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Carnegie welcomes Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, Saraza, and Licad

Music: The Gift Within

I had just gotten out of a client meeting in Queens. With appetence to classical music, I was beside myself upon rushing to the city to meet a friend for my ticket to the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) Concert at Carnegie Hall, 8pm on June 18, 2016. Proceeds from the concert would go to a housing project of the Philippine Disaster Relief Foundation in Tacloban for Typhoon Yolanda survivors.

Approaching Carnegie Hall along 57th Street, an avenue away, I noticed that a number of people were gathered outside enjoying conversation exchanges and taking pictures. I could only imagine what was going through their minds. After all, this wasn’t just another musical event; it was a significant and historic celebration for Filipinos in that this was PPO’s debut in the famed and prestigious Carnegie Hall. How timely as Filipinos celebrate this year the 118th Anniversary of Philippine Independence.

The country's finest at the world's best: Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie

The country’s finest at the world’s best: Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie

I remember, a good friend of mine was standing by the entrance when she greeted me with a warm hug. As she told, she had interacted with the orchestra before they proceeded to the back for sound check. In their exchanges, some of them were in tears upon realizing that they’re finally in America to perform. “Excitement” is an understatement for most of these artists. More and more people gathered at the lobby. Both known and unfamiliar faces leagued in the space. Many were taking endless photographs of themselves with acquaintances and friends, as well as of those who were considered the who’s-who in the Fil-Am community. One of which was Loida Nicolas Lewis, a Filipino-born American businesswoman and community leader. Not long after, guests were ushered to their seats.

As soon as the conductor, Olivier Ochanine stepped out onto the stage, the entire orchestra was enthusiastically received by the large audience. Applauses, whistles, and exuberant spirits filled the high ceiling. Looking around, there were many empty seats that definitely made me wish were filled in. Downward, directly from where I was seated was one complete row of empty chairs. Much as I was happy to see that not only Filipinos were present to support this momentous occasion, I was somewhat frustrated at the lack of support from some of our fellow countrymen. I take, only a select cluster of Pinoys are into classical music. This observer could only hope that this is not always the case.

The crowd was asked to stand on their feet for the Philippine National Anthem. Lupang Hinirang.

Olivier Ochanine, 36 (Photo grabbed from his Twitter account @MaestroOlivier)

Olivier Ochanine, 36 (Photo grabbed from his Twitter account @MaestroOlivier)

I placed my right hand on my left chest. For a moment, I felt the mix of cool and warm air caress my nape, stirring me into the feeling of patriotism and pride. I heard myself quietly utter: “Ikinararangal ko ang maging isang Pilipino.” What joy, indeed, to behold a sight as magnificent and compelling as The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, on U.S. soil, sharing love, genius, and eminence through music under the baton of Olivier Ochanine – a young conductor full of life and vigor. 

Festive Overture, Op. 96 by Dmitri Shostakovich launched the main programme. The motion starts with a show in the brass, trailed by a quick tune in the winds. The strings take up, and swiftly the music carries through a more dulcet and soulful melody in the horns and cellos, while the beat remains. Shostakovich builds up this material in his common style, before the show returns and prompts an awakening coda. Certainly, the temperament of the work is more melodious than not, that at the end of the opening development there is a section that is extremely reminiscent of birds singing. Enchanted sounds summon symbolism of tender breezes in a lush glen, and moderate moving streams that rise up out of the melodic music and consolidate to offer tranquility and rebuilding to fatigued spirits. I was nurtured as I closed my eyes and could almost picture a magical world from the playful pealing accents.

Diomedes Saraza, a violin prodigy

The Promil™ Gifted Child debuts at Carnegie (Photo Corutesy of Diomedes Saraza, Jr.)

The Promil™ Gifted Child debuts at Carnegie (Photo Courtesy: Diomedes Saraza, Jr.)

Born to a family of artists, Diomedes demonstrated his enthusiasm for the violin at 3 years old. Diomedes’ dad was his primary instructor. He took his formal lesson at 5 years of age. He is one of the agents in the 45th year Suzuki Music Convention (1998) held in the Japan at the age of 8. In 2002, he won ahead of all comers at the National Music Competition for the Young Artists and in 2003, he made his big appearance “The Gift” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and was honored to be one of the best performances for 2003 in the Philippines. He moved to New York to seek after his studies in violin at the Mannes College, Preparatory Division. He was under the tutelage of regarded violin educator, Dr. Jaw Kim.

Performed by Saraza was the Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47,  composed by Jean Sibelius in 1904. It is his lone concerto. It is symphonic in degree, with the performance violin and all areas of the ensemble being equivalent voices. A broadened cadenza for the soloist tackles the part of the improvement area in the primary development. This concerto is for the most part symphonic in extension, leaving totally from the frequently lighter and rhythmical backups of numerous different concertos. The performance violin and all segments of the symphony have parallel voice in the piece. This is particularly a concerto for violin and huge symphony, in that the woodwinds, metal, percussion and different strings – all have fascinating things to say, often in the meantime the line of the soloist is introducing something else. The uplifting news is that the distinctive voices can be heard without muffling each other.The work is verifiably intricate.

Diomedes performed the concerto flawlessly. He offered such an elemental, splendid execution, set apart by his charming authority of stage and difficult music. The sensation delivered was so convincing as to oppose depiction. Or maybe, my internal artist reacted with symbolism to coordinate the powerful passionate experience. The musical tones rose above conventional limits by quickly ascending from the lower profundities to abruptly roost upon a high plane. The successive and quickly played trills that portray the piece include extraordinary melodic, cadenced and cacophonous enthusiasm to the capable work. Thus and as anticipated, the heralding crowd stood and paid due adulation to the phenomenon that is Diomedes Saraza, Jr. A repeat performance was requisite due to the audience’s discontent with only one solo, hence  Nicanor Abelardo’s  “Cavatina” was generously rendered by Saraza. I was definitely touched by the fundamental appeal not just of the violinist himself, but also that of the music. At this point, I was deeply immersed in emotion. I was starting to ask myself, why not more Filipino-composed scores in the repertoire? This, I will go back to, later in the article.

A short intermission ensued. I enjoyed talking to people, both friends and strangers, alike. Truth be told, however, that I was feeling impatient with the most-awaited performance of Cecile Licad.

Cecile Licad at Carnegie (Portrait on right grabbed from San Francisco Classical Voice website)

Cecile Licad at Carnegie (Portrait on right grabbed from San Francisco Classical Voice website)

The waiting came to an end.

Out to center-stage was Ms. Cecile Licad, beautifully wearing a pink gown that hugged her petite yet strong figure. She was acknowledged by the audience with loads of reverence and affection. The loud applause was so telling of her impact on the audience. She was to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s, Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, one of the most difficult pieces to play.

Stern Auditorium truly demonstrates a personal, outwardly capturing space in which to hear a performance presentation. The artist appears to be especially uncovered, encompassed as she is on all sides, with five levels of galleries. The conspicuously austere ambiance, combined with Licad’s probing methodology bore precision, grace, and power. She dismembered this work with an exact procedure, minimal squandered movement. It obviously left the piece’s hidden musical bone structure noticeable.She made a challenging piece look so easy and fun. Mentally, this was entirely illuminating, particularly given the consonant intricacies of this specific work. This was a petite lady with the strength of a man. Decision, precision, discipline described her performance. Licad’s specialized ability is impressive; she plays with force and shake strong security. She truly is a rare occurrence on stage and I was left breathless, in awe of watching her perfectly depicting a picture of strength and grace. Such performance gave her numerous standing ovations. She exited, but not after giving in to the audience’s begging request of an encore. She rendered the playful tune of Magtanim ay Di Biro, also known as, “Planting Rice is Never Fun.”

The supposed finale in the repertoire was  the orchestral work of a master, Redentor Romero called “Philippine Portraits.” He established the National Philharmonic Orchestra in 1961 and guided it for 40 years. It went with a portion of the world’s most prominent soloists. Romero built up a strong reputation as a conductor in his performances with some of the main ensembles of the world.

Fathers of Philippine Classical Music: Nicanor Abelardo, Redentor Romero, Ernani Cuenco, and Levi Celerio

Fathers of Philippine Classical Music: Nicanor Abelardo, Redentor Romero, Ernani Cuenco, and Levi Celerio

 Philippine Portraits played. Folk tunes like Dandansoy, Pamulinawen, Magtanim ay Di Biro, and Santa Clara were among those that left me enthralled and wanting for more. And, speaking of wanting more, I couldn’t have been happier when the orchestra encored with an eternal favorite of mine, Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal— a composition of Ernani Cuenco, and lyrics by Levi Celerio. The sound of string and wind instruments filled the air that one would think of it as a berceuse. I was humming to the melody, uttering the lyrics with conviction that I was simply restrained.

The melodious evening came to an end, but the audience was left in wanting. My only wish was that the orchestra would have played more pieces by Filipino composers. Nevertheless, it was such a memorable occasion that took place. I went home with each note in my heart, telling me of the blessed gift we Filipinos innately have. There lives music in each of us, whether we know it yet or not.

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