Friday, February 19, 2010

Just Mozart

On February 18, 2010, I watched the UST Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Herminigildo Ranera, perform at the Philamlife Auditorium. The programme for the night consisted of works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The orchestra played the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, K.492, Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major K.488 featuring Najib Ismail at the piano, and finally, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor K.550.

I was supposed to write the usual review but about half an hour after the concert, as I was on my home, I received a phone call that my grandmother had passed away after getting seriously ill almost two weeks before this.

So instead of reviewing the performance, I'd like to thank the UST Symphony Orchestra and the people whom I've had the pleasure of seeing that night. Thank you Mr. Aries Caces, concertmaster Benj, viola/piano girl Jaydee, and Korean violin girl Bo Ra. Thank you as well to the other people whose name I failed to get: the viola guy with the shaved head and eye glasses, the guy with Benj, and the guys (and the girls from FILHarmoniKA) manning the table who thought that I was still a student.

UST Symphony Orchestra

I'd like to believe that through your performance and the brief chat that we had that night, knowing the sad news became a bit less difficult for me. I always say that music gives me strength to deal with the hardships in life and I'm grateful that during this difficult time, music came to the rescue.

Friday, February 12, 2010

PPO Signature Series Concert VI

The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert for February usually features the works of Filipino composers. But for this season, the concert narrowed things down further by featuring the works of a single Filipino composer: National Artist Lucio San Pedro. Coincidentally, the concert was held at the 97th anniversary of his birthday while he died back in March 31, 2002.

Conductor Agripino Diestro led the orchestra and started the concert with a regal performance of the Jubilate March which wasn’t initially included in the programme when this concert was first announced. Normally, this kind of change/addition would leave me a bit thrown off but there was one added piece that night that I welcomed wholeheartedly. And I guess that I wasn't alone since it's one of San Pedro's most well loved works.

But before we go to that part of the concert, featured soloist, soprano Ferleoni Medina had to perform her opening piece which was Diwata ng Pag-ibig (Goddess of Love). Right from the start, she invited, enchanted and embraced the audience with her voice. Despite her tiny frame, she was able to project her voice well. But what I liked about her performance was the way she sustained the notes with a very pleasant vibrato.

And so the time came for my most eagerly awaited piece of the night which was Sa Ugoy ng Duyan (Lullabye). Medina’s performance gave me goosebumps as it had a profound effect on me since I’ve been dealing with difficult family issues as of that moment. Her voice was again soothing and never imposing which suited this song very well. By the end of the song, my eyes were welling up in tears and I silently thanked whoever it was who decided to add this piece at the concert.

She then performed her last piece, Lupang Mahal ng Araw (Land Loved by the Sun) which is a much longer work so it showed more of her range. And in this piece, there was a lovely melody that was repeated over and over again usually by a pair from the winds and the brass section. And I also realized that I liked the horns this night a lot better than the previous concert.

Soprano Ferleoni Medina

After the interval, the concert resumed with the orchestra playing Ang Buwan Sa Kabundukan (Moon Over the Hills). This was the first time I’ve ever heard this piece played and it was an eerie and melancholy piece. The orchestra then played the finale piece which was Lahing Kayumanggi (Brown Race). This was a very interesting piece since it contained a bit of the opening of the very popular folk song Bahay Kubo (Nipa Hut). But the orchestration and the texture and the harmony made it sound majestic and noble which is very much unlike the humble tune sung by kids. By the end of the piece with the orchestra playing triumphantly, I was absolutely entranced.

So the concert ended and I noticed that it was a bit too early for the night to end. And the rest of the audience somehow agreed with me and eagerly applauded for an encore. Diestro then lead the orchestra to a medley of San Pedro’s famous works which really pleased the audience. After that, he acknowledged the presence of San Pedro’s family in the audience and even asked everyone to join him and the orchestra in singing Happy Birthday since the concert was held on San Pedro’s birthday.

Attendance in this concert was good and I was very surprised to see a lot of kids present despite being a weekday. It was difficult for me at first deciding if I should still attend this concert but I'm glad that I did.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

UST Chamber Orchestra in Concert

This concert, featuring the UST Chamber Orchestra conducted by Renato Lucas, was the culminating performance of the UST String Department Week. And it was made extra special with the inclusion of guest soloist, cellist Iñaki Etxepare. This was held at the Main Gallery of the UST Museum which was a rather intimate setting if one ignores all the preserved animals around.

Cellist Iñaki Etxepare

Etxepare is one half of the Pik Nik Dúo that performed during the Music and Poetry Concert a couple of days before this concert. His presence was made possible by Instituto Cervantes and the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation. And despite not being slated to perform, the other half of the duo, Marta Roma was present at the concert to lend her support.

Just like the duo’s previous concert, I only got incomplete information regarding the programme for the concert. I was only aware of Etxepare’s scheduled performance of Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob VIIb: 1. I only found out about the rest of the programme once I got into the venue. It makes me uncomfortable not knowing the programme beforehand and I wasn’t prepared at all for the Entrance of the Queen of Sheba by George Friedrich Handel and the Suite in the Olden Times (Holberg’s Suite) by Edward Grieg. But I had no choice but to sit through it before the familiar Haydn cello concerto.

Fortunately, the first two pieces were pretty accessible. The Handel did have a delightful oboe duet amidst the strings and no longer was I uncomfortable. And the Grieg piece was based on dances so there was no need for esoteric knowledge of this piece at all. I just let myself relax and enjoy since it was lively music after all. But I also liked the Air (Andante religioso) part since it was a nice slow change of pace which made me appreciate more the fast Rigaudon that featured a violin solo.

Finally, it was time for what I came to UST for: the cello concerto. I prepped myself up for this by listening to a recording featuring Rostropovich. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not really an avid fan of Haydn’s music but this concerto is very accessible even for the unitiated. I’ve always thought of this piece as clean, pure, lively and not really heavy on the drama but Etxepare surprised me with his cadenza when nearing the end of the first movement. There was unexpected tension and drama in it which I wasn’t prepared for at all. There weren’t any surprises like that during the second and third movements. And I just let myself enjoy the final movement which could probably make an emo’s head explode because of the inherent joy in that part. Fortunately, it was the audience’s applause, instead of exploding heads that filled the gallery after the performance.

For an encore, Etxepare played a lullabye which he said is a song for small children in a place at the north of Spain. It was lovely hearing him play pianissimo in such an intimate setting. It was just a bit creepy when I remembered all those preserved animals around. After finishing the lullabye, he got a bit cheeky pretending that he had fallen asleep.

To everyone’s delight, food was served outside the museum and it offered me the chance to have a brief chat with some of the orchestra members as well.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Music and Poetry with Miguel Hernández

When this concert featuring the Pik Nik Cello Dúo was first announced, the programme initially included just the music of Luigi Boccherini and poetry by Miguel Hernández. I wasn’t too thrilled with that since I’m totally unfamiliar with works of Boccherini and I was at a loss on how I would understand the poetry part since my Spanish is extremely limited. But I still decided to give this concert a shot since I told myself to be open to new and unfamiliar things especially when it comes to music.

So on to the Salón de Actos of Instituto Cervantes I went to see the duo composed of cellists Marta Roma and Iñaki Etxepare who are both from Spain. Amazingly, the venue was fully packed and some unfortunate ones had to settle seeing the performance via a projection screen at the wall at the hallway. Lucky for me, I was able to find myself a very good seat inside. And when I got my hands on the programme, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was another set after the fugues. And this second part was what interested me more.

Honestly, it wasn’t easy for me to enjoy the performance during the first part which was made up of 6 Fugues for 2 Cellos by Luigi Boccherini and the poems Las Manos, Por tu Pie, Vientos del Pueblo by Miguel Hernández. As I’ve said earlier, I’m not familiar with Boccherini’s work and unfortunately, I’m not even a fan of fugues. But I told myself to consider the performance as a new experience and it proved to be just that with the inclusion of the recited poetry.

They started the concert by playing together the first fugue and after the piece, one started to recite a verse of the first poem while the other plucked broken chords in accompaniment. I couldn’t recall if the arpeggios played were part of the actual fugues or passages played pizzicato. There were times when they stopped playing altogether to give way to the poetry and then resumed back to the music where they left off.

I didn’t understand the poetry at all. And early on, I already abandoned any efforts trying to get the meaning of the poems but instead focused on how the two cellists recited them. The changes in tempo, rhythm, dynamics and pitch in the recitation somehow gave a certain musicality to something I initially thought that I wouldn’t appreciate at all. But I admit that I was drawn more to the music and was more attentive to the one playing than the one reciting. It was an odd feeling when I noticed people around me reacting to the words that they heard while I was absolutely oblivious to what was being said. The audience gave a polite applause when the duo finished all of the six fugues.

After a brief intermission, the second part started and this was the redeeming part of the concert for me. The duo played contemporary music by composer Samuel Maynez and with titles like Huapango, Minueto, Marchata, Tango, Elegía del Recuerdo, Danzón con un Poco de Tango y Salsa, I already got an idea on how the music would sound.

This was when the evening got more exciting and the playing more passionate. Most of the music in this set was based on dances so there was a more relaxed atmosphere in this part compared to the more serious first part. The Tango was very sensual in which Etxepare played the melody often hitting the high registers of the cello and gliding from one note to the other. Roma played the accompaniment along with the syncopated bass line and provided a nice contrast to the fluid melody. After this piece was a total change of pace and mood. Although I understand very little Spanish, I knew that the Elegía del Recuerdo would be a mournful piece in line with the other elegies in music literature. And I savored this performance with utmost interest.

I haven’t said too much about the poetry in this second part. The poems recited were Un Son para Ninos Antillanos, Son 6, El Negro Mar and Mulata by Nicolás Guillén. By this time, I was completely engrossed by the music and only managed to get quick glimpses on whoever was reciting the poem.

The second part really entertained the audience and they clamored for more from Roma and Etxepare after they were done. And they did perform two encores: the first was Danzón and the second one was Fandango both by Maynez. After the concert, the two met with the very satisfied crowd who gathered at the lobby.

Cellist Marta Roma

Cellist Iñaki Etxepare

Overall, the concert was a bit too short for me and it ended when the audience was just getting warmed up. But it’s not yet over for me since Etxepare is set to perform a cello concerto by Haydn a couple of days later. It’s too bad that Roma will not be playing as well but she told me that she will when she comes back again.