Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire Cecile Licad II

Just a couple of days after her solo concert, renowned Filipino pianist Cecile Licad performed once again for the fifth concert of the Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire series. This was without a doubt, the main highlight of the series since she was scheduled to play Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21 with the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Molina. And people knew it as well since a very diverse crowd ranging from the well dressed members of the high society to the young music students filled the Philamlife Auditorium. All of them were eager to see Licad perform this famour concerto.

But the Chopin concerto was the last piece for that night which meant that the orchestra had to play something else. Chopin composed almost exclusively for the piano so the other pieces had to be from other composers. And these pieces were Richard Wagner’s Overture to "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg", Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34.

The first half of the concert featured the orchestra playing the Wagner and Liszt pieces. I am remotely familiar with these pieces and this half was a real test of my patience. I was actually more eager to listen to the second half of the concert but I had to sit throughout these two pieces.

As expected, the second half was the most awaited part of the concert. And Rimsky-Korsakov’s delightful Capriccio Espagnol was a good way to start it. I’ve seen the orchestra play this piece before during the NAMCYA guitar winners’ concert a few months back. But for this night, the tempo felt a bit too slow than what I’m used to. Still, the clarinet and violin solos were quite lovely.

And saving the best for last, Licad then played the Chopin concerto. So long have I waited to see her play this piece live and it was absolutely sublime. In this concerto, there are certain parts that I absolutely adore and Licad nailed them perfectly. Kudos to the first bassoon for not letting me down as the second movement Larghetto was winding down. It was exquisite and he had a lovely tone during the counterpoint.

The audience thought that despite a superb performance from Licad, it was still not enough as they demanded an encore and she obliged with a handful of them. She played a couple of Chopin pieces: Etude in C Minor, Op. 10, No. 12 and Waltz in D Flat Major Op. 64, No. 1. And then she played a handful of pieces which I again failed to note the titles and their respective composers. But a couple of them she played as encores as well during her solo concert. After the concert, Licad was mobbed by members of the audience all wanting to have her autograph and their photos taken with her. Spotted among the audience were Rudolf Golez and Raul Sunico who were previous performers of the concert series.

Pianist Cecile Licad

Finally, the concert series is almost over since the next performance is still months away. I’ve had my fill of Chopin and I think that it’s time for me to have a change of pace. It’s time for me to rest a bit since I’ve been through a lot of concerts this March and it’s been tiring. But I’m still far from getting tired of all the concerts and the music; I just need to recharge so that I’ll be energized for the next concerts/recitals just lurking around the corner.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire Cecile Licad I

The Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire series had one of its main highlights with their fourth concert. And the reason for this was no other than Cecile Licad, who is considered as one of the most celebrated pianists in the Philippines. And because of this, a handful of distinguished people from the Philippine art scene were present at the Philamlife Auditorium to see Licad in a solo recital still featuring Frédéric Chopin’s music.

The concert started with a very familiar piece. And that was when I realized that Licad’s piece for the first half is exactly the same as Raul Sunico’s second half from the concert a few days before. I’ve always thought that Licad would play another set of pieces during the first part of the concert but she instead started with the four Scherzos: Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20, Scherzo No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 31, Scherzo No. 3 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 39 and Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54.

Fortunately, she let the audience applaud after each Scherzo. But I guess that she had no choice since the audience started applauding even before the reverbaration died from the final chord of the first piece. I’ve seen her play before and she didn’t disappoint. She played with the command, authority needed with the imposing chords of some of these scherzos. And she showed the delicate touch which was featured in the contrasting themes of these pieces. She was also a bit animated in her playing. Some might find it engaging but some might find it distracting.

I guess that the audience was engaged by her playing since the applause got louder as she finished the rest of her pieces. Playing the four scherzos, in my opinion, was a very good and exciting way for Licad to start the night.

Unfortunately, the second half of the program was a bit of a letdown for me since it featured the 24 Preludes, Op. 28. This set of pieces has always perplexed me and it’s not easy for me to appreciate fully although I really like a few from this set like Preludes No. 9 and 20. I guess that one has to really be familiar with all the pieces in here and not only that, but also to be able to look at the piece as a whole in order to really appreciate it. And it’s one that I’ve somewhat struggled with up to now. It’s also a test of patience since it’s quite a long piece when all 24 pieces were played and some people who weren’t familiar with the piece were trying to grasp from other people when it would end. But despite my bias regarding this piece, I still was able to appreciate the masterful way Licad played. Although I admit that I listened more closely to the sections that I liked more.

As expected whenever Licad performs here, the crowd gave her a resounding standing ovation which prompted her to do several encores. I was only familiar with the first one which was Chopin’s Etude No. 3 in E Minor, Op. 10 which is actually a regular encore performance from her. If I’m not mistaken, she did four more after that but I failed to get the titles of those other pieces. But the crowd was absolutely in high spirits after every encore and Licad radiated joy as she made her curtain calls. So it’s no surprise that after the concert, people flocked to the table set up to have their programmes, CD’s, books and other memorabilia signed by this remarkable woman.

Pianist Cecile Licad

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire Raul Sunico

The third concert of the Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire series was the fifth show that I’ve been to in seven days. Travelling to watch all these shows coupled with very little sleep and not to mention the intense summer heat has made me very tired and weary. But that didn’t stop me from going to the Philamlife Auditorium to catch this performance that featured pianist Raul Sunico. Besides, this is a celebration of the music of Frédéric Chopin.

Sunico is no stranger to me since I see him a lot at the Cultural Center of the Philippines since he is the Vice President and the Artistic Director there. Aside from that, he is also the Dean of the UST Conservatory of Music. It’s a wonder how he is able to find the time to practice and prepare for performances such as this.

I was a bit thrown off when Sunico didn’t follow the format of the previous two concerts of talking a bit before performing the pieces. But then, this is usually how recitals are. Unfortunately, as I’ve said earlier, I was already feeling very tired and not having this small talk didn’t make it easy for me to get into the zone. And it didn’t help that he started the night with Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60. I have nothing against this piece, in fact I really like this but it was too sedate, ethereal and flowing for me with not too much tension, agitation or drama to jolt me out of my seat. I was just glad that he didn’t start with a Nocturne or that would’ve lulled me to sleep! I vowed to myself that I had to rest big time so that this wouldn’t happen to me again.

The next piece Sunico played was the three Mazurkas, Op. 56. Unfortunately, these pieces aren’t really familiar to me. I tried to listen to it and appreciate it but it was difficult. And like what I’ve said before, it’s tough when a piece preceded something else that I was really looking forward to. And the next piece after this, Sonata No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 35 was the one that I was really waiting for.

This Sonata is one of my favorite Chopin pieces which meant that I was all ears when he played it. Sunico always has a restrained way of playing the piano. Some might call if stiff and uninteresting but I think that his playing is devoid of possible distractions like exaggerated facial expressions or unnecessary body movements. That is why I was able to really watch and listen to his interpretation of this Sonata. And by this time, the urge to sleep because of exhaustion was gone.

My favorite movement in this piece has always been the second one which is the Scherzo. But the movement that I appreciated most in Sunico’s performance was the third: the popular funeral march. I was a bit amused when there were some whispers among the audience when they heard the familiar melody of this movement. I guess that a lot of them weren’t aware that Chopin composed this tune since if they knew and read the programme before the concert; they wouldn’t have been surprised at all. But at least now they know! But what really worked for me wasn’t the main theme which is the popular funeral march. It was rather the Lento that I liked more. This piece ended the first half of the concert.

The concert resumed with Sunico playing the four Scherzos. The beginning of Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 leaves a lasting impression with the surprising outbursts following the chords that start the piece. And when he played this part, the audience realized that this piece is indeed a heavyweight. I was surprised when he decided to play all four without any pause. When he finished the first, some people in the audience wanted to applaud but they were stopped from doing so when he then started to play Scherzo No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 31. This Scherzo is my favorite of the four since I like the contrasting themes and it has tension, drama, a very nice lyrical secondary theme and ultimately, a triumphant finish. Again, it was very interesting to see the differences in Sunico’s playing from what I had in mind. He gave me a new perspective on how this piece is played.

As expected, Sunico then played Scherzo No. 3 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 39 right after. This piece is the one with the delicate descending arpeggios that is like the flowing of water down a gentle stream. This is my second favorite among the four. And it’s very obvious that he ended this set with Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54. This last piece is my least favorite among the four and for me it was somehow anticlimactic to end the concert with this piece. But that wasn’t the case for the rest of the audience since they applauded generously after the last piece ended since they had to wait until all four were finished.

I would’ve appreciated it more if he switched the order of the pieces like with what he did when he played the four Rachmaninoff concertos years ago. And I also wished that he didn’t play all four Scherzos in just one sitting. He could’ve taken a bow after finishing a piece, let the audience applaud and to also let me breathe for a while so that I could prep myself for the next piece to be played.

Sunico finally got the chance to be humorous during his encore. He played Etude No. 1 in A Flat Major, Op. 25 and joked to the audience that he would not be naming the composer of this piece. And somehow, this lighthearted moment continued on after the show as people eagerly went backstage to congratulate Sunico for his performance.

Pianist Raul Sunico

It was nice seeing Rudolf Golez again whom I also saw during the Ashkenazy concert. He has read my entry about his performance and I am extremely glad that he liked what I wrote.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire Dana Ciocarlie

As I’ve said before, I always liked Frédéric Chopin’s music. And to have the Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire series of concerts devoted to his music, it’s like being a kid again during Christmas time. I’ve already been to the first concert and I went back to the Philamlife Auditorium for the second concert of the series to see pianist French-Romanian Dana Ciocarlie perform this time.

But aside from the concert, there was also the opening of the Chopin in Paris exhibit as well. This event was sponsored by the French Embassy and Alliance Française so I was a bit uncomfortable whenever I found myself surrounded with French speaking people since I don’t know the language at all. So I just viewed the exhibit with a glass of wine in hand since there plenty was of it at the event. And since I’m a Chopin fan, I already knew a lot of the information that accompanied the photos at the exhibit. But it was still a good way for me to get psyched for the concert.

So the concert started with Dana Ciocarlie talking a bit about the pieces she was going to play for the first half. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I do like this setup because not only does it prepare the audience for the music performance but it also shows a bit of the personality of the pianist. And she was very charming, cheerful and came off as very warm and gentle like a nice cup of English breakfast tea. So for the first part, Ciocarlie played Rondo à la Mazur in F Major, Op. 5, the 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59 and Polonaise Fantaisie in A Flat Major, Op. 61. These pieces reflected more of the Polish side of Chopin since the Mazurka and the Polonaise are dances of Polish nature.

The Rondo is a very early work of Chopin and it’s not one of the most well known and I admit that I am not really familiar with it. But the mazurkas that followed are very familiar to me. They were among the first Chopin piano pieces that I’ve listened to. And it is always a delight for me to see them played by a competent pianist.

And my most awaited piece of the night finally arrived. The Polonaise Fantaisie is my favorite Chopin piece for the solo piano. When she played the first couple of chords followed by the ascending notes, I was already mesmerized. She had a natural, unforced manner in which she played this piece. After this, I felt that I could go home satisfied but there was still more to come after the interval.

Fortunately, I wisely stayed on for the second half since Ciocarlie had a surprise for everyone. She played a piece that wasn’t on the programme for the night and it was something that she just learned. The audience was very much delighted when she announced that this piece was Fantasie-Impromptu; not the one by Chopin but by Filipino composer Nicanor Abelardo. And this further endeared her to the audience since she took an effort to learn this piece.

She then returned to the Chopin programme and continued with two Nocturnes. The first one she played was the Nocturne in E minor, Op. post followed by the popular Nocturne No. 2. in D Flat Major, Op. 27 The first Nocturne isn’t one of my favorites but the second is definitely one of mine. Sometimes, my patience is tested whenever a piece I’m not too fond of precedes the one that I prefer more.

The next piece she played was the Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38 which started calmly not unlike the previous pieces that she played. Thankfully, this Ballade has a second part that sounded destructive and violent. And if any of the audience fell asleep during the Nocturnes, this Ballade would’ve woken them up.

She then had a handful of waltzes to end the programme. She first played the popular Waltz No. 1 in D Flat Major, Op. 64. And next were the 3 Waltzes from Op. 34 Trois grandes valses brillantes. She sounded very cheerful with her spiels when introducing the works and she was able to bring some of that cheerfulness and playfulness with some of these waltzes.

For her encore, she played something by Shumann but I failed to get the title of the piece. But I recognized her second encore as being the Etude No. 10 in A Flat Major, Op. 10. The audience wanted more from her and she obliged but reminding the audience that it was already her “last” encore. This last encore was something by Schubert and again, I failed to get the title of this piece.

Pianist Dana Ciocarlie

There were more people who watched this concert than the previous one featuring Rudolf Golez. It took me quite sometime in order to have my programme signed since Ciocarlie was busy entertaining some members of the audience after the show. It was a bit intimidating since most of these people were talking to her in French. And when it was finally my turn, I told her that I was very glad that she played my favorite Chopin piece. She then asked what it was, and when I told her that it was the Polonaise Fantaisie, she told me that it was also her favorite and that this piece is indeed a masterpiece.

There are still a few concerts left in this Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire series and I am already geared for the next performance date.

Friday, March 19, 2010

PPO Signature Series Concert VII

My mood during the February concert of the signature series of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra wasn't the best and I somehow had to convince myself to watch the performance. But now, things are different and I looked forward to this performance, the penultimate concert for the season, with much enthusiasm. Piero Gamba was originally announced to conduct but he had a family emergency so he wasn't able to come. And it was Aries Caces, PPO's resident conductor, who eventually led the orchestra at this performance.

The night’s programme consisted of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84, Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47 featuring Joseph Esmilla. Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 “Classical” and lastly, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture – Fantasy.

There have also been a few changes in the programme leading into the performance. The Beethoven piece was an addition and I do welcome additional pieces than the other way around. And it was actually Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol that was originally announced, then replaced by Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Oveture before ending up with Romeo and Juliet.

Before the show started, Esmilla was hanging out at the lobby, complaining of the heat but very appreciative of the people who wished him luck at his performance. I was very much amused to see a young boy wearing a barong who eagerly had his programme signed by Esmilla even if the show didn’t start yet.

Well, the concert started with the Beethoven piece. I had to strain my ears in order to hear the earlier parts. It’s one problem that I have whenever I am seated in a not so good section. I’m quite familiar with this piece. It’s quite enjoyable especially in the end when the music gets exciting. But at this moment, I was just patiently looking forward to the Sibelius piece.

Esmilla was a delight to see perform. A few people expressed regret that I wasn’t able to catch his performance about a couple of months ago and I vowed to myself that there was no way for me to miss this. Unfortunately, it’s still a struggle for me to listen to his parts as the sound doesn’t come across as loud enough at my section. I really had to actively listen to it and if one is not familiar with the piece and didn’t know what to expect, it would be not easy for him to appreciate. But those people who told me to watch Esmilla were absolutely right. And I’m glad that I was able to see him play a romantic piece such as this. I can’t imagine him playing something like a Bach piece. He was met with thunderous applause after the concerto. Then, he treated the audience with an encore and if I’m not mistaken, it’s Tango Etude No. 3 by Astor Piazzolla. He might’ve complained of the heat earlier before the show, but he definitely raised the temperature of the hall with this encore.

So it’s no wonder that the lobby was in high spirits during the intermission. And during this time, I had the pleasure of meeting incoming PPO music director Olivier Ochanine who just arrived that day. And Esmilla went back there and was promptly congratulated by a lot of people who were very pleased with his performance. The atmosphere at the lobby was more vibrant compared to the other concerts that I’ve been to this year. I really felt the adrenaline rush which is quite usually felt during rock/pop concerts.

Violinist Joseph Esmilla

So when the concert resumed, I found it hard to settle back and listen to the Prokofiev piece. Adrenaline was still pumping and it was not easy for me to get back listening actively. And it didn’t help that I don’t like this piece to start with despite it being by Prokofiev. Also for the same reason during the first part, I was anticipating more the next piece to be played. All I can say about the performance of Romeo and Juliet was that the young couple seated beside me was all cuddled up throughout the duration of the piece. The cuddling only ended when the woman leaned forward to applaud after the final note was played. The rest of the audience clearly enjoyed this popular piece and they were really on a high.

It was such a treat when the orchestra played the very delightful Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Johannes Brahms as an encore. That piece always brings a smile to my face and I do find the orchestra version lovelier than the piano version. And the audience was all smiles when they left the hall to socialize at the lobby.

I can’t stress it enough that the atmosphere was very different that night. I guess I really felt the contrast since I was very much troubled during the previous concert of the PPO. Right now, I’m looking forward to the final concert of the season. It’s a gala night which means that I have to think a lot longer on what to wear.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Par Five Quintet

The fifth floor of the Albertus Magnus Building where the UST Conservatory of Music is was littered with quite a number of musicians who were anticipating the masterclasses by some members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. These members were horn player Mark Vines, oboist Michael Wilson, clarinetist John Schertle, bassoonist Vance Lee and double bassist George Lomdaridze. They are collectively known as the Par Five Quintet and they were accompanied by Gerard Salonga who conducted the orchestra a couple of months ago in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, I’m in no capacity to participate in any of the masterclasses held in different rooms in the building since I don’t play any of these instruments. Yes, I do have a clarinet but I play it so bad that I might drive Schertle insane if I dared to intrude his class. All I managed to do was just to take a peek at an oboe and bassoon class which made me conclude that I absolutely made the right decision of not making a fool out of myself.

Bassoonist Vance Lee

So what happened was that I ended up listening to a practice session by a trumpeter and his pianist in preparation for his upcoming recital. I value my life so I decided not to write in detail the hilarity that ensued during this session. All I can say is that I was stunned at this new twist on the trumpet sonata which got interspersed with the spoken word.

After the practice session, the Par Five Quintet and the participants gathered at the recital hall for some ensemble playing. This was the time when I knew that I could sit in without any dire consequences since there’s no harm in just watching and listening. They’re referred to as a quintet but Lomdaridze wasn’t there yet when they played something that sounded like it was by Mozart. I couldn’t recall what it was but I remember that I’ve listened to it recently. And for this piece, the four members were accompanied by four students from each of the classes so there were two players for each instrument. Then after a brief break, Lomdaridze joined the four members and played the piano with them as they did another piece but I have no idea what it was again. These are the times when I need a concert programme badly. Music students and enthusiasts are always delighted whenever they get the opportunity to see musicians from other countries perform. And the entire hall showed their delight by giving the quintet a generous applause after the performance.

Par Five Quintet

I don’t know if this was indeed worth a blog entry since this there wasn’t really a notable performance that happened. The Par Five Quintet just jammed a bit as a culminating activity of the masterclass. And although I had no right to be in that masterclass, I’m still glad that I came since not only was I able to see the quintet jam but I also got the chance to see friends there and also made some new acquaintances as well.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Concert for a Culture of Peace

I’ve known about this event for some months now and there was no way that I was going to miss this. And it seemed that a lot of people felt the same way I did since a good mix of young and old people, expatriates and locals flocked to the CCP Main Theater to witness the performance of legendary pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy with his sons, clarinetist, Dimitri Ashkenazy and pianist, Vovka Ashkenazy.

It’s quite rare for the Philippines to have an opportunity such as this but this was made possible by the International Peace Foundation. And this concert was part of the 3rd ASEAN event series Bridges-Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace which was facilitated by the International Peace Foundation.

In my excitement for this concert, I did something or rather did not do something which I would normally do. I failed to familiarize myself with the concert programme for that night. So I went there barely knowing some of the pieces while the others were something that I’ve never heard before.

Fortunately, the first piece that was played Robert Schumann’s Three Romances, Op. 94 was quite familiar to me. But what wasn’t familiar to me was having the oboe part being played by the clarinet. Obviously, it was Dimitri who played and he was accompanied by the elder Ashkenazy which was the setup for the entire first half of the concert. It was odd hearing this piece with the clarinet and it took me a while to get used to it. I’ve always associated the tone of the clarinet more suited to jolly, humorous, and impish tunes.

Well, the next two pieces just managed to show just that. I am totally unfamiliar with Witold Lutoslawki’s Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Piano but I enjoyed this more than the first piece since the five short movements had more variety especially in tempo and I always enjoy it when the clarinet is played in a faster pace. And this variety was also shown in the last piece for the first half which was Francis Poulec’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.

I purchased a clarinet a few years ago just because I got interested in it. I initially wanted an oboe but upon realizing how diffiicult it was to play and also how expensive it was, I settled for the clarinet. I play the clarinet badly and seeing Dimitri play it with such ease especially when taking wide leaps from the chalumeau register then up to the altissimo register. His performance just basically told me that it would take a miracle for me to become half as good as him.

The second half of the concert featured piano duets with Vovka now joining his father on stage. They first played Franz Schubert’s Divertissement a l’hongroise in G minor, Op. 54 D. 818. But I missed much of the first movement since during that time, people from my section of the audience were moved to better seats. So as I watched the entire first half of the concert seated at the top among the balconies, I got fortunate to be seated at the third row at the left side of the orchestra section during the second half. It was a bit too near the stage for my taste but this was much better than the balcony.

So it was still with disbelief that I listened to the next two movements of the piece. I wasn’t able to settle down, relax and really focus on the performance since I still couldn’t believe that I was seated that close to the stage.

Fortunately, I got settled down by the time they started the final piece which was La Valse by Maurice Ravel. And I truly enjoyed this one although I am more familiar with this piece played by the orchestra. As I’ve said earlier, I prefer the bright and somewhat lively tunes for the clarinet. But with the piano, I prefer the dark and more disturbing tunes and this one really fit the bill.

While I was able to see Vladimir’s fingers in action a lot better, I wasn’t able to see his face. It would’ve been very interesting to see how he interacted with his son since I was able to see Vovka’s face clearly. And how the pianists communicate and interact while playing their own parts is one of the things I really look forward to whenever I watch piano duets.

The audience gave them a resounding applause with majority giving them a standing ovation. And it was very refreshing when the three of them seemed to be joking around while enjoying the audience’s appreciation for their performance. And the humor didn’t stop at that. For an encore, the three of them played something composed by Nikolai Morozov. Dimitri explained that this piece was derived from a Russian fairy tale about a goat that was taken care of by a lady. And this goat wandered around and ultimately got eaten by wolves. It sounds crazy but that’s how the fairy tale goes, according to Dimitri. I tried getting the title of this piece from him but he himself didn’t know the title of the fairy tale.

Despite knowing the tragic outcome of the goat in the end, I truly enjoyed this encore especially since this was the first time I was able to see Dimitri playing up close. I was able to savor and hear the sound a lot better, heck I could even hear the sound of the keypads! I really like it when things loosen up at concerts like this and it eliminates a lot of the stiffness that a lot of people think is prevalent in classical music performances.

Right after the concert, the three graciously signed whatever stuff that the fans had with them. It was indeed an unforgettable night for all those who were able to attend this rare event.

Pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy

Clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy

Pianist Vovka Ashkenazy

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tchaikovsky Evening

At long last, I was able to catch a performance from the UP Orchestra after missing everything the UP College of Music had in store for the past couple of months. I knew that I had to go the Abelardo Hall Auditorium when I found out that they'd be having an all Tchaikovsky programme. I really enjoy listening to the works of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and some of my favorite orchestral music were composed by him.

UP Orchestra

The UP Orchestra, under the baton of Prof. Rodney Ambat first played the very popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 with April Dawnena Merced as the featured pianist. I commend Merced for getting through this piece despite some wild moments from the orchestra.

For the second piece, Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 was played. And it had more wild moments but somehow they got it together in the fourth movement. As an encore, they played the entire third movement again.

I was basically stunned on how half baked the orchestra sounded to me. I felt that the Tchaikovsky pieces that they played were too big for them. Although I wasn't able to write about it before, this was actually the same reaction that I had back then during the Just Mozart performance by the UST Symphony Orchestra. I wasn't expecting professional quality performances from both orchestras but what I saw was some notches below from what I expected.

Oh well, the members are still young and still studying, so I hope that they practice well in order for them to get a lot better. I wish that the next time I see them perform, I'd be blown away by their improvement. And the performances that didn't meet my expectations would just be a distant memory.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

N.O.A.H. (No Ordinary Aquatic Habitat)

I'd like to subtitle this blog entry as an afternoon of false starts. It was my first time joining the Manila Bloggers Network for an event and my first time to blog about about something else beyond classical music performances. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good start for me.

I was geared for a preview performance of Trumpets' production of N.O.A.H. (No Ordinary Aquatic Habitat) which had a successful run a few months ago at the Meralco Theater. People whom I've asked about the musical only had nice words to say about this production. So I got quite excited to have this opportunity to see it this time since I missed its original run.

Too bad that what was presented at the Centerstage at the SM Mall of Asia was actually a sneak peak for potential show buyers. They didn't present the whole show but just did two musical numbers featuring the main cast to give the audience a sneak peak. And right after that, things went straight to business which made me question as to why bloggers were actually there. Almost all of the audience present were potential show buyers and we were totally out of place in this event.

I wanted to write a review of the musical but the two numbers that were shown were not enough. The music with its Motown and Gospel flavor was enjoyable but still wasn't enough to connect with me since I wasn't able to experience the whole journey which was only possible by watching the whole show.

I'm not blaming anyone for this. If I'm not mistaken, this was also the first time for the SM Cinema and Trumpets to embark on this kind of project. So this was really a case of tripping during the first steps. I just hope that the next events will go smoothly as planned.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire Rudolf Golez

I’ve always liked Frédéric Chopin. His works not only have exceptional beauty but they also hold a special place in my life. A lot of his works have forever been associated with special moments in my life. And before my grandmother passed away, her afternoon naps were accompanied by Chopin’s music since that was when I usually practiced the piano. And the place where she had her naps was adjacent to the room where the piano is. But I had to stick to playing just Nocturnes since I would’ve disturbed her slumber if I played a Scherzo for example.

When I found out about the Chopin Manille 2010 Bicentenaire series of concerts at the Philamlife Auditorium, I would’ve been extremely excited under normal circumstances. But this was when my family and I were still in mourning. And as I’ve said many times before, I summon the strength and the courage to face the difficulties in life through music. So I knew that I need to watch this especially since this is Chopin. I believe that there’s no better way for me to get back on track again than a night of Chopin’s music.

The first concert of the series featured pianist Rudolf Golez and expected, he had an all Chopin programme. Before starting his first piece, he talked a bit about Chopin and a little background of the works that he was about to play. I always liked this format especially with solo/chamber performances. It makes the concert more intimate and relaxed. And it didn’t hurt the Golez managed to put in some humor into it as well making the night less stiff and more enjoyable to watch.

He started with the Twelve Etudes, Op. 10. I’ve already listened to dozens of recordings of these etudes. I’ve also seen quite a number of videos online performing these etudes. But nothing beats seeing them played in a concert hall by a competent pianist. Golez interpreted some of the etudes in a very interesting manner. Some were played the way I would play them, well if I could play them. And some were played quite differently from what I would prefer but it was nonetheless still very interesting. This is what I like most about watching a piano concert with a very familiar programme. I may know the piece very well but there’s always room for pleasant surprises.

The concert took a small break after the etudes and Golez resumed with the Four Mazurkas, Op. 33. Despite being a Chopin fan, this set of pieces aren’t one of my favorites. But I decided to just sit back, listen and prepare for what’s next to come. Luckily, these Mazurkas are just short pieces so I didn’t have to wait that long.

The next piece played was Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23 which is one of my favorites. I am more drawn to the passionate, dramatic and melancholic music of Chopin than for the happy sounding ones. And this was when I started to get engrossed with the performance. And I guess the audience also got mesmerized because the applause got noticeably louder after this piece.

There was a change of pace for the next piece which was Tarantelle in A flat, Op. 43. Like the Mazurkas, this sounded a bit too happy for my taste. So I had nothing else to do but to try to enjoy this piece. And just like the Mazurkas, this wasn’t that long as well.

So after a relatively happy tune, Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60 was played and after a not so favorite Chopin piece, the concert went back to something that I like more. It’s not very often that I get to experience these pieces played live by accomplished pianists so I knew that I had to take everything in.

The then came concert to an end with the final piece planned for the night: Andante spianato and Grand Polonaise for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 22. But Golez played it without an orchestra. I was a bit thrown off by this version since I’m more used to hearing a recording of that piece with an orchestra. It was a bit funny when I realized that my mind was imagining the orchestra playing along. This was truly a showcase piece and there were indeed many fireworks like what Golez said before starting to play. The audience was impressed by the fireworks as many stood up after he finished playing the final note.

For an encore, Golez got a bit cheeky by squeezing in a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart piece on what was supposed to be a night of Chopin. The audience forgave him and let him play Rondo No. 1 in D Major, K. 485. Yes, I did forgive him as well and let him play this very happy sounding piece of music since he has more than satisfied my Chopin craving for the night.

He then tried to make amends for this inclusion by playing what he claimed to be everybody’s favorite: Fantaise-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. 66. It’s my turn to be cheeky since Golez got it wrong. This piece isn’t my favorite. I’ll tell what my favorite Chopin piece is if and when it is played in the subsequent concerts of this series.

Pianist Rudolf Golez

Monday, March 1, 2010

26th Sampung Mga Daliri, Atbp

The 26th Sampung Mga Daliri, Atbp concert by the UST Conservatory of Music held at the CCP Main Theater was my first concert after taking a short break to deal with important family matters. The main draw for this long running concert is the use of ten pianos all throughout the show and it is a chance for the piano majors, alumni and faculty to shine. Each number will feature different pianists and a different group from the Conservatory.

Honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled with this setup being more of a purist. But like what was said in the souvenir programme, this show was meant to be accessible. And it indeed needed to be accessible since most of the audiences were family members and friends of the participants of the show. And I also reminded myself that I vowed to keep an open mind even in formats that don’t usually appeal to me. In order for me to enjoy the experience more, I decided to observe the people seated around me and to see which of the numbers they would appreciate more.

After the obligatory National Anthem and UST Hymn, the show started with the first number which was the Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz von Suppé. The ten pianists were accompanied by the UST Rondalla Ensemble. This piece was arranged differently to suit the instruments so it sounded very different from what I was used to. And the combination of the pianos and the rondalla ensemble was something I wasn’t really accustomed to. They got just a polite applause from the audience which is perfectly understandable since the people haven’t settled into the show just yet.

The next couple of pieces were Larawan by Francisco Buencamino and Pamulinawen from “Pahilaga” by Ryan Cayabyab. These were my favorites of the night. The pianists were all by themselves and with this setup, I was able to appreciate the rich, textured, varied and unusual harmonics. There were no other instruments to distract me from the tone of the piano. And this was when I heard some people beside me marvel at the skill of the pianists.

It was the UST Guitar Ensemble’s turn to join a different set of pianists to perform Sevilla from “Suite Española” by Isaac Albéniz. This is another familiar piece for me that was played with an unfamiliar arrangement. The same could be said for the next piece which was Les Preludes by Franz Liszt. One thing unique about this number was that it had two pianists per piano. But one of the pianists inexplicably lost his partner and performed alone. For this piece, the UST Wind Orchestra accompanied the supposed to be twenty pianists.

The next set was one of the crowd pleasers of the night and it was made possible by the inclusion of the UST Percussion Ensemble. The two pieces played were a smoldering Adios Nonino by Astor Piazolla and the delightful Sabre Dance by Aram Khatchaturian. Unfortunately, the people around me were more amused by the variety of the percussion instruments onstage. This set was a fitting end to the first part which made the audience excited for what was coming next.

The second part started with Pop’era Breakers featuring the UST Pop’era Chorus. But let’s not forget that there was yet another set of pianists playing the ten pianos. This was the most applauded number since this featured the ubiquitous song Nobody along with Lady Marmalade and Umbrella. And it was also a visual treat since there was choreography, costume and props which added to the delight of the audience.

The next set of pianists knew that they had to follow what was the most popular performance of the night. But they held their own since they played popular tunes as well: Nais Ko by Ryan Cayabyab and Saranggola ni Pepe by Nonong Pedero. And having the UST Percussion Ensemble (although they were down to a few members this time) accompanying them sure helped a lot. Their performance of Saranggola ni Pepe is one of my favorites of the night since the arrangement really brought out the rich sounds of the pianos and the percussions weren’t too distracting.

The second half was on a roll this time especially when the next set of performers (another set of pianists along with the UST Jazz Band) entered. Some members of the audience were amused when they noticed that the set’s conductor also held an instrument which was a trumpet. They were definitely pleased with their performance of Summertime and My Favorite Things. I liked the first number a lot better since it was sultry with nice and smooth solos from some of the band members.

It was the UST Symphony Orchestra’s turn to accompany the next set of pianists for their performance of Night and Day, a standard written by Cole Porter. This number felt a bit old fashioned for me perhaps suffering a bit from my enjoyment of the Summertime piece.

Finally, it was time for the finale which was the Les Miserables Medley but the audience had to wait a lot longer since the humungous choir had to position themselves at the rear of the stage. I was quite surprised when the choir sounded underwhelming despite their overwhelming numbers. The soloists also weren’t the strongest vocalists. They were adequate but still not enough power and emotion to send chills up my spine. And I felt that the tempo at the end was too fast and it felt that the choir had to catch up. I didn’t really like the material from the UST Pop’era Chorus but they were far stronger vocally. So unfortunately, the concert ended a bit flat for me.

But that was not the case for the families and friends of those who were part of the choir. One mother was particularly proud of her daughter despite having difficulty of finding where she was positioned in the choir. She hoped that her daughter would one day have a more prominent role in the subsequent productions of the Conservatory. And because of that, the concert absolutely ended on a high note.

Before I forgot, the night actually ended with a birthday song for Mr. Raul Sunico who is the Dean of the Conservatory of Music. And amazingly, the choir did a much better job with this than the finale.

UST Conservatory of Music Dean Raul Sunico