Sunday, January 31, 2010

University of Luzon Drum and Bugle Corps

The last weekend of January is usually when our parish celebrates its feast day and this basically means that it is next to impossible for me to leave town during that weekend. The streets going out of town is closed to transportation and it's not the safest time to go out especially at night. So I had to miss a handful of concerts/events around Metro Manila because of this fiesta. But that didn’t mean that I had to miss out on music since there was an outdoor performance just a few steps from my doorstep. And the music came courtesy of the University of Luzon Drum and Bugle Corps.

The University of Luzon Drum and Bugle Corps, founded in 1954, is made up of students from the said university and is lead by bandmaster Conrado Fernandez. It’s amazing when I learned that almost all of the members had no music background at all prior to auditioning to make it to the corps. And once they made it, they are awarded a full scholarship which I think is pretty neat. And they’ve already bagged an impressive haul of national championships throughout the years with the title of National Champions from the National Drum and Bugle Corps Competition Music Festival 2009 as their latest achievement.

Before the night concert, the corps marched along with other bands and preceded the floats during the afternoon parade. After the parade, they only had a few hours to eat, rest and ready themselves for the night’s performance. Unfortunately, they had to perform in a narrow street which meant that they had to abandon the marches, formation changes and other moves that they normally do in a huge field.

Their setlist was composed of standards like Summertime, Moonlight Serenade, In the Mood, Hotel California, MacArthur Park, Sway, Caravan and Strangers in the Night which delighted the older members of the audience that flocked to the streets to see the performance. But the younger set also got to hear music that they could relate to with the corps rendition of recent hits like Smooth, Insomnia, Jai Ho, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, Let’s Get Loud and the ubiquitous Nobody. The upbeat numbers was accompanied by a dance routine by the female flagbearers which really got the crowd roaring with their appreciation. And a few guys left their playing duties to join the girls in the dancing as well. There was one piece originally performed by the Blue Coats but the titles escaped me.

One highlight is a Michael Jackson number which started with I’ll Be There. It was immediately followed by Billie Jean and the spotlight was on a lone guy dancing to the music. I was also impressed by their main percussionist Riccini Adel Fernandez who displayed great command with the percussion in the pit and the timpani as well.

Percussionist Riccini Adel Fernandez

Overall, the show wasn’t a display of virtuosity by the players although they were able to produce a nice sound despite their instruments that were in serious need of replacement and upgrades. But it was all about entertaining a crowd who were just too happy to have this sort of entertainment.

And the members of the corps seemed to enjoy themselves as well especially the guys featured in the dance numbers. There were moments when I was reminded of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in terms of sheer joy while playing. Sometimes they were just fooling around not taking themselves too seriously. I had to remind myself that they were not performing at a concert hall, that this was during a fiesta and that entertaining the crowd was the main goal for them.

Disappointed as I was for not being able to catch a few shows and events because of the fiesta, I was glad that I was able to see these kids perform. I wish them the best and hopefully, more National Championship titles to come.

Friday, January 29, 2010

2009 NAMCYA Winners Guitar

The guitarists featured in this concert are all young since they were the winners of the 2009 NAMCYA (National Music Competition for Young Artists). My knowledge of the guitar repertoire is very limited so I was looking forward to expanding my horizons with this concert.

It’s a good thing that Carlo Antonio Juan, honorable mention at the competition, started the afternoon concert with Asturias by Isaac Albéniz, a piece familiar to me since it was originally written for the piano. It made me felt at ease although he looked quite nervous being the first soloist. But he eventually relaxed as he went on to play his other pieces which were Un Sueño en la Floresta by Agustín Barrios Mangoré, Mysterious Habitats by Dusan Bogdanovic, Iyo Kailan Pa Man by Angel Matias Peña and Kudyawit by Bayani de Leon. I’d like to note that Juan’s third piece started with a very interesting bass line that sounded modern and contemporary. And the rest of it was just sublime. It was the first time I’ve ever heard anything by Bogdanovic and it was hauntingly beautiful.

Ramoncito Carpio, who got the second prize, was the next to perform his set and in he is more of an extrovert compared to the more laid back Juan. The three pieces he played were Tarantella by Johann Kaspar Mertz, Fantasy Variations by Jose Valdez which was based on the Philippine Folksong “Sarung Banggi” and Koyunbaba by Carlo Domeniconi. He played them with the confidence of a showman and by the time he finished the Presto of the Koyunbaba, the audience was enthusiastic in their applause. The two soloists’ performances made up the first part of the concert. I admit that it wasn’t easy for me to sit and watch guitar solos. Lack of familiarity with the gutar repertoire and not really knowing what to expect proved to be my handicap. But I’m glad to have sat it out since I got to listen to Bogdanovic whose music still resonates in my mind.

The second part of the concert was when the familiar music came to me. The Manila Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Arturo Molina started it with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. It was a totally different change of pace from the guitar solos since this piece has a brilliant and lush orchestration with delightful percussions especially at the end. There were nice solos played the both the concertmaster and the principal clarinet. The orchestra played with this piece with the flair needed and I was very much satisfied.

The finale of the concert was reserved for the first prize winner Franco Raymundo Maigue. And he performed the very popular Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo. For this piece, the orchestra was conducted by Michael Dadap. The guitarist was technically proficient especially with his cadenzas but I felt that he lacked the emotional pull needed for this piece especially with the Adagio of the second movement. I guess this is where the lack of life experience comes in. But then, I had to remind myself that Maigue, along with Juan and Carpio aren’t seasoned professional performers.

As I’ve said, these three guitarists are still young. There were times when they took their bows that they looked delighted and a bit perplexed that people were applauding them and that these people actually paid their tickets to watch them. But I think that given time and more experience, these three will be able to connect more with their audience aside from impressing them with their impeccable technique.

NAMCYA Honorable Mention Carlo Antonio Juan

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Touch of Dutch

Dutch pianist See Siang Wong was the main attraction at the concert entitled “A Touch of Dutch” that was held at the Culturual Center of the Philippines. Accompanying him was the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Herminigildo G. Ranera. This concert was also presented by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

For that night’s performance, only the orchestra section was available and it made the affair a lot more intimate. I knew beforehand that it would be a double piano concerto performance but upon receiving the programme, I found out that a Mozart overture would be the starting piece of the night.

I was delighted that the orchestra had a nice performance to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K.492. They played it comfortably and it made me feel relaxed which was a good way to start the show. It’s a popular piece and the orchestra had no problems with it. And it helped a lot that this overture is a favorite of mine because it just makes me happy whenever I get to hear it.

I am not really an avid fan of Joseph Haydn and the era where he came from. But that didn’t hinder me from enjoying Wong’s rendition of the Piano Concerto in D Major Hob. XVIII:11. It was playful, light, youthful and full of joy. There were a few tentative moments at the beginning when the orchestra couldn’t seem to get settled with the pace of the piano but they found their groove by the second movement. It was odd that I started thinking about the Beethoven piece which was to be played later on even while the Haydn was still being played.

I couldn’t help it since as I’ve said earlier that Haydn doesn’t do much for me. But it’s totally different for Ludwig van Beethoven. I admire Beethoven and his works especially his symphonies and piano sonatas and piano concertos. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited for Wong to finally play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37.

Again, I felt that the orchestra had some tentative moments in the beginning especially during the opening passage of the wind section. The long orchestral exposition was almost too unbearable as I anxiously waited for the piano part to begin. And Wong entered with a statement of authority which is in stark contrast to the cheerful Haydn piece. Gone was the playfulness of the Haydn and what was present was the seriousness, drama and maturity of Beethoven especially in this C minor key.

And with the command and authority of the first movement, Wong showed delicate touch with the accompanying arpeggio while the flute and bassoon played their solos during the second movement. This has always been my favorite part of the concerto and it made me absolutely relax and I knew that I had to savor that moment since it was all too brief.

So by the time of the Rondo in the third movement, Wong had the audience at the palm of his hand. I was almost hypnotized when he attacked the coda and in another odd moment, I thought about the earlier Haydn piece. How totally different the moods of the two pieces and how Wong was able to convey those two concertos magnificently. The audience showered Wong with thunderous applause that resonated around the theater that can make one think that the balcony sections were filled with people as well.

Wong then treated the audience with a recap of the finale of the Haydn piece for an encore. He was back to his cheerful self again. And it felt as if he was trying to put the audience back at ease after the drama of the Beethoven. But that wasn’t enough. For the second encore, he did a very interesting Chopin Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth. He started slower than usual, then played at the usual tempo, and then went faster than usual. It was the same for the dynamics with some passages played loud and turbulently. Overall, it was an interesting display of light and shade in that usually melancholic piece. I still can’t get over that Chopin.

Pianist See Siang Wong

After the performance, cocktails were served at the second floor hallway courtesy of Dusit Thani Hotel. I was able to have a brief chat with See Siang Wong and I told him how I felt about the Chopin encore. He told me that those deviations in tempo and dynamics were spontaneous and unplanned. Also among the crowd was Maestro Jae-Joon Lee who was with a group of very enthusiastic and very appreciative Koreans.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Jones & Maruri

I was a bit unsure going to this concert. First of all, I only found out about this less than week before the actual performance date. And I also don’t know much about guitar and cello duos especially their repertoire.

Thankfully, a quick search of the web led me to some information regarding the couple of musicians set to perform. I found out that the Jones & Maruri duo is composed of British cellist Michael Jones and Spanish guitarist Agustin Maruri. And they also have a handful of videos over at YouTube so I was able to have an idea of their sound.

The concert held at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza was organized by the Embassy of Spain in Manila in commemoration of Spain assuming the presidency of the European Union. So it was no surprise that the audience was teeming with members of the diplomatic corps.

So the duo started the concert with a piece called Sonata En Sol composed by composer Benedetto Marcello. Honestly, I don’t know anything about Marcello except that he lived during the Baroque era as I gathered from the programme given before the concert. I am not a big fan of Baroque music but nonetheless, I listened attentively since this was the first time for me to hear a live performance of a cello and guitar duo. As I guessed, the cello played the main themes and melodies while the guitar served as the accompaniment. But there were interesting moments in the sonata especially with the fugue during the second movement.

The second piece that the duo played was Siete Canciones Populares Españolas by Federico Moreno Torroba. As the title simply says, the piece is made up of seven popular songs derived from zarzuelas. Despite only hearing the songs for the first time, I managed to recognize a few familiar rhythms like the Habanera and the Malagueña. And this time, the guitar had the opportunity to play passages of the main theme while the cello accompanied in pizzicato. This definitely kept the audience very entertained as some applauded in between the songs.

Don Quijote y Dulcinea by Erik Marchelie was the next piece and this had a lot of texture in it despite only having two instruments. And this piece was composed specifically for the Jones and Maruri duo. This piece ended the first part of the concert.

For the second part of the concert, the duo played a piece composed for them by the former Ambassador of Spain in the Philippines, Delfín Colomé. The piece is called Dels Ocells. I really wish that I could really say much about this piece but my memory is a bit hazy and I can’t recall if the bits and pieces of music that I remember were from this piece or from the Don Quijote which they performed earlier. For example, I can’t remember which of the two featured a handful of portamenti passages by the cello. But despite my mix up, there were interesting moments in one of these two recent works of music. I find it interesting when the cello plucked along with the guitar producing a thicker sound.

After this unfamiliar piece, they went back to perform a crowd pleasing piece called Suite Popular by Manuel de Falla. Just like the seven songs, this suite is composed of six short pieces that evoked the tunes from different regions of Spain. This piece is reminiscent of the Spanish Suite by Isaac Albéniz. I really liked the final movement called Polo since it clearly had an Andalusian flavor to it. And that was when I realized that this Suite was also performed by another duo (Duo Rivera) in a concert months before. No wonder the music sounded familiar to me.

For an encore, they did Aranjuez ma Pensée by Joaquin Rodrigo which is basically the Adagio from the popular Concierto de Aranjuez. It was a delight to finally see Maruri get the spotlight since this is originally a guitar piece and he was able to display his virtuosic guitar playing with Jones’ cello mostly at rest.

The audience was then treated by a signing at the lobby after the concert. They only had three of their CD’s available for sale and I was quite disappointed not to see the Don Quijote y Dulcinea among them since that was the one that I was hoping to get.

Cellist Michael Jones

Guitarist Agustin Maruri

It was indeed an enjoyable experience despite some hesitation from me before going and then realizing that I was under dressed for the event. I just hope that I'll be better prepared and properly dressed at the next concert.

Friday, January 15, 2010

PPO Signature Series Concert V

The fifth concert of the 27th Season of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines was the first concert of the year for me. Included in the programme lead by conductor Oscar Yatco were Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber; Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11 and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. The featured pianist for the Chopin piece was Albert Tiu.

As I settled into my seat about 10 minutes prior to the start of the concert, I heard the usual tuning of the instruments backstage. From the discordant tones stood out a clear passage played by a lone violin. It was from Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. But I had to wait since that was the last piece of music to be played that night.

I admit that I wasn’t too familiar with the Hindemith work so I can’t really comment on how the orchestra played it. I did find the second movement quite interesting with the main theme repeated over and over as it got passed on from one group of instruments to another only to end up abruptly with a loud chord. And then what came next was a variation of that same theme but done with a jazzy feel to it by the trombones. And add to it the use of several lesser known percussion instruments like the tubular bells that added another facet to this very interesting movement. But during the end of the fourth and final movement, the brass section completely overpowered the strings and I could barely hear a sound from them despite their frantic bowing.

The next piece to be performed was the Chopin which is one of my favorite pieces of classical music. And I am glad that Albert Tiu delivered. He absolutely made the piano sing despite a few missed notes at the end of the difficult passages during the first and third movement. The second movement though was divine and the bassoon responded beautifully during the solo parts that supported the delicate and clear sounds from the famous slow section of this concerto. Again, I noticed that the brass section, particularly the horn was too loud. And unlike the bassoon solo which complimented the piano well, the horn sounded harsh which didn’t go well with the soft piano passages from this movement.

The audience responded well to the Chopin with some already applauding even when the last note was still being played. Tiu then treated the audience with an encore of a piano transcription of Le Cygne by Camille Saint-Saëns. He was later mobbed by adoring fans at the lobby during the intermission.

Pianist Albert Tiu

The Brahms started out nicely with the ascending and descending tunes of the introduction accompanied by the steady beat of the timpani setting the mood for this heavyweight work. The solo parts were remarkable especially the oboist during the second movement. I wish that I could say the same for the sweet yet haunting violin solo but as I’ve noticed earlier, the horn was too loud again for me to appreciate this wonderful tune. But the horn finally delivered at the fourth movement during the famous horn call. The flute that immediately followed echoing this call was up to the task and he also played his part well.

It seemed like it was all coming together as the final movement comes to a triumphant end but somehow it didn’t turn out as well as I would’ve expected. A flute noticeably stuttered, a horn had a very cautious entry, and in a strange turn, during the second brass chorale that usually sends a shiver down my spine, the brass section was somehow underwhelming. This was the part where the hair at the back of my neck was supposed to rise but it didn’t. I’m not sure if the orchestra ran out of gas at the end. It’s not like they crashed and burned and had it all wrong in the end but it was more like it didn’t end right. The applause at the end which should’ve been the loudest was a bit restrained compared to the audience’s enthusiastic response to the Chopin piece.

Overall, it was a satisfying performance by the orchestra. The Chopin alone was worth it. I still feel a bit overwhelmed by the brass section but it made me think if adding a few members to the string section would’ve improved their sound production. Speaking of the strings section, during the orchestral tutti at the beginning of the Chopin piece, a member from the 2nd violin section stood up and left the stage. He came back after the first movement and exchanged instruments with the Associate Concertmaster. I think that the Associate broke a string or something and had to have it fixed. Fortunately, the one who left returned during the pause between the first two movements and everything went well during the rest of the performance.