feel frustrated, because maybe it’s not responding to you the way you want. But when you manage to study it, then arrive at a concert and carry people right along with you to the point of adoration of its sound, it’s an experience that lifts you to a summit that there are no words to describe.

Music is magic, and it could be said that the violin is the magic wand that makes it possible in my case at least, to transform myself into a complete human being.

HT: Describe the social life of a female musician in Cuba.

JP: It’s difficult being a woman but we live through our music just like men do.  Our particular condition makes us different though.

It’s difficult to reconcile the musical life with the work of child-raising or maintaining a home, and perhaps that’s the reason that it begins to seem a titanic task.

I believe that this makes us even more special, and that the fact of playing music becomes even more attractive.

HT: What can you tell us about Camerata Romeu? [the all-female string orchestra from Havana]

JP:  Having been in the Camerata was a school in itself.  There, you learn not only music but everything you will ever have to face as a person throughout your whole life.

Jenny Peña

HT: What place does composition have in your music?

JP: Composition is the way I free my spirit and communicate a part of me that needs to be transmitted in something more than words. It’s a very important part of my career.

HT: Tell us about the experience of playing for a personality like Steven Spielberg.

JP: Really, it ended up being a hectic episode for me.  You always imagine people who are as well-known as Steven Spielberg as very remote from your life, so that when someone of this stature sits down with you for a short lapse of time to listen to you, it all seems confusing and unreal. But at the same time, these are moments in life that you wouldn’t change for anything in the world.

HT: If you had to express the most disturbing emotions of this stage of your existence, what melody or composer would you choose?

JP:  I could speak of Beethoven, Bach, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bartok, Mahler. I’ve had moments in which each one of them has had something to offer that has defined my life.

A short time ago, I had the opportunity to hear Mahler’s adagietto for the first time, and I think that if a piece of music exists that could define my life in this moment, it would be that one in particular.