Standing ovation for first US orchestra to tour Cuba since thaw

The Minnesota Orchestra, directed by Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska, performs in concert at the Cuban National Theatre in Havana, Cuba, May 15, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
The Minnesota Orchestra, directed by Finnish conductor Osmo Vanska, performs in concert at the Cuban National Theatre in Havana, Cuba, May 15, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

HAVANA (AFP) - The first American orchestra to tour Cuba since a historic rapprochement between the two nations received a rousing ovation late Friday from a packed house in Havana.

The Minnesota Orchestra last came to the island 85 years ago - decades before the Cuban Revolution.

The orchestra received a five-minute-long standing ovation after the two-hour long performance of works by Beethoven at Havana's National Theatre.

Following the ovation, the orchestra's musical director Osmo Vanska struck up a polka from his home country of Finland.

The orchestra is scheduled to perform again on Saturday.

The concert comes just days before American and Cuban officials were meet in the United States to discuss reopening embassies, in a new round of negotiations.

Bilateral talks are scheduled Thursday as Cuba and the United States continue the process of normalising ties.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec 17 that the former Cold War foes would restore full diplomatic ties severed in 1961.

The rapprochement has created a potential opening for a variety of cultural exchanges as the two nations work to restore relations.