Chicago Cuatro Orchestra and Orlando Rivera

The Chicago Cuatro Orchestra was founded in 1996 by Orlando Rivera with the purpose of creating a cultural program to preserve Puerto Rico’s national instrument, the cuatro.


Though unique to Puerto Rico, the cuatro is part of a group of instruments that likely evolved from the vihuela, a kind of early lute-guitar dating to early Renaissance Europe.  As its name suggests, the cuatro originally had four strings, though its current form includes ten steel strings arranged in five courses.  Smaller than a guitar, but shaped more like a violin, the instrument is played with a flatpick and sounds somewhat similar to a mandolin. 


 Chicago Cuatro Orlando Rivera has been a spirited partisan of the cuatro and cuatro music for more than thirty years.  He and his brother David have instructed hundreds of young people and maintained the Puerto Rican cuatro tradition in Chicago.  Although they were self-taught musicians who grew up in Puerto Rico, the brothers secured admission to the university and went on to earn music degrees.  Making their way to Chicago, they found positions as school music teachers while continuing to perform with local bands.  By the late 1990s, the two also operated a booking agency and a music store and were working in collaboration with a host of cultural organizations in the Puerto Rican community.  They also formed a brass quintet and played a key role in creating and promoting the Chicago Cuatro festival.  In addition to its own recordings, the Chicago Cuatro Orchestra is featured on Folksongs of Illinois, vol. 4:  Chicago Since 1945 (2011).