Monday, May 16, 2011

Moving on

I will no longer be updating this blog. I'll keep this up as an archive. I'll still be attending concerts and events but entries will be uploaded to my new blog here.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sofya Gulyak Concert

The press release called this concert series Titans of the Piano. This was actually the first of two concerts held dubbed as such. It has become a must for me to watch piano recitals/concerts/performances especially those featuring musicians who rarely perform here. And it's got to be a matter of life or death for me to miss any of them or as Mr. Ray Sison of ROS Music Center puts it, it must be the end of the world if I'm not present.

Gulyak really seemed like a Titan of the piano based on her numerous victories in competition and I anticipated to experience how much of a Titan she really is during her concert at the Philamlife Auditorium.

A lot of people really did think that she's a Titan and proof of that is the audience which was of the same caliber. Among those present were Mother Lily and Imelda Marcos. And along with Mrs. Marcos was that presence that is really noticable. And it doesn't matter whether you like her or hate her. It made me regret a bit that I was too casually dressed for the ocassion since I just wore a Batman t-shirt and jeans. I had an early morning appointment and decided not to go home in the afternoon to change and decided to hang out a bit and sit in at a chamber orchestra rehearsal to pass the time.

Gulyak prepared a very heavy program which is still in keeping with the Titan theme, mind you. The first half of the program consisted of Frederic Chopin's works: 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59, Polonaise Fantaisie in A flat, Op. 61, Scherzo No. 3 in C Sharp minor, Op. 39 and Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise. That is one very heavy lineup and it made me very happy despite not being a huge fan of the Mazurkas.

Speaking of the Mazurkas, I felt a bit bad when Gulyak finished playing all three since it seemed that not a lot were a fan of Mazurkas too since no one applauded after this piece. I thought that she would break down and cry, or worse, walk out off the stage. I guess that the audience were still shaken by the presence of Imelda Marcos to focus on Gulyak and her performance. But Gulyak then played the opening chords of the Polonaise Fantaisie and followed it up with the sublime ascending notes that really sold the piece for me. I've said this before that this is my favorite Chopin piece for the solo piano and when Gulyak played this, I vowed that I would be among the first to applaud when this piece ended. It seemed that a lot were also willing to compensate for their lapse after the Mazurkas since she received a hearty applause after this piece.

The next piece was the scherzo and again, she played with such precision although I felt that the cascading notes weren't light enough for me. But she still amazed me nonetheless by the force coming from her that doesn't show itself when looking at her initially since she looked like a very shy and introverted person. She finished the first half with the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise and she started off great although I felt that the ending of the Grande Polonaise was too rushed.

The Chopin part was now over and it was on to the next part featuring the works of another composer which was Robert Schumann. I admit that I'm not too familiar with most of Schumann's works that she played: Abegg Variations, Kinderscenen and Carnaval. Compared to most of Chopin's works which I know like the back of my hand, Schumann's works do not really remain on my mind and I never bothered to learn them.

Oddly, Gulyak had this uncanny ability that made me appreciate the second half a lot more than I expected. I guess not setting any expectations really helped since my high expectations of Chopin led me to complain about the smallest deviations which weren't in line with how I like Chopin to be played. I guess that this meant that it's probably time for me to take an effort to really learn more works from other composers since I've been surprised lately on how I like most of them and regretting not having heard of them earlier.

But after this, I felt a bit too burdened since the programme really felt heavy. It's too much Titan for my endurance. But I liked her encore of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C minor from his Fantasy Pieces despite it being dark and brooding. I guess that I still had room for one more but anything more I didn't know if I would be able to take it. It made want to imagine how interesting it would be to hear Gulyak play a Mozart or a Haydn piece but I guess that the dark, heavy, romantic pieces are her forte. So that was what she offered to her appreciative Manila audience which incidentally included Mrs. Imelda Marcos.

Duo Concertante

After the MSO A New World performance, Joseph Esmilla was convincing some violin students to come back the next night at the Philamlife Auditorium to watch another concert featuring cellist Qin Li-Wei and pianist Albert Tiu. I am not a violin student but I was one who needed little convincing to watch the concert he was referring to entitled Duo Concertante. And for those who were keeping tabs of my activities would note that this would be my third concert in three nights. And it seemed that it was also the same for most concert regulars since I saw them again for the third night in a row. I just hope that they aren't sick and tired of seeing me always.

For this night, the traffic and the weather has somewhat eased a bit and it wasn't as difficult for me to get into the concert venue which was a very welcomed relief for me and for everyone else. And people were in high spirits at the lobby before the performance started.

The concert started with a totally unfamiliar piece for me: Ludwig van Beethoven's Variations for Cello and Piano in E flat Major on "Bei Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen" from Mozart's Magic Flute, WoO46. As expected, it wasn't easy for me to get into the groove of things and I was completely lost as the variations went on. But I noted how good the cello sounded and it made me anticipate the next pieces which, fortunately, were rather familiar to me.

The next piece was Frederic Chopin's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 65. Chopin is famous for his piano music and this year has been very special for him since it's the bicentennial celebration of the year of his birth, there have been numerous concerts and performances paying tribute to him. But all of these past performances were focused only on the piano, both solo and with an orchestra. So it was nice to finally hear this piece and I admit that it was the first time for me to see this performed live. It's very interesting on how this compared to other works of Chopin that I love so much. Again, I was very much drawn to the cello despite me being more familiar with the piano.

My most awaited piece for the night was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19. I've first heard this piece played before during a student recital and I immediately liked it despite focusing more on the difficult piano part. So I welcomed another opportunity for me to see a performance of it once again. And I knew right then and there that it would be the cellist and his wonderful sound where my focus and attention would be.

I don't want to compare performances but Li-Wei really was the highlight in this piece and it made me realize how amateurish the student recital performance was. I was deeply moved by the Andante of the piece. I am usually drawn to the pianist but Li-Wei commanded the stage and I couldn't help but admire this piece once again fully realizing that it could sound this good. I now doubt if I would be able to hear this piece performed this well.

For an encore, they did something very cheeky indeed. Since they had little time to practice the planned pieces together, that left no time to practice whatever encore piece they might have had in mind. So they did a piece which is the usual encore for cellists which was Le Cygne by Camille Saint Saens. I did find this cheeky since Tiu once played a piano transcription of this piece as an encore to earlier this year. So it might've been a shortcut since all cellists are virtually required to know this piece and Tiu has played this piece as well. But the audience appreciated this a lot since this is indeed a very popular piece that never fails to please the crowd.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to observe Li-Wei's masterclass the next day since I had prior commitments and it was too early for me and would just disrupt my schedule.

A New World

About a couple of weeks before this, I was already geared to watch five straight nights of orchestra performances of the National Orchestra Festival. But illness prevented me to do so and it seemed that there was indeed something in the air during that time since a lot of people got ill as well. So being able to watch the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) the following night after watching the PPO was something that I did to somewhat make up for missing this orchestra's performance during the festival. And prior commitments made me miss the MSO's two previous performances so I was glad to be on hand once again to watch them once again.

Still reeling from the horrible travel time that I experienced the day before, I set off early and yet I still encountered heavy traffic but not so much so I was able to arrive at the Philamlife Auditorium with time to spare.

The MSO, conducted by Arturo Molina prepared a very accessible program. Starting the night, they played Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 popularly known as the "New World" Symphony. This is one of the most popular symphonies ever and I guess because of this, my expectations were high and even the smallest deviation from my preferred interpretation could prove distracting. I don't know what it is about the horns or the brass section but there were again iffy moments especially during the opening of the second movement. Again, I just have to accept that it's a fact of life. Sadly, their performance didn't move me as much as I hoped to. It wasn't because the orchestra didn't play to my expectations but it was because another piece blew me away.

The piece which made the most impression on me despite the overwhelming popularity of the New World Symphony was surprisingly the piece in the programme that I absolutely had no knowledge of. I had no idea who Erich Korngold was and how his works sound like. I didn't read the programme notes prior to the performance so I was completely had neither idea nor any expectations about Korngold Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 featuring Joseph Esmilla on the violin. All I can say is that this is the kind of surprise that I really, really like. I thought that I was going to hear something difficult to grasp which is typical of some 20th century composers who used dissonance and other irregularities in abundance. But what I heard was something lyrical, extremely romantic and reminiscent of memorable film scores.

It wasn't surprising since I found out moments later that Korngold was indeed a composer of film music and used themes from his film work in this concerto. It was the first two movements that really moved me and made me want to search for recordings of this piece. The third movement was quite surprising since it was extremely cheerful and very different from the first two. But I was very glad to be able to hear this piece for the first time and at a live performance at that. Also notable is that this was also the Philippine premiere of this Korngold piece and I was glad to be present in this occasion. Oh dear, it seems that I forgot what Esmilla played for an encore.

But the night is not yet over for the orchestra still had the Firebird Suite by Igor Stravinsky to play. They played this piece at the National Orchestra Festival and I missed it. So very glad was I that I was able to have another chance to see this piece performed live. I love ballet music and if ever an orchestra performs a suite I really look forward to it. But again, the Korngold piece still occupied my mind during this time.

Also, this concert reminded me on how the country is already gearing up for the Christmas season since they played Tchaikovsky's Russian Dance from the Nutcracker Suite for one of their encores. Unfortunately, I forgot the other encore piece that they played.

Overall, this night was all about Korngold and Esmilla. I went inside the auditorium eagerly waiting for the two pieces that I was very familiar with but it was the wildcard that really surprised me, took over my mind and left the most lasting impression in me. And this is one of the things that I love most when watching orchestra performances.

PPO II - The Emperor

I always make it a point to arrive at concerts with time to spare but this time, it was such a nightmare for me. It took me more than three hours to get to the CCP in order to catch the PPO's second concert for the season entitled "The Emperor". And I got really worried that I might miss the Beethoven piano concerto lined up which was the main draw for me. Fortunately, I managed to arrive just in time and found my seat as the concertmaster walked on stage.

Since I arrived just in the nick of time, I wasn't able to focus on the first piece which was Bela Bartok's Two Pictures, Op. 5. Bartok's pieces for me need much more focus for me to really grasp and with a haggard mind still reeling from the agonizing hours of being stuck in traffic didn't cooperate at all. So it was an absolute failure for me to even absorb much of the music despite the efforts of the orchestra and their conductor Olivier Ochanine.

Thankfully, the next piece was Franz Joseph Haydn's Symphony No. 104 in D Major which is also called "London". And this one was classical in every sense and very easy for me to grasp. I am not extremely fond of his music which is too happy for my taste but it was nonetheless a welcome relief.

I welcomed the interval with open arms since I was finally able to breathe and take in the sights and happenings at the lobby which I failed to do so before the concert. I then heard that there were other people too who had difficulty in arriving at the venue and that there were a bunch of guests who completely missed the first half. So around this time when I was finally able to gather my faculties together completely, I was already prepared for the highlight of the night's performance.

For months I've waited for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat Major, Op. 73 to be performed. I've already seen the 3rd played last January and the 1st and 4th played a few months ago. I don't care much about the 2nd so it was just the 5th, popularly known as the Emperor, that I needed to see.

So the moment has arrived and the pianist featured for the night was Georgi Slavchev. And he was brilliant in this piece. But I got distracted by some iffy moments with the horns during the secondary theme passage which was my favorite but I just have to accept that faltering horns are a fact of life. And there were times when the orchestra missed it's mark and wasn't in sync with the pianist especially during the end of the cadenza. But those are just minor kinks which didn't really ruin the performance for me. For an encore, he played a piece which sounded like one of Chopin's Mazurka's but for the life of me, those Mazurka's aren't my favorite Chopin pieces so I never bothered to know them well so I can't provide details on what specific opus, number and key it was.

So despite the bad weather making it difficult for me and a lot of others to arrive at the CCP Main Theater, I was told that the attendance was in fact one of the biggest for a PPO performance. But a lot of young adults who watched the concert tumbled over to Star City right after so they weren't able to meet Ochanine and Slavchev who hung out at the lobby. Bad for them but good for us who were able to have photos taken, programmes signed and chat with them for a bit. And it was very nice of Dr. Slavchev to give us a copy of his CD. As I ended this night and catalogued it into my vault of memories, I am extremely grateful that what started horribly ended in such a high and happy note that only made this experience more memorable.

NINE and a bit of the September Gala

It was supposed to be a lazy Sunday afternoon that should've been spent hanging out and jamming with a few friends but I got invited at the last minute to watch a matinee performance of the Ballet Philippines' September Gala at the CCP Main Theater. Since it was so sudden, I didn't arrive on time and was only able to see the latter part of the second act of the show which was Bungangsakit. This particular piece had a clear storyline but since I wasn't able to see it from the start, I wasn't able to get it at all. All I knew was that there was this ballerina who had a blond wig on that made her look like Rapunzel. And also, there was a guy wearing just fiery red trousers and he was accompanied by the corps wearing blue. I tried to get clues as to what was happening through their costumes but to no avail. This piece ended on a sad note but I wasn't that moved since I wasn't able to get emotionally attached to any of the characters since I arrived late.

Fortunately, I was able to watch the entire third section of the performance which was set to George Bizet's Symphony in C. I admit that I wasn't able to concentrate much on the dancing this time since I was more focused on the music. And I regret not seeing the gala performance of this September Gala since during that time, the Manila Symphony Orchestra provided the live music. It would've been wonderful if I heard this Bizet piece played live!

After this ballet, it was decision time for me if I should drop by the Philamlife Auditorium to watch a piano trio perform or if I should accept another invitation to watch the Airdance Company's ninth anniversary presentation simply called "NINE". This was held at the other side of the metro area so I had to think quick. Well, it seemed that I didn't think at all since I decided to try out the unusual path and went instead to the contemporary dance performance.

The venue wasn't the best, no airconditioning, and uncushioned seats. But the atmosphere of the event, the programme that was prepared and the nature of the contemporary dances all came together and the venue really added to the appeal. It was amazing on how the not so ideal elements added up to something quite exceptional. Something intangible was added to the equation which made the event more than just the sum of its parts.

The programme for the night included pieces that were performed during the 5th WiFi Contemporary Dance Festival. And since I was able to watch 2 nights of it, some of the pieces were already familiar to me and it was a different experience watching them once again. Gone was the strangeness I initially felt and I was able to see it from a different perspective. But I do admit that it was still not easy for me to grasp the concept of movement of contemporary dance

I noticed that it was difficult for the performers to have the lights on them considering that the venue had no airconditioning. The lights give off heat and since this was a contemporary dance performance, there was a lot of movement that demanded a lot from the bodies of the performers. And being in a very intimate venue, I could really see the dancers sweating a lot and it just made me appreciate their dedication and passion to their craft despite me not really being able to understand most of what they were doing or trying to achieve.

I admit that being in this tight community of contemporary dancers was still uncomfortable for me and I was thinking if I made the right decision coming here instead of the piano trio performance which was what most people expect for me. I was also surprised on how this day turned out but the decision was made, the shows were seen and new horizons were explored. Overall, it was a learning experience for me and I am glad that I was able to be immersed in a new crowd and meet new people and explore new possibilities.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

1st National Orchestra Festival 2010 UST Symphony Orchestra & FILharmoniKA

I made an effort to see this third night of the festival despite not feeling very well for various reasons. First, some members of the UST Symphony Orchestra are my friends and I wanted to support them. And I am also friends with some of the university's music students so I knew that I would see them there as well. Second, some members of the Pinoy Violinist group would be there as well since some of them are being mentored by a violinist from FILharmoniKA who is also from UST. So despite my body's desire to rest, I disobeyed common sense and watched this performance.

The evening started with the USTSO conducted by Herminigildo Ranera performing the Overture to "Rienzi" by Richard Wagner. And just like the opening night, things got started with an overture which I am not really familiar with. It was really hard for me to get into the zone since I was not feeling well and this was an unfamiliar piece.

Next performed was Piano Concerto No. 6 in B Flat Major, K. 238 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart featuring pianist Najib Ismail. I've seen him perform a Mozart piano concerto before and as I've been saying again and again, as much as I prefer seeing piano concerto performances, Mozart pieces don't excite me that much. But there's no denying that Ismail really knows how to play Mozart and he definitely nailed this performance. Unfortunately, the orchestra still wasn't able to match his level.

The last piece that the USTSO performed was Albert Reed's Symphony for Brass and Percussion and this was an interesting piece since as stated in the title, only the brass and percussion section were present. I guess that this was when my interest was heightened and I was finally able to get settled for the night.

There was an interval after this in preparation for the next part which was performed by FILharmoniKA conducted by Gerard Salonga. I admit that I enjoyed this part of the programme more since the pieces were familiar to me and I was already looking forward to them even before this night. It's quite rare to have a Charlie Chaplin piece performed by an orchestra. But Terry's Theme from Limelight is absolutely one of my favorites and it was really nice to see it finally performed live by an orchestra. And the orchestration really satisfied my expectations since it retained and captured what I like about this piece.

And they followed it up with another favorite which was Modest Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain. A friend of mine also like this piece and we were both pleased to see this performed live a last. And aside from Russian music, I also like Spanish music so having Manuel de Falla's Three Dances from El Sombrero de Tres Picos, Suite No. 2 continued the roll of FILharminiKA for me.

After this, things slowed down with Antonino Buenaventura's Meditation featuring a sublime violin solo from the orchestra's concertmaster Rechelle Alcanses. This was a short piece but it was sweet and provided a nice change of pace before the next piece which was the highlight for me: Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. This is a very familiar piece to me and it's one of my favorites as well. The orchestra performed this piece months ago which I failed to watch so I was extremely glad that I was present when they performed it again. I couldn't tell if FILharmoniKA prepared a more accessible programme or if it just happened that I was more familiar with the pieces that they performed.

After this, there was another interval before the next part where the two orchestras were combined. Most people who weren't there during the opening of the festival marvelled at the number of musicians onstage. But I was there so it didn't surprise me at all since I think that the Festival Orchestra numbered more than the USTSO and FILharmoniKA combined.

The final two pieces that the combined orchestra performed were Jean Sibelius' Finlandia and Mikhail Glinka's Overture to Russlan and Ludmila. The first piece was conducted by Ranera while Salonga took over for the second piece. The combined orchestra radiated a different kind of energy which was really interesting to see. And the combined numbers really produced a bigger sound which was really evident during the frantic strings of the Glinka overture. It felt a bit odd that the final piece would be an overture and finally, a familiar piece for me. After this, the audience demanded an encore from the combined orchestra and Salonga conducted the music from Cinema Paradiso which was really appreciated by the audience.

USTSO surprised me once again since they have been on the upswing and I do hope that this trend continues. But it was really noticeable how different FILharmoniKA was compared to them. USTSO is an orchestra made up of students while FILharmoniKA is already establishing its identity as an orchestra with the help of its high profile conductor.

It was a long night and fortunately, my friends and I were still able to socialize a bit after the concert. This was quite an exhausting day for me and I do need to build my stamina if I were to survive busy days like this. But as always, music does have an energizing effect on me. And a night spent with friends listening to orchestral music was a great way to end the day.