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.

1st National Orchestra Festival 2010 Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra & Festival Orchestra

Finally, the 1st National Orchestra Festival 2010 has begun and I was there to witness the opening concert of the festival held at the CCP Main Theater. But I was really surprised when this night wasn't as grand as I thought it would be. And noticably absent was the pre-concert buzz at the lobby moments before the show started due to a less than desirable turn out. I guess that having the opening on a Tuesday wasn't the most appealing to a lot of people. And probably the weather which brought in heavy rains earlier that afternoon deterred some people from attending. And there was definitely something in the air since a lot of people have been getting sick lately.

But those factors didn't hinder me from being present that night and I was able to snag a couple of tickets thanks to Arvin Ello's contest. And I managed to bring with me a friend and member of the Pinoy Violinist forum who was available during that night. Unfortunately, Arvin was ill and wasn't able to make it.

The opening night featured two orchestras: the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the Festival Orchestra under the baton of Olivier Ochanine. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra performed during the first half of the night. And they started with the Overture to Colas Beugnon by Dmitri Kabalevsky. I like a lot of Russian composers but somehow this work wasn't too familiar with me and I found it hard to concentrate on the music. This is usually the time when I usually settle down and it doesn't help at all if the first piece performed is something that I've never heard before.

The next was The Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius. Tone poems are a hit and miss for me but this one had a nice english horn solo which kept me mesmerized. Again, unfamiliarity with this piece made it hard for me to focus. And it didn't help that I couldn't see the one playing the english horn from where I was sitting. And quite honestly during the first two pieces, I was gearing up for the next pieces to be played.

So finally, it was time for Symphony No. 40 in G Minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and it brought memories of a previous performance of the same piece months ago. The last performance that I've seen of this piece performed by another orchestra wasn't that good and I was hopeful that this one would be a vast improvement. So despite my view regarding Mozart's music, I really looked forward to this performance. Thankfully, the PPO was a lot better but the horns were sloppy during one section of the second movement and even those who aren't familiar with the piece at all would've noticed that jarring moment. But despite this much improved performance of this specific piece, Mozart's work still doesn't excite me. Finally, the first part was over and it was almost time for the piece that Ochanine was really pimping prior to this night.

The second half was truly the highlight of the night since it was the debut of the Festival Orchestra composed of musicians from the different participating orchestras namely the Angono Chamber Orchestra, FILharmoniKA, Manila Symphony Orchestra, Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, PREDIS Chamber Orchestra, UP Orchestra and UST Symphony Orchestra. And they played one of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's famous works, Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64. I wasn't able to see musicians who were exclusively from PREDIS or AnChOr but these two groups are mostly made up of young kids still studying so I guess that it wasn't possible for them to join the Festival Orchestra. But some who came from these two groups during their younger years are now currently playing for the other orchestras participating so PREDIS and AnChOr were still represented.

Anyways, the Festival Orchestra was massive with all these members and the sound they produced was massive as well which was very appropriate for this popular Tchaikovsky piece. The orchestra shook the theater and the crescendos really swelled sweeping me away. It was like playing a recording with the volume on max but a lot better since this was a live performance. I was glad to hear once again the famous theme of the second movement which sent shivers down my spine and thankfully, the horn solo played well. One thing that I regret once again was not seeing the players further back the stage. I was able to have a good view of the cello and the double bass section but I wasn't able to see the wind, brass and percussion sections at all. So I wasn't able to see if a solo part was done by which musician and from which orchestra was he or she from. And no wonder the Ochanine pimped this piece a lot since he had the whole piece memorized since he didn't use a score during this performance.

But still, it was a very good performance and only someone without a soul would not be moved by not just the popular second movement theme but also the coda that ends the entire symphony. It's just a shame that the opening night of this festival didn't have the same audience turnout compared to the opening night of the PPO season a couple of weeks before.

Their encore was Nimrod from the Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar and once again, having more members made the piece soar a lot more. And I remembered that Ochanine with the PPO during his debut some months ago also performed this piece as an encore.

It was a nice performance especially the Tchaikovsky piece which was divine. I initially wanted to watch every night of this festival but prior commitments and the need to pace myself to avoid fatigue and exhaustion prevent me from doing so. So just wait and see if ever I would be able to make it to the other nights.

Monday, September 20, 2010

USTSO in Concert

Some months ago, I missed a performance of pianist Heliodoro "Dingdong" Fiell II with the UST Symphony Orchestra. I heard some nice words about Fiel's performance that I told myself that I'd make sure to see him if ever he performs again. And so he did have a performance with the UST Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Jeffrey Solares at the CCP Main Theater which capped off a week of so many concerts/events for me.

It felt odd arriving at the CCP on a Sunday night and since this was a UST event, most of the people there were either students from the University or somewhat related to the institution. It was a totally different atmosphere compared to the September Gala of the Ballet Philippines or the PPO Opening Concert that I was also able to attend to the same week. But it was nice seeing some of the same people whom I saw a couple of times that week and also some people whom I was only able to see that time only.

The programme was a delight since it featured two Russian composers whose work I really like. But unfortunately, the orchestra had to start with Symphony No. 35 "Haffner" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I usually tolerate works by Mozart but this one intrigued me since I was warned by some friends from the orchestra that this piece was the one that gave them the most trouble during rehearsals. I didn't set my expectations too high on this performance but I was pleasantly surprised that their performance wasn't that bad at all compared to the previous times when they completely disappointed me.

I was prepared for a disaster but although there were messy parts by the horns and some of the strings during the Andante movement. They were able to make it through and the Presto of the fourth movement which was what they told me was the hard part was done okay. So although I am not too thrilled with Mozart's works, I guess that the USTSO redeemed themselves with this performance.

Then came the part that really interested me. Fiel's performance of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in Bb Minor, Op. 23. The last time I saw this performed, the orchestra once again left me stunned because they weren't able to match the level of the pianist. This was another chance for me to see a performance of this concerto and I was hopeful that it would be decent this time.

Fortunately, there were only minor trips in this piece and the horns weren't as bad as I expected them to be. It just felt that the pianist and the orchestra found it hard to be in sync during the final moments of the third movement. And I admit that despite this being a piano concerto wherein I normally focus on the piano, I took more notice on the brass section since I had this dreadful feeling that they would play badly.

Fortunately, there weren't as many glaring mistakes and again, it took me by surprise. Overall, I was satisfied with Fiel's performance although his encore which was a modern piece left me a bit baffled. And I was glad that a friend finally introduced me to him. I'll watch out for his future performances for sure.

The last piece they performed was Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. A friend from the orchestra was quite proud of this one and she should be since they played it quite well. I really like the Promenade theme of this piece and I am glad that I was able to listen to it performed live.

It was just odd that this night, I concentrated more on the orchestra because of the ominous warnings of impending disaster that I received from some of the members. But honestly, they redeemed themselves with their performance and I do hope that this bodes well for their upcoming performances.

PPO I - La Musique Francaise

The opening concert of the 28th Season of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at the CCP Main Theater was very memorable for me. I bet that this was also equally memorable for PPO Principal Conductor and Music Director Olivier Ochanine. Months ago, I told him that I would bring to the CCP a group of recreational musicians with little or no experience in watching an orchestra perform live. And on this night itself, I had with me a bunch of friends from the Pinoy Violinists forums who had little or no experience in watching an orchestra performance.

Their presence gave me an added boost of energy for that night. I was able to appreciate the entire programme of the concert because of them. I confess that I have no idea about Harold in Italy by Hector Berlioz and Pastoral d'Ete by Arthur Honegger which were two of the four pieces performed that night. But one of the people in the group also plays the viola and the Berlioz piece is one of his favorites and the another likes pastoral music. So their desire to hear these pieces somehow added to my anticipation and it dispelled any indifference that I felt regarding these pieces.

The first piece performed that night was Harold in Italy featuring Japanese violist Sayaka Kokubo who is now part of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Upon reading the programme notes and the voice over prior to the performance, I somehow got a little idea of how this piece would turn out to be especially with the reference to Paganini. Kokubo had a very interesting looking viola and the piece itself was quite interesting too. I've already said before that I'm not really familiar with the repertoire for viola but this piece was really unusual since it wasn't really a virtuosic piece. After this piece was performed, we finally realized why Paganini refused to play it. There weren't any jaw dropping passages from the violist and it was the typical program music that I am not really a fan of. We were hoping for an encore from Kokubo but unfortunately, that didn't happen.

The piece that I was looking forward to started the second half of the night. I have fond memories of Darius Milhaud especially with his works influenced by Brazilian music. And the piece performed by the orchestra, Le Boeuf sur le Toit, Op. 58 was definitely infused with Brazilian and South American music and rhythm. To pump myself for this night, I listened to a recording of this piece. The PPO played it differently from the recording but that was alright with me since another interpretation only serves to enhance my knowledge of the said piece.

After that, it was Pastoral d'Ete that was performed. As I've said before, I am not a huge fan of pastoral music. But again, one of my friends with me that night likes pastoral music. And if he was happy because of the inclusion of this music in the programme, then whom am I to complain.

The last piece performed was the one piece many of my companions were waiting for: Maurice Ravel's Bolero. Many of them are very familiar with the piece and yet this was the first time that they've seen it performed live and I was honored to have been with for this experience. They found it amusing how the snare drum played the same two bars over and over again and yet he was positioned at the center of the orchestra. And they also noticed how the trombone had difficulty in playing his part which is quite a shame since that part with its slides is one of my favorites in the entire piece. Even those with an untrained ear were able to notice that things didn't go well for him. But I heard from someone that he had a problem with his tooth/teeth on that night hence the difficulty during his solo.

The orchestra then played pieces from non-French composers for their encore. I failed to take note of the first encore that sounded like a loud polka that always pleases the crowd but the second one they played was Intermezzo by Pietro Mascagni from Cavalleria rusticana. And this second encore really got through me since it evoked some memories within me.

After the concert, my friends were thrilled when they were able to meet violist Sayaka Kokubo and conductor Olivier Ochanine at the lobby. Some had their souvenir programmes signed by these two and then we had our photos taken with them. It's been a pleasure for me to accompany them to this performance as this inspired them to practice their instruments more and appreciate music more as well. So dear reader, don't be surprised if you see us once again at another concert soon.

Piano Optophonique Music and Image

I've heard about this performance when I had been dropping by the UP College of Music's Abelardo Hall Auditorium for their Sounds of August series. This performance organized by the Manila Composers' Lab and Goethe-Institut was dubbed as Piano Optophonique Music and Image and initially I had no idea what to expect from this performance.

Then it was announced that works by Oliver Schneller would be performed. I am not really familiar with who he is and let alone his works so I'm not sure what kind of music he had in store. And the programme said that the pieces were for video projection, real time electronics and virtual instruments aside from the piano which would be played by his wife Heather O'Donnell. I had no clue how the video, electronics and virtual instrument would contribute to the pieces but it made me curious to see this performance. Also included were works by familiar composers John Adams and Charles Ives which made the night more interesting because of the selection of the works to be played.

And it was indeed very interesting to see this performance. Not only were the works not the usual classical repertoire but the setup was also unusual as well. The video wall was expected already but the speakers set up wasn't. And the speakers played a major role since the sound emanating from the speakers would shift from the left to the right and it had an effect on the overall performance.

The music in itself takes a lot of getting used to. I admit that I wasn't able to get or hear them all. I would understand if some people were put off by this kind of performance especially if they were expecting the usual piece with a melody that could be easily recalled. The minimalist piece China Gates by John Adams was the only piece played that could be easily appreciated by a casual listener but the others require more than just casual listening.

So I was surprised that the Charles Ives piece called Three Quarter Tone Pieces was able to get through me. This piece is originally for two pianos but there was only one piano and pianist, so the other piano part was pre-recorded and it was on a different pitch, specifically a quarter tone off the pitch. It sounded really dissonant at first but somehow, it added to the appeal, mystique and enchantment of the piece. It's not for everyone and I would normally be not drawn to it but hearing it gave me shivers and goosebumps.

Since I mentioned the video wall, in some pieces, some abstract images were seen that were generated by a computer and if I'm not mistaken, the images formed took their cues from the sound of the piano picked up by the microphone. The piano played unusual notes to start with that had no discernible melody and it was difficult to see if the piece had any structure or form to it. So the images that accompanied it were thematically the same which was very abstract. And I admit that I found it hard to understand if I indeed understood anything at all.

But the other piece which had a video accompanying it was a bit easier to understand. The music was the usual difficult to understand but the video was a surprising contrast since it was about some guy who had thought up of some architectural design. So it was interesting to hear something without any form being accompanied by a video that was about a field very much into geometric forms and structure.

Overall, this night was an eye and ear opener since I've never experienced something like this before. I am just glad that I've listened to and liked some pieces by George Crumb which is somewhat in the same vein of some of the pieces performed so I wasn't entirely shocked as I could be.

And when I found out that O' Donnell would be performing a few days later at the Podium, I got a bit excited and fearful. I got fearful at first since I knew that the mall crowd would not appreciate the programme that they performed at UP. And then Schneller, during our brief chat after the show, told me that O' Donnell would be performing pieces by Schumann, Ravel, Chopin Gershwin and would be repeating the Adams piece, I knew that I had to drop by at the Podium to see her perform.

And so I did manage to see her perform once again and this time, it was the usual pieces from the usual composers that I am familiar with that she played. She first played Robert Schumann's Selections from Davidsbundlertanze, Op. 6 and then Maurice Ravel's Sonatine.

The next piece she played was a favorite: Frederic Chopin's Berceuse in D Flat Major, Op. 57 followed by John Adams China Gates which she also performed at UP. To end the short set, she played George Gershwin's Three Preludes.

Unfortunately, piano performances do not work well at all at a mall like the Podium. Most of the pieces O'Donnell played had many pianissimo parts and it was distracting to hear a young girl shrieking in the background while a Berceuse (basically a lullabye) was being played. And again, it was too short but quite understandly so since they were supposed to play the same programme that they did at UP but it wasn't possible due to the acoustics of the venue and it was not possible to dim the lights as well.

But O'Donnell's short set impressed me since it showcased her versatility since she was able to play not only modern pieces but pieces from the standard classical repertoire. Schneller and O'Donnell are a married couple and they made this brief detour to Manila from Shanghai for sentimental reasons. It turned out that Schneller spent some years in here while he was still studying in his younger years. And that he wanted to come back so he made things work out for him.

Victor Goldberg Piano Recital

One thing that makes me very nervous when it comes to recitals and concerts is knowing about them barely a week, or worse, just a few days prior to the actual date of the performances themselves. I don't know how I manage to keep my sanity whenever I try to find the time and money to watch such a concert. I do like to know at least two weeks in advance so that I could really iron out everything and be prepared in all aspects.

So I was at my wit's end when I read about the upcoming recital of Russian-Israeli pianist Victor Goldberg at the Philam Life Auditorium barely a week before he performed. And it wasn't easy trying to find information about this performance since promotion was a bit lacking. And the few information that I was able to read ie. his credentials and blurbs about his performances just made me want to watch him the more.

But nonetheless, my resourcefulness kicked in and I was able to make ends meet and I ended up watching him. Unfortunately, most people that I've informed about his performance weren't able to make it since it was really too short a notice. And I guess that this was also the case since the regulars who I usually see watching piano performances weren't present at the concert as well which is quite a shame.

The first time I heard about him at a newspaper column stated that he would perform pieces by Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. Somehow, this wasn't really the programme that he had in mind for his performance a the Philamlife Auditorium. But that didn't mean that what he played were light weight pieces.

A recital consisting of three sonatas by Mozart, Scriabin and Scarlatti and a Brahms piece is something that could intimidate the usual pianist but Goldberg was master of them all when he performed these pieces.

Again, I say that I am not really a fan of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's work. Sure I listen to them but I do not really jump for joy whenever I see his works being a part of a concert programme. But I was glad nonetheless that Goldberg started with Mozart's Sonata No. 9 in D Major, K. 311. Yes, he played it the way a Mozart piece was to be played, light, clear and playful and this somehow made me appreciate more the next piece which was very much different from Mozart.

This next piece was Alexander Scriabin's Sonata No. 5 in F Sharp Major, Op. 53. It was absolutely sublime and unmistakenly romantic which is what I really like. After this piece was played, I tried to enumerate my pianists friends who weren't present and felt pity on them for not being able to see this performance.

Unfortunately, Goldberg had to go back in time to an era of music that I am not really a huge fan of to start the second half of the program. The recital resumed with Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in E Major, K. 380 and thankfully it wasn't that long since I was already looking forward to the Brahms that would end the night's programme.

I really like Johannes Brahms works but some aren't still familiar for me. And the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 is one such unfamiliar piece. Again, Handel's era do not excite me but I was really curious to see how Brahms did his variations based on the theme. And I was really surprised by the sheer talent of Brahms on how he was able to make these variations. The original theme doesn't appeal to me at all but the variations especially the brooding ones I appreciated. And some were technically different and I wondered if I'd ever reach the skill level for me to be able to play that piece. But I guess that that would just remain a dream.

Despite the less than ideal number of people present, they applauded vigorously after the performance and hoped for multiple encores. And Goldberg did three encores with Sergei Rachmaninoff's Musical Moment in E Minor being the first and there's no denying that I absolutely adore Rachmaninoff's music so I was very pleased to have this as his first encore.

And the second encore delighted me more as well since it was Frederic Chopin's Polonaise, Op. 40 which is also known as the Military Polonaise. So I was really happy after this. And then he played a Piotr Tchaikovsky piece which was the October - Autumn Song from The Seasons piece. Thankfully, this soft piece was a change of pace from all the fast, frantic and dizzying pieces that were performed earlier.

After the recital, Goldberg was at the lobby and he gladly signed CD's which he had on sale that night. This has been one of the most impressive solo piano recitals that I've seen this year and it's just a shame that not a lot of people were able to see it. The promotion leading towards this event was limited and the little I saw was too near the performance that it wasn't able to build a certain level of anticipation and excitement.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

1st National Orchestra Festival 2010

Those who have stumbled upon this blog and have read some entries (thank you very much) would easily guess that I am into classical music big time. And one of the most exciting classical music concerts for me to watch are orchestra performances. If I had the time and money I would watch them all but although it's a lot easier for me and for most people to find the time, it's usually the money for tickets that is the problem.

So when it was announced that there would be the 1st National Orchestra Festival 2010 at the CCP which boasts of 7 orchestras (Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra [PPO], Manila Symphony Orchestra [MSO] , FILharmoniKA, Uinversity of Sto. Tomas Symphony Orchestra [USTSO], University of the Philippines Orchestra, Predis Chamber Orchestra and Angono Chamber Orchestra [AnChOr] performing from September 21-25, it was indeed a dream come true for me and probably every other lover of orchestral music out there. And an added feature for this festival is the formation of the Festival Orchestra which is made up of members from the various orchestras participating. And I've read somewhere that this Festival Orchestra will be massive with other 100 members.

So, an overdose of orchestral music is very much welcome and I would be extremely disappointed if ever I fail to catch this event tagged as "Magnitude 7 on the Orchestra Scale". I've seen all of these orchestras perform live before and I do make it a point to support their every performance as I believe that culture and the arts is very important in nourishing the soul.

A friend of mine and also an avid supporter of cultural events, Arvin Ello, is giving away free tickets for this festival. Of course I would want to win the tickets since that would mean savings on my part but I also want you, the humble reader to have a chance to experience the joy of watching an orchestra perform live.

He has simple rules and not only will I state my answers here, but I will suggest possible answers for you in case you're still on the fence about this festival.

Why should I win?

Well, I am an avid supporter of classical music performances and anything to make things easier for me to watch them is a definite plus.

Why should you win?

If you are still hesitant about watching shows like this because you think that it's elitist and quite expensive, then problem is solved if you win tickets.

Why would I like to watch?

I could go on and on about my reasons for wanting to watch. But one of the main reasons why I like to watch something like this is because not only it entertains me, but it also gives me inspiration and motivation to face the harsh reality of life. Somehow, after watching a performance, I do get additional strength to face whatever problems I may have had at the time.

Why would you like to watch?

I don't know about your reasons but even plain curiosity or if you had watching a classical concert on your to do list before you die is good enough reason to watch! Different people have different reasons for watching and that's what makes it more exciting since you will also get the chance to see the people in the audience hanging out at the lobby during intermission or after the concert. And who knows, you might even see some celebrities in attendance.

Who would I invite?

I've been very active in promoting cultural events to a group of recreational musicians. They don't embark on a career in music but they pursue it as a hobby. And it has been my pleasure bringing them to concerts and letting them experience how awesome the feeling is after seeing a great performance. I would gladly invite any of them who is available to watch.

Who would you invite?

Again, this has many answers! It could be your special someone, your spouse, your parent, your child, your friend. Or if you are new to events like these, bring someone who is also new since it's less intimidating to explore new things when you have a companion with you sharing the same experience.

Which set do I prefer?

If I have my own way, I'd watch all performances! But the opening concert which is part of Set A is a big one so I guess that would be my choice if left to only one decision.

Which set do you prefer?

Look at your schedule for that week and let that guide you on your decision. But if you can make it on a Tuesday night, then go for the opening concert as well. If you can only manage on a weekend, then go for the closing concert.

See, in my desire to promote this event to a lot of people I even helped my possible competition for this contest. Yes, I do want to snag free tickets as well.

Here is the schedule and the programme of the festival:

September 21

Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

Overture to "Colas Breugnon" by Dmitri Kabalevsky
The Swan of Tuonela by Jean Sibelius
Symphony No. 40 in G minor by W.A. Mozart

Festival Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, Conductor

Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by P. Tchaikovsky

September 22

PREDIS Chamber Orchestra
Jeffrey Solares, conductor
Micah Pecson, violin
Jeline Oliva, violin

Divertimiento in D major, K. 136 by W.A. Mozart
Concerto Grosso in A minor, RV 522 by Antonio Vivaldi
Holberg Suite, Op. 40 from "Holberg's Time" by Edvard Grieg
Romanian Dances by Bela Bartok

Manila Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Molina, conductor

Luzviminda Overture by Restie Umali
The Tempest by Peter Tchaikovsky
The Firebird Suite (Version 1919) by Igor Stravinsky

September 23

University of Santo Tomas Symphony Orchestra
Hermigildo Ranera, conductor
Najib Ismail, piano

Symphony for Brass and Percussion by Alfred Reed
Piano Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, K. 238 by W. A. Mozart
Overture to "Reinzi" by Richard Wagner

Gerard Salonga conductor

Terry's Theme from "Limelight" by Charlie Chaplin arr. by Gerard Salonga
Night on Bald Mountain (original 1867 version) by Modest Mussorgsky
Yerma by Francisco Feliciano
Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" by Leonard Bernstein

Herminigildo Ranera, conductor
Finlandia, Op. 26 by Jean Sibelius

Gerard Salonga, conductor
Overture to Russian and Ludmilla by Mikhail Glinka

September 24

Angono Chamber Orchestra
Agripino Diestro, conductor
Ivan Mihkail Ramos, violin
Dr. Santiago G. Yangco, flute

Overture to Messiah by George Frideric Handel
Petersburgian Baroque by Zhanna Metallidi
Concerto in A minor for Violin and Orchestra RV 356 by Antonio Vivaldi
Air, Suite No. 3 in D Major, BVW 1068 by J.S. Bach
Mga Katutubong Awitin by Lucio San Pedro
Katakataka: Theme and Variation for Flute and Orchestra by Santiago S. Suarez
Antiche Danze Ed Arie Per Liuto (III Suite) by Ottorino Resphigi
Jubilate March Heroic by Lucio San Pedro, orchestration by Agripino Diestro

University of the Philippines Symphony Orchestra
Edna Marcil Martinez, conductor

Overture to The Impresario, K. 486 by W. A. Mozart
Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48 by Peter Tchaikovsky
Balitaw sa Bukid by Rosendo Santos
Mindanao Sketches by Antonio Buenaventura

September 25
Festival Orchestra

Gerard Salonga, conductor
Three Dance Episodes from "On the Town" by Leonard Bernstein

Hermenigildo Ranera, conductor
Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral from "Lohengrin" by Richard Wagner

Edna Marcil Martinez, conductor
Academic Festival Overture by Johannes Brahms

Olivier Ochanine, conductor
"Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Selected Movements from Gayane Ballet Suite by Aram Khachaturian

Here are the ticket prices:

Ticket Prices for Opening and Closing Concerts (Sep 21 & 25)

Orchestra Center P1,000
Orchestra Sides P800
Balcony I P600
Balcony II P200

Ticket Prices for Daily Concerts (Sep 22-24)

Orchestra Center P700
Orchestra Sides P500
Balcony I P300
Balcony II P200

Festival Passes (access to all the concerts)

Orchestra Center P3,400
Orchestra Sides P2,600
Balcony I P1,800

20% discount Senior Citizens
50% discount Students

For tickets, please call the CCP Box Office at tel. nos. 832-1125 local 1409 and direct line 832-3704.

Tugtog at Indayog

Hoping to finally flush the Baroque contamination out of my system, I came back to the Abelardo Hall Auditorium at the UP Campus in Diliman for the final show of the Sounds of August series which was entitled Tugtog at Indayog: A Night of Jazz and Afro-Latin Music.

There's a whole bunch of musicians playing at this performance which comprises the Tugtog (Play) part of the title. The Indayog (Dance) portion was delivered by the UP Dance Company whom I've had the chance of seeing performing contemporary dances a few times already. I am already grasping the concept of contemporary dance and one thing that I like about dance performances is if there's live music accompanying it.

One thing that I didn't like was the trip going to the UP Campus since the weather was horrible once again and what was supposed to be a 20 minute trip ended up in a over an hour. So this show had a major task to eliminate the bad vibes I was feeling upon my arrival at the campus. Remarkably, this was the most attended event of the Sounds of August series and if I heard it right, some students were required to watch this.

The first number of the night was called Binalig sa EDSA by Ria Villena-Osorio. I've never heard this music before but it was clear that this was the jazz portion of the show. I felt that the trumpet was not yet in his zone at this time. Maybe he had a hard time coming to the venue as well and didn't have enough time to warm up. And as expected, several members of the UP Dance Company were there to provide the dancing. The next was the Toote Suite and if memory serves me right, a different group of dancers performed here and they had a more classical line as opposed to the contemporary leanings of the previous group. To end the first jazzy half, the musicians performed Caravan by Duke Ellington. I know a jazz standard entitled Caravan but I don't think that this was the one that was played.

The second half of the programme was when the Afro-Latin music made itself heard. First performed was Astor Piazolla's Bordel: 1900 and History of Tango: Nightclub 1960. Another set of dancers were on hand for this number and they had quite a different take on the tango. I really like tango music and I found this unusual interpretation of the dance very interesting.

Then came the Latin Jazz: Philadelphia Mambo by Sara Tavares. I'm not sure if this was the one where the musicians each had their moment. If this was the case, then this was the time when I lamented my absolute lack of piano improv skills. After this, a couple of vocalists joined the performers as they did WOrld Fusion: Bom Feeling by The Buena Vista Social Club. I felt that the vocals were a bit weak and quite unsure. Well, if they were singing in Portuguese which I think was the case, then I understand since I find the language difficult as well.

The last bunch of numbers performed were Danzon-Mambo, If Dreams Could Dance by Steve Erqulaga and Comparsa: Conga Carnival by Miguel "Anga" Diaz. By this time, I felt that no one was really taking this show that seriously. Sure mistakes were made by the dancers yet it was obvious that they were having fun and it somehow added to the appeal of the whole show.

Overall, the show was really all about having fun but I felt that some had too much fun. The overwhelming majority of the audience was made up of people from the UP College of Music and they were too comfortable that it made someone like me felt a bit out of place. I guess that this means that I am really getting old.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dichter Liebe Poet of Love

Once again, I find myself at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium at the UP Campus in Diliman for another show in line with the Sounds of August series. But it felt really odd to see the campus almost deserted since it was a holiday. But nonetheless, a number people still came to see the performance entitled Dichter Liebe: Poet of Love which is in celebration of Robert Schumann's bi-centennial year.

I was still somehow poisoned by the Baroque Overdose that I've had the week before, so I need to have the proper antidote which is Romantic music. And although I'm not that into Schumann in regards to Romantic music, I still gladly took it just to have a change of pace.

But compared to the performance a week before which went too long for me, this one was too short and went by so fast. Only three pieces were played and although they weren't short pieces, it was indeed a short programme. I know that Schumann had more works than what was played and I didn't know why they couldn't have included another piece to add more meat to the programme.

First to perform was clarinetist Hernan Manalastas accompanied by Prof. Augusto Espino on the piano and they played Fantasiestucke, Op. 73. I am not really familiar with the clarinet repertoire despite owning the instrument. I just tried to see if my breathing could match that of the clarinetist and it didn't as expected. It's usually the same result whenever I see a clarinet performance, I only get frustrated on how badly I play that instrument.

The next number in the programme was Frauenliebe und leben (A Woman's Love and Life) by soprano Prof. Gabriela Francisco accompanied by pianist Prof. Pia Margarita Balasico. I forgot to mention that I was surprised to see quite a handful of kids and teens in attendance and it was they whom I took note of while watching this particular piece. I could barely grasp the meaning of the songs since they were in German after all and only got clues by how the music sounded and by looking at her facial expressions. I could only wonder if the young ones in attendance were able to appreciate this number at all. By the end of this number, the woman had indeed lived and loved and had gone through all what life brought to the table.

The second half of the programme composed only of one piece and it was Andante und Variationen Op. 46 (for 2 pianos, 2 cello and french horn). For this piece, Prof. Balasico and Prof. Espino return to play the 2 pianos along with cellists Gerry Graham Gonzalez, Giuseppe Diestro and french horn player, Mahler Villanueva.

I've never heard this piece played before and I couldn't really react to it. Although I'm drawn to Romantic music, it is such a broad category with so many composers and works under it. Unfortunately, Schumann's body of work isn't something that gets through me compared to other Romantic composers. So as much as I wasn't able to fully appreciate this performance at all.

I did find it alarming that despite not liking Baroque music, I responded to it more than this night of Schumann's music. But they I concluded much later that the Baroque still contaminated my body and that I needed another change of pace to flush it out completely.

Baroque Overdose

When I saw the title of this show which is part of the Sounds of August series that was held at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium at the UP Campus in Diliman, I somehow braced myself for something that might test my limits. I am not the biggest fan of Baroque music and I didn't know how much of it I could take. So I wasn't sure if I could survive an overdose of this kind of music but there were a couple of things that caught my interest so I decided to check this out. Unfortunately, things didn't start well for me since the weather was really bad going to the venue.

So it's up to this Baroque music to brighten up my mood which was quite a monumental task. The night started with a Sonata for Oboe and Basso Continuo by J.B. Roilette performed by Franz Ramirez on the oboe with Alejandro Consolacion on the Basso Continuo. If memory serves me correctly, the Basso consisted of an organ and a cellist for this number. This was quite a short sonata which is normal for music in this era.

But despite this short sonata, the whole show was quite long since following this number was tenor, Sheen Leem Sanchez singing Athalia by George Frideric Handel, Domine Deus by Antonio Vivaldi and Strike the Viol by Henry Purcell. And after this, it was soprano Sherla Najera's turn with Let the Bright Seraphim Come unto Him and Rejoice Greatly, Oh Daughter of Zion by Handel. Before the show started, it was announced that there would be changes in the programme order but I wasn't able to take note what they were since I wouldn't even notice since I wasn't really familiar with all these Baroque pieces.

I think that I've had my Baroque endurance limit tested when this was over but there was still the second half of the programme. Clark Louise Crisostomo on the trumpet performed Te Deum by Charpentier and again, it was all over before I knew it. Next was baritone Jonaf del Fiero with Ich Habe Genug by Johann Sebastian Bach. And then came next one of the reasons why I came to watch: counter tenor Mark Anthony Carpio. He sang a bunch of Vivaldi's works namely Nissi Dominus, Gloria Patri, Et in Secula Seculuria and Amen. I haven't seen nor heard a counter tenor sing live before (only in videos) and this one I really had to see.

Finally, the last piece of the night was Handel's Organ Concerto in F Major, HWV 292, Op. 4 No. 4 featuring organist Alejandro Consolacion who was quite busy accompanying the other performers throughout the evening. And for this number, he had with him the Festival Chamber Ensemble and also the four vocalists who performed earlier. It was quite interesting to note that the baritone sang the bass part and the counter tenor doing the alto during this concerto.

It was indeed a long performance and despite some of the pieces being short it was still a long night for me. It was too much Baroque for me that the Romantic side of me was already rebelling. But I was glad to be able to watch since it was still a learning experience for me musically.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A Voice to the World

I always find pleasure watching performances at the Far Eastern University's auditorium despite its less than ideal acoustics. The director of the President's Committee on Culture, Martin Lopez, is an excellent host and I've also become friends with some of the students who serve as ushers during these events. So when it was announced that there will be another show in line with the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the PCC, I immediately checked if I was free on that date. Fortunately, my schedule permitted me to watch the group performing on that date: The Synergy Show Choir.

The choir is from Salt Lake City, Utah in the USA and they are made up of around 20 performers raning from ages 17-26 years old which is in line with the PCC's celebration theme of focusing on the youth. So it was no longer a surprise that an overwhelming majority of the audience present were also young and it somehow made me feel old.

And I did feel old when I watched the group's performance. They started with a song called We Are Here to Change the World! which could be an original song meant for the group. And by this number alone, I already formed my impression of the group. They combined singing with vigorous dancing which was quite technical especially for the girls in the group. The guys in the group weren't really good dancers but they were very much capable of doing complicated lifts with the some of the girls.

And there was indeed more dancing since they also did a Heal the World Medley which is a number made up of Michael Jackson songs. They also did a Hairspray Medley and The Phantom Medley which is basically a medley of songs from various musicals. Most of the songs were upbeat which meant that there was indeed more dancing involved.

All this dancing and lifting meant that the vocals had to suffer a bit. Their music included backup vocals for the chorus parts but the soloists did sing live and passing the microphone from one soloist to the other was somehow part of the choreography. And it was nice that every member of the group had a solo vocal part. I admit that their vocals didn't impress me as much but I was able to understand that it was very difficult to belt out a tune right after doing a triple pirouette.

But all my doubts regarding the vocal chops of this group was shattered during the encore which was an a cappella performance. They first sang Lean on Me which was quite passable but when they did Paraiso, which is a local song, their vocals finally impressed me. And I also liked the one song they sang after they had their evening meal to show their gratitude to their hosts. I guess this just means that I am indeed getting old since the audience were really into the singing and dancing routine that was the main programme and I responded differently.

This feeling of getting older was magnified by the thousands during a brief forum at the end of the show. The audience were interested in finding out who's single or not among the members and asked if they have facebook accounts. Afterwards, the group was mobbed by people asking for photos and autographs.

This show may not have been for me but I still appreciated the performance. I admit that I liked the dancing a lot more than the singing. I rarely see good dancing on popular television programs and it was really a delight to see dancers with solid technique live. And seeing how the young audience reacted was also very amusing and it was like another show in itself for me.

PTGP Beethoven Concerto Competition 2010

It's the time of the year when going to concerts requires a lot more effort. For the PTGP Beethoven Competition 2010 Winner's Concert, the heavy rains resulting in flooded streets made it difficult for a lot of people to arrive at the Philamlife Theatre on time. But I did make it despite being very wet and quite haggard.

But thankfully, the foul weather didn't dampen the performance of the winners of this competition. Before the performances started, the finalists were awarded their trophies. For Category B, the winners were Kao Sugata (1st prize), Lorenzo Medel and Gabriel Allan Paguirigan (3rd prize). For Category C, the winners were Ma. Regina Montesclaros (1st prize), Maysel Joy Adap (2nd prize) and Elaine Sara Lim (3rd prize).

First to perform were the winners of the Best Performance of the Contest Piece. The winner for Category B was Gabriel Allan Paguirigan and he played Rondo in C Major Op. 51 No. 1 and he was followed immediately by Category C winner Maysel Joy Adap who then played Rondo in G Major Op. 51 No. 2. This being a Beethoven Concerto Competition meant that all the pieces played were obviously by Ludwig van Beethoven.

After the performances of the two Rondo, it was time for the 1st prize winners to perform. The winning pianists performed their respective concerto pieces accompanied by the UST Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Herminigildo Ranera. And this was actually one of the prizes for winning the competition, a performance of their concerto piece accompanied by an orchestra. They did also receive a cash prize but I wasn't able to get information on how much did each of the winners including those who placed 2nd and 3rd for each categories.

The 1st prize winner for Category B was Kao Sugata and she played Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major Op. 15. Her Category C counterpart was Ma. Regina Montesclaros and her piece was Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major Op. 58. They played adequately but still none of the passion that I would expect from a seasoned performer.

But I was really taken aback by the orchestra's performance especially the brass section which seemed to me to have been grossly out of tune. I know that they are a student orchestra but their performance that day didn't meet my expectations.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Dreams for My Children

Despite a having a busy day hopping from one place to another within the metro, made worse by the uncooperative weather, I still managed to arrive on time despite being wet at the FEU Auditorium in Manila to catch a concert entitled My Dreams for My Children.

This concert featured two very promising violinists: Diomedes Saraza Jr. and Regina Buenaventura. Accompanying them was the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arturo Molina. Either of these violinists could've carried the whole show by themselves so when a concert featured these two, it should be no surprise that people would flock to the concert hall. And people did arrive at the FEU Auditorium despite the lousy weather and it was a full house with some people standing at the back of the hall.

For this concert, Saraza Jr. played the 1st movement of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 and Camille Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso. But before that the Manila Symphony Orchestra started the concert with their rendition of Antonino Buenaventura's By the Hillside.

For the second half of the concert, it was Buenaventura's turn with another Tchaikovsky piece: Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Memory of a Beloved Place). And then she played the 1st movement of another concerto, Johannes Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. And just like the preceding part, the orchestra performed first a handful of Happy Birthday Variations by Mildred Hill/arr. Peter Heidrich. And the two soloists performed Navarra by Pablo de Sarasate which capped the concert.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra is a competent orchestra and I've heard them play well numerous times. But their sound somewhat felt a bit dry during this night. I guess it had something to do with the less than stellar acoustics of the FEU Auditorium. This place is aesthetically beautiful and full of history but I do hope that they improve the acoustics soon. I wasn't able to fully appreciate the Buenaventura piece because of this. And their Happy Birthday variations was very entertaining especially when I considered the amusing reaction of the audience for the more popular variations presented.

The soloists were impressive and Saraza Jr. earned points for playing two of my favorite pieces in the violin repertoire. Unfortunately, the concerto being limited only to the first movement was not enough. But he did show flair and mastery of technique with his pieces. Buenaventura, on the other hand was more expressive with her Tchaikovsky piece. Again, the Brahms concerto being just the first movement wasn't enough. I guess that this was the compromise for having two great soloists in just one concert. Playing the full concerto would've made the for a much longer show and for some people, it might be too tiresome.

After the concert, I had a blast catching up with a few friends whom I haven't seen for a while. And it helps a lot when cocktails were served. Also, I always take advantage of having the opportunity to have a brief chat with the artists. Thanks once again to Martin Lopez for the invite.

Yamato: Drums of Japan

Yamato Drums of Japan

July is a much awaited month for the numerous fans of Japanese culture in here because of the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month. This is the time when the Japan Foundation organizes a handful of events like film screenings, exhibits and concerts all aimed to promote Japanese culture to Filipinos. And as expected, the one event I was able to witness was the one that is music related: a live performance of the Yamato Drums of Japan.

The press release for the group's series of performances stated that they are actually composed of 17 members. But the group that I was able to catch during their performance at the Music Hall at the SM Mall of Asia only featured seven performers: three males and four females. But despite not fielding the entire crew, the Yamato gave a very engaging performance that night. The seven played the traditional wadaiko drums of Japan. And these drums come in different sizes thus having varied pitches. And characteristic of Asian percussion music, it is very dynamic and textured and has more variety compared to the use of percussion in Western music. Despite these drums being traditional, there were moments in the group's hour long performance that was quite edgy and humorous.

One of the guys in particular provided most of the humor especially when he urged the crowd to participate. His comic reactions delighted the crowd and he was no doubt the most popular member of the group judging from the adoring crowd wanting to take photos with him after the show.

My favorite number in the program was when the four women played the shamisen like they were rockstars playing the electric guitar. And this number provided some very much welcomed melodic element amidst all the banging of the drums.

*photo courtesy of Kenzo Machinokokoro

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Wifi Body 5 IndepenDance and Gala

Last year, I got my first taste of the Wifi Body Independent Contemporary Dance Festival during its 4th edition. I got dragged into it when my friends decided to watch the IndepenDance performance and they decided to surprise me with it thinking that I would like it.

I did like it since it is always interesting to watch contemporary dance performances since I usually see more variety in it. And I've learned not to set any expectations since getting surprised by the performances is one of the main draws for me.

I managed to catch two main performances held at the CCP Little Theater in this year's 5th edition. I was also able to catch the opening of the photo exhibit by Paolo Bicones and a viewing of the video by Ruelo Lozendo. These were preceded by a short performance by the UP Dance Company of the Bach piano pieces they performed at Greenbelt 5 a week before.

The first show that I was able to watch was the IndepenDance which featured previous winners of the New Choreographers Competition. There were seven dance pieces performed and they were:

Walk with Me
Choreography: Ava Maureen Villanueva
Dancers: Elena Laniog, Vinia Pamplona-Peralta and Ava Maureen Villanueva

Fickle Minded
Choreography: Rhosam Prudenciado Jr.
Dancers: Joanne Cabrega and Rhosam Prudenciado Jr.

Choreography: Zyda Marie Baaya
Dancers: Jairo Ibarrientos, Christian Love Valdez, Philip Sustrina, Gary Gomez, Maynard Baylon, Zyda Marie Abaya

Choreography: Johnny Amar
Dancers: Ava Maureen Villanueva, Alfred Jan Mercado, Rhosam Prudenciado Jr.

Choreography: Gerardo Francisco
Dancer: Kim Mendoza

Choreography: Gerardo Francisco
Dancer: Elpidio Magat

Amidst Wanderings
Choreography: Herbert Alvarez
Dancers: Rhosam Prudenciado Jr., Elena Laniog, Ava Maureen Villanueva

Sloth (seven deadly sins... a sequel)
Choreography: Christine Crame
Dancers: Seven Contemporary Dance Company, Kristoffer Legarde, Christian Love Valdez, Zyda Marie Baaya, Jairo Ibarrientos, Joel Garcia, Mark Lauron, Christine Crame.

The IndepenDance featured dances with sentimental themes which surprised me a bit. Even though I don't set many expectations, I somehow hoped that the pieces were a lot more varied. After this performance, the UP Dance Company performed some sort of dance improv based on children's games of years past at the CCP ramp.

I was then able to catch the Wifi Body Gala that was held on the last night of the festival. I liked this show a lot better since there was a greater deal of variety in music and in themes. Heck, there was even humor in a couple of dances, even in one that featured Chopin's waltzes!

The pieces performed were:

Choreography: Christine Crame
Dancers: Seven Contemporary Dance Company, Christian Love Valdez, Zyda Marie Baaya and Christine Crame

Choreography: PJ Rebullida
Dancers: Karla Javier and PJ Rebullida

Choreography: Ma. Elena Laniog
Dancers: UP Dance Company, Nicole Primero, Chantal Primero, Angela Sebastian, Dina Magat, Sarah Maria Samaniego, Criezamor Pardito, Eunice Velasco, Janessa de Guzman, Chaya Barris and Angela Betina Carlos

Choreography: Carissa Adea
Dancers: Richardson Yadao, Angel Gabriel, Emmanuel Guillermo, Marvin Arizo, Ej Arisola

Choreography: Raul Alcoseba
Dancers: UP Dance Company, Al Bernard Garcia, Erl Emmanuel Sorilla, Jm Cabling, Dina Magat, Sarah Samaniego and Angela Sebastian

Choreography and Performance: Julie Alagde

Choreography: Mia Cabalfin
Dancers: Airdance, Ava Maureen Villanueva, Rhosam Prudenciado Jr., Vinia Pamplona-Peralta, Joanne Cabrega, Carlo Valderama, Melvin Apostol, Alfred Jan Mercado and Anna Agawa

Excerpt from Sayaw Sabel
Choreography: Agnes Locsin
Dancer: Christine Crame

Choreography and Performance: Ma. Elena O. Laniog and Ava Maureen Villanueva

Mr. Morales wants to say
Choreography: Paul Alexander Morales

Choreography: Myra Beltran
Dancers: Reagan Cornelio and Myra Beltran

Also performed were the winners of this year's edition of the New Choreographers Competition which I missed. The winning pieces performed were Kulambo by Frederick Fernandez which won 2nd place and Due Date by Alfred Jan Mercado which won 1st place and also the Audience Choice Award.

The most memorable number in here was Bliss and it was absolutely jaw dropping. Such extension and control was shown in this performance which drew the loudest applause from the audience.

And after the Wifi Gala, the people flocked to the CCP Main Theater Lobby for a performance of the Polecats which was wildly cheered by the people who decided to stay on. Overall, this year's edition is a bit trimmed down compared to last year which is a shame. I hope that I'd be able to catch this festival again during it's 6th staging.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Tribute to Lucio San Pedro, National Artist for Music

The President's Committee on Culture of the Far Eastern University is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. And in line with this milestone, they present their 2010-2011 Film and Performing Arts Series which has the theme: Focusing on the Youth. And they did focus on the youth with a performance entitled a Tribute to Lucio San Pedro, National Artist for Music which featured the Angono Chamber Orchestra conducted by Agripino Diestro. The orchestra which was actually a string orchestra is made up of kids with ages ranging from 11-21 years old and they prepared an all Filipino programme for their performance at the FEU Auditorium.

Before the performance started, there was a memorandum of agreement signed by FEU President Lydia Echauz with the Friends for Cultural Concerns of the Philippines (FCCP) through President Beth Cristobal for the financial support of the top full scholar from each of FEU's 5 cultural groups for SY 2010-2011.

The performance was billed as a tribute to San Pedro but there were other Filipino composers whose works were played by the young orchestra like Francisco Buencamino, Ernani Cuenco, Constancio de Guzman, George Canseco. The pieces played were mostly short, folk tunes that aren't that challenging to play. But I really appreciated them since Diestro took to the microphone and gave not just a brief background on the pieces but also gave bits of information about the orchestra, the instruments, orchestration, concert decorum, and music in general. The audience were mostly composed of students and a few guests from outside the university and from the looks of it, they weren't regular concert goers so the brief spiels were of great help for them to understand how classical music concerts work.

Things got interesting when principal cellist Giuseppe Andre V. Diestro became the featured soloist for the orchestra's performance of San Pedro's Romance for Cello and Piano. Since the orchestra was only composed of strings, this piece was transcribed which was also the case for almost all of the pieces that were played. The numbers featuring soprano Ma. Cristina Pia M. Orca proved to be one of the highlights of the show. She sung two popular San Pedro works: Ave Maria and Sa Ugoy ng Duyan from Suite Pastorale.

And for their last piece, they played the Jubilate March and they struggled a bit in the middle but come on, they're just kids! After, Diestro then told the audience about the nature of encores in a concert. The audience picked it up quickly and applauded loudly demanding that the orchestra play some more. And they did play a portion of the Brandenburg Concerto by Bach and the famous paso doble España Cañí by Narro.

Overall, the performance was simple and sweet, just appropriate for the kids that played them. It was nice hearing those folk tunes that I've learned back then when I was still a kid.

The Angono Chamber Orchestra

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wifi Body @ Greenbelt

The UP Dance Company

I rarely go to Greenbelt 5 where a lot of beautiful people shop and dine since the price of stuff there are insanely not beautiful. But I still ended up there since wanted to catch the first offering of the Wifi Body 5 Independent Contemporary Dance Frestival. I've seen one of their shows during last year's edition and I was curious to see what they had to offer this year.

A bare stage was set up just outside the posh mall and it was so bare that most people probably had no idea what it was for. In fact right before the show started, not a lot of people were there waiting for the action to start. But when the costumed dancers finally appeared, curious shoppers and passersby stopped and decided to see what was happening there.

The show which lasted just about an hour featured the Lyceum Dance Troupe, UP Dance Company, Airdance and St. Benilde Romancon Dance Co. There was someone who did some yoyo exhibition at the beginning and also a guy who did a solo but I failed to get their names. And there were also performance artists who did their thing at the second floor overlooking the stage. Again, I failed to note who they are.

The music used ranging from Bach to Owl City was appealing to a wide variety of audiences and the performances were indeed visually arresting since a lot of people did stay for a while and watch the performances. Most of the performances were indeed comfortable and pleasing to watch and even someone who didn't have any clue about contemporary dance would appreciate at least one of the pieces performed there.

The groups that performed did well but I was most impressed by the UP Dance Company since they did the most numbers that showed nice variety and also showcased their versatility. I can't wait to see more performances from them.

What they presented was just a teaser of what is to be expected in this dance festival which continues the week after at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Compared to the French - Pinoy Contemporary Dance performance that I saw the week before, the performances by the groups were more accessible and somewhat less esoteric.

The main performances happen during the festival's 2nd week and I do hope that I will be able to catch the action there.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

9th Philippine Toys, Hobbies and Collectibles Convention 2010

Oh dear, I should've been used to it by now but I was still quite unnerved by all the frenzy that happened at the Megatrade Halls 2 & 3 during the 9th Philippine Toys, Hobbies and Collectibles Convention. I came there with no clear agenda in mind. I just geared myself to experience the craziness and the chaos, but still fun, that is expected from this event which is more popularly known as the Toy Con.

I've mentioned this before, but this year's edition of Toy Con also featured the 75th Anniversary Celebration of DC Comics. And for this, they had set up the DC Comics 75th Power Up! DC Super Heroes Challenge at the Event Center where the ice skating rink used to be. I checked this out first before heading towards the upper floors where the Megatrade Halls were. And I was quite disappointed that my plan to take this challenge was dashed by the fact that only kids took part in it. I'm not sure if adults like me were allowed (I should've asked that question during the press briefing) but I got discouraged since if I screwed up in this adventure course, it would be extremely embarrassing for me.

I also lost the guts to ask if my pass could somehow enable me to just have a photo taken at the photobooth. But I chickened out. So much for stepping up to the challenge and finding the hero in me.

So I finally went upstairs to see the main action of the Toy Con. And it was indeed a frenzy. Getting inside proved to be a test of patience since I had to wait in line although it was just for a few minutes. Inside the convention hall were the usual stuff one sees at this event: numerous merchants selling toys, comics, bootlegged anime DVD's, etc. And I learned to avoid the booth where the insanely popular sisters Alodia and Ashley Gosengfiao were located since people mobbed them.

I've also learned that in these events, well laid plans often do not happen: I completely missed seeing the person whom I was expecting to meet. And a welcome surprise usually occurs like when I saw a Shredder toy that my brother has been wanting for years. I didn't buy anything for myself but I bought my brother that toy.

I had fun having my photos taken at the photobooth of a couple of sponsor booths there and those proved to be a huge hit since a lot of people did the same. I won't be surprised if photobooths would be a staple at events like these in the future.

Speaking of photos, I had a camera with me but it was hard to take photos with all the activities happening around. So please bear with the few photos I took and my equally bad photography skills.

The DC 75th Power Up! DC Super Heroes Challenge Course