Sunday, April 25, 2010

Piano Peace

I first got aware of this event when I picked up a flyer for the Filfest 2010 Season that was available during the Chopin concert series. I admit that I wasn’t at all interested with the contents of the flyer at first because the concert venue, the Insular Life Theatre at Alabang, was too far south from where I live. So I just told myself why bother since it would be difficult for me to go and see concerts there.

But I still read what was inside the flyer while I was waiting for the show to start and the concert entitled Piano Peace got me curious. It’s no secret that concerts featuring pianists are what I really prefer compared to those that feature other instruments. And the distinction that the pianists featured in this concert were an interesting pair further fueled my interest. The pianists for the concert were Bishara Harouni and Yaron Kohlberg; the former is an Arab while the latter is a Jew. A pair like that performing in one concert is very rare so I told myself that I must get my gears turning so that I could catch this performance.

So I was glad that I was able to make it to the theatre to see this interesting pair. And right from the start they made a very good impression upon the audience when they appeared on stage wearing the Barong Tagalog. And the good impression continued as they played Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concertino for 2 Pianos in A Minor, Op. 94. I really like this piece since it’s a joy to hear and it has some passages reminiscent of some themes in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 which is my favorite piece as of this moment. I knew that the show had just started but at the back of my mind, I felt the urge to practice at the soonest time possible.

Then it was Yaron’s turn to play. And he did please me since he played music by Frédéric Chopin. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I never grow tired of watching pianists play Chopin especially good pianists who can do his exquisite work justice. I can forgive Yaron for playing five out of the 24 Preludes from Op. 28 which is not my favorite Chopin piece to hear. But he made up for it by playing three etudes that are among my favorites: Etude Op. 10, No. 12, Etudes Op. 25, No. 5 and No. 11. I was absolutely glad that it somehow felt that this was a little extension of the Chopin concert series that I’ve enjoyed a month before this.

For the next piece, they played Franz Schubert’s Fantasia in F Minor for Four Hands, Op. 103. Since it’s a piece for four hands, they played side by side on just one piano and it was remarkable to see how well they work together. And it was during this piece when I was reminded that Yaron is Jewish and Bishara is Arab and there they were, playing side by side. It was very unlike what I normally see in the news and I hoped at that moment that this was how things should be in real life. And this was also the piece where I noticed how different their style and their personalities as they were playing. Yaron was more animated and grinned a lot at Bishara. And Bishara was more passive and reserved but he wasn’t overwhelmed at all by Yaron’s extroverted demeanor.

After this, it was Bishara’s time to do his solos and he started with Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52. It was a bit odd seeing him play this piece seated not on the usual piano bench, but on the typical chair with back support. But aside from that interesting choice of seat, Bishara’s Chopin was quite mesmerizing. He is a tall guy who might come of as intimidating at first glance but there was this tenderness and depth in his Chopin. And then he showed his intensity and power at the end of this piece. Then he changed the pace with his next piece: Franz Liszt’s La Campanella which is the more popular name for Etude No. 3 in G Sharp Minor from the Grandes etudes de Paganini. I normally associate music by Liszt as just fireworks showpieces but Bishara had a way of making it more than just that. Again, there was this delicate artistry which is beyond just showing technique.

For the last piece, the duo played Darius Milhaud’s Scaramouche which is a piece that is just plain fun for me. And the two of them definitely looked like they were having fun especially Yaron who dealt with humor the snags that he encountered with his piano and his inexperienced page turner who was one of the usherettes that night. Despite these minor problems, the duo played with such joy that left everybody in such high spirits. Proof of this was the wild applause from the audience who demanded an encore and the duo granted them with a reprise of the first movement of this piece.

Pianist Bishara Harouni

Pianist Yaron Kohlberg

Honestly, I thought that the programme for the night was a bit short and I was disappointed a bit that they didn’t give another encore performance. But in an amazing turn of events, my experience with these two pianists extended beyond the night of the concert. And what I experienced after was one of the most memorable moments that I’ve had recently. But this story merits a blog entry of its own.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PREDIS Young Artists Recital Series Giancarlo Gonzales & Joseph Brian Cimafranca

To escape the scorching summer heat in Metro Manila, I went to catch the third and final day of the PREDIS (Philippine Research for Developing Instrumental Soloists) Young Artists Recital Series at St. Cecilia’s Hall, St. Scholastica’s College. On this day, the featured soloists were cellist Giancarlo Gonzales and violinist Joseph Brian Cimafranca. Unfortunately, as I’ve said before, I missed the second day of this recital series that featured violinist Sara Maria Gonzales and cellist Gerry Graham Gonzales due to a convention that had to attend to that day.

These two artists boast a nice set of achievements between them. Gonzales was the 2008 First Prize winner of the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) Cello Category. And he was also a delegate of the Asian Youth Orchestra back in 2007 and 2008. Cimafranca on the other hand is a 2002 and 2005 Prize Winner of the NAMCYA Violin Category. And he was a delegate for the Southeast Asian Youth Orchestra and also the concertmaster.

The first recital of that day featured Giancarlo Gonzales and he played a familiar piece to start the show: Habanera Filipina No. 2 by Ernesto Vallejo. He was accompanied on the piano by Mary Anne Espina. I’ve heard this piece before played on the violin but Gonzales is a cellist so this piece was transcribed for his instrument. And it felt a bit odd hearing this piece in much a lower pitch more suited to the range of the cello. But he played it with enough command needed for this show piece.

The next piece was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 19. Again, Espina accompanied Gonzales with this piece and I admit that I had my attention more on the pianist since she had a difficult piece to play. And like the previous PREDIS recital of Rey Casey Concepcion that I was able to see, Gonzales didn’t play like he was in a junior recital at all.

After an intermission, the recital resumed with Gonzales playing the Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major, Hob. VIIb/2 by Joseph Haydn. For this piece, he was accompanied by the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Arturo Molina. I’ve said before that Haydn pieces are a bit too happy for my taste but for this recital, it was okay since there was the Rachmaninoff piece to balance it with. Obviously, the highlight of the recital for me was the Cello Sonata.

Cellist Giancarlo Gonzales

After an hour or so, it was the turn of violinist Joseph Brian Cimafranca to have his graduation recital. He had Greg Zuniega accompanying him on the piano and the recital started with the Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 by Ludwig van Beethoven. I admit that despite being familiar with a handful of Beethoven piano pieces, I am not familiar with most of his work for other instruments. Again, it’s embarrassing to say that I can’t remember much about this performance except that he was the one who looked the most nervous compared to the previous two recitalists that I’ve seen.

But he settled when he played the next piece which was Mutya ng Pasig (arranged by Kabayao) composed by Nicanor Abelardo. He no longer looked nervous which made me feel more relaxed and I really enjoyed this piece which wasn’t really a technically demanding piece but was able to tug into my emotions.

And if I felt that fireworks were needed to show impeccable mastery of technique, Cimafranca supplied them in abundance when he played Theme Original Varié, Op. 15 by Henryk Wieniawski. Oh dear, I found myself holding my breath when I began to imagine how on earth one plays some of the passages of that piece. I enjoyed this piece and so did the other members of the audience.

The second half of the recital as expected was a work accompanied by an orchestra. And it’s no longer a surprise that the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Molina joined Cimafranca for the performance of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto Op. 14. I admit that except for the wildly popular Adagio for Strings, I know nothing else of Barber’s work which is quite a shame.

But Cimafranca, carried on the momentum that he had from the first half of the recital and did an excellent job on this piece. It was my first time to hear this and a mark of a good performance of an unfamiliar work is if it made me want to hear a recording of it so that I could be more familiar with it. And he certainly did that.

Overall, I was glad to catch three recitals and regret missing two especially when I heard nice things about the performances that I’ve missed.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dvořák's Cello Concerto

Last February, I was geared up to watch the Symphonic Inaugural Gala of FILharmoniKA. But a death in the family at that time meant that I had to miss out on this concert. I still have the ticket for that date and it serves as a reminder of what could’ve been. Fortunately, I was able to watch parts of the concert when it was broadcast on television but it’s still not the same as being there live.

So it’s no surprise that I was very glad to have made it to FILharmoniKA’s second concert for this season entitled Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. So after attending a convention in another part of Metro Manila, I traveled towards the Philamlife Auditorium to see for the first time this orchestra and their conductor, Gerard Salonga. And for this night, the main draw was Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s principal cellist, Richard Bamping. Obviously, he was the featured soloist in Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, B. 191. But before that, the orchestra was to play Scheherazade Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

As I’ve said previously, I’ve never seen this orchestra perform live so I tried not to expect too much. That was easier said than done since their opening piece, Scheherezade, is one of my favorites and my eyes and ears would be on their concertmaster playing the solos representing the title character of the piece.

The orchestra played this piece well and I felt very nostalgic since there are a lot of moments in this piece that I associate with personal moments. I did get goosebumps during my favorite part in the third movement highlighted by the clashing of the cymbals amidst that lovely melody played by the strings. But I admit that I felt nervous for the concertmaster at the end. Overall, it was a fine performance and I was glad that it was a familiar piece that they played on my first time to see them.

The next piece that they played is the part a lot of people paid for to see. Proof of that is that people from the second and third PREDIS Young Artists Series that happened hours before this concert rushed to see Richard Bamping play this popular cello concerto by Dvořák. Popular this concerto may be for cellists, but for someone whose primary instrument is the piano, I’m not really familiar with this.

But despite this, I enjoyed this performance more than the previous Rimsky-Korsakov piece. And the orchestra seemed to be more pumped up and inspired by having Bamping as their soloist. I felt a bit silly when I recognized the second movement and finally associated it with the right title and composer. I did feel a bit bad about not trying to listen to this piece a few times before this concert despite having the long holiday break. I would’ve really appreciated the performance more if I did just that. Then again, I felt really relaxed during the cello concerto and I wasn’t nervous at all for Bamping.

For an encore, Bamping played Hindi Kita Malimot and the orchestra accompanied him in this piece. As I’ve said before, if you’re a foreign musician and you take the time to learn a Filipino piece, you’re automatically loved by the local audience. Too bad that he tried to jeopardize it by playing another encore, a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach whose works for the keyboard I’m not totally fond of. Fortunately, I was really in good spirits so I was able to appreciate this encore.

Right after the concert, I went backstage to do my usual stuff of getting my souvenir programme signed. And he seemed very happy with his performance and the outcome of the concert. As for me, I can state it enough that I was extremely glad to see FILharmoniKA and Gerard Salonga perform live. Their next concert is still a few months away but I am already looking forward to it.

Cellist Richard Bamping

Friday, April 16, 2010

PPO Signature Series Concert VIII

Finally, the long wait is over and the inaugural concert of Olivier Ochanine, the new music director/principal conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, has arrived. And as expected, I went to the Cultural Center of the Philippines and watched this concert which was the eighth and the last of the 27th concert season.

This concert had a very interesting programme. The first played was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture in A Major, Op. 96. I am very familiar with this piece and it does sound like what the title suggests. And it’s a really feel good piece of music. And during the performance, I was a bit thrown off by how slow the brass fanfare was at the beginning. It made me quite anxious for it to finish so the piece could go on to the delightful clarinet solo. The slower fanfare did make the main theme sound a lot livelier in my opinion. By the way, Ochanine told me later on that the fanfare actually has been played a lot faster than how it was supposed to be by others and that was why I thought that his was a lot slower. Nonetheless, it was a nice and exciting start to the concert.

The next piece the orchestra played was Le Cid, Suite for Orchestra by Jules Massenet. I’m not really familiar with this piece but it was quite accessible. And I always get amused on how some French composers managed to write music that is inspired by Spain. The suite featured melodies that are easy to like, familiar rhythms and most important of all, a variety of percussion instruments which never fails to please the audience.

From the unfamiliar to a very familiar one was how the concert progressed. The orchestra then closed the first half of the programme with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. As the title suggests, only the strings played in this piece and it’s a very sad tune usually used in funerals/memorials. I am quite puzzled as to why this was the closing piece for the first half since I felt a bit drained during the intermission. This piece is definitely not one to listen to if one wants to get energized. But the audience gave a rather energetic applause after the piece was played.

So I tried to energize myself during the intermission by drinking wine and I knew that I needed a lot of energy since the second half featured a piece that made me exhausted whenever I listen to it actively: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 57 by Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert started with a Shostakovich piece that I could just relax and enjoy listening to it and it ended with a piece by the same composer in which listening to it is not a walk in the park. Remarkably, watching it live for the first time didn’t exhaust me at all. It was a very different experience from just listening to a recording of it. And the menacing timpani during the last movement which is my favorite really got my heart pounding.

The audience really welcomed Ochanine when they gave him a nice applause that could’ve rivaled the intensity of the timpani during the last moments of the Shostakovich Symphony. And as expected, Ochanine and the orchestra did a trio of encores. And it’s quite embarassing that I failed to get the titles and the composers of these pieces. All I know is that the first was Edward Elgar's Nimrod from Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra, Op. 36 or Enigma Variations. The second encore was a medley of popular Philippine songs. As always, foreigners who make an effort to learn a Filipino piece instantly endear themselves to the local audience. The final encore was a lively number and unfortunately, that’s the only thing that I could say about this since it was the first time that I heard that piece.

So now that the 27th season is over, I must wait a few months until the next season begins. I already have a copy of what the PPO has lined up and while some pieces are unfamiliar, the ones that I know especially the piano concertos happen to be some of my favorites. I wish Ochanine well in his stint with the PPO and he can count on my support as I continue watching my national orchestra.

Conductor Olivier Ochanine

Thursday, April 15, 2010

PREDIS Young Artists Recital Series Rey Casey Concepcion

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog. There weren’t any notable concerts for the past two weeks since there was this Holy Week/Easter weekend which meant that people were on a break. And I am glad that there was this break since I need to recharge from all the concerts that I’ve seen the previous month. And there were also a handful of student recitals that I’ve watched last month but I purposely didn’t write about them.

But this entry is about a student recital and yet I made an exception with the PREDIS Young Artists Recital Series. I wouldn’t normally write about student recitals whether they are junior or graduation recitals but this recital series staged at St. Cecilia’s Hall at Scholastica’s College had quite an impressive promotion for just a student recital. And this recital is a PREDIS 25th Anniversary Presentation so it’s a milestone to be celebrated. By the way, PREDIS actually stands for Philippine Research for Developing Instrumental Soloists.

So the first recitalist in this series was violist, Rey Casey Concepcion. He is currently the principal violist of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. I’ve seen this orchestra perform before but I haven’t seen him play before as a soloist. But he’s the 2008 First Prize Winner of the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) for Viola and aside from that; he was also a delegate of the Asian Youth Orchestra back in 2009.

Yet despite these achievements, I was still at a loss when I watched this recital because I am totally ignorant of the usual viola repertoire. The programme consisted of Suite No. 2 in C Major, BWV 1009 by Johann Sebastian Bach, Märchenbilder, Op. 113 by Robert Schumman, Romanze in F Major, Op. 85 by Max Bruch and Der Schwanendreher by Paul Hindemith. I recognize all these composers but the pieces were unknown to me. And I’m still quite mystified with the viola and its appeal. But as I’ve said before when I started this blog, I’ll be open to new things and I should just be grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to see a viola recital.

Concepcion started the recital by playing the Bach piece unaccompanied and then he was joined by Greg Zuniega at the piano for the Schumann and Bruch pieces. And right from the start, I noticed that he had a presence on stage. He may have displayed a few signs of nervousness as he entered the stage but when he started playing, he seemed like he was in a world of his own and went into a performance mode. It didn’t feel like a junior recital at all since he performed like someone who has done this for years. I can’t say much about the pieces played since it’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of Bach’s music and it was my first time to ever listen to the other two pieces.

For the last piece which was played after the intermission, Concepcion was now accompanied by members of the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Molina. I know Hindemith but his pieces aren’t the most accessible for me. And Der Schwanendreher was no exception. It was quite interesting though to have neither violins nor violas in the orchestra for this piece but it did make the viola stand out. But one instrument also did stand out for me although for the wrong reasons. It felt odd hearing an electronic keyboard play the part of the harp. I know that it’s not that easy to procure a harp in here and having the keyboard play its part was quite distracting and I never got used to it throughout the performance.

Despite the pieces being strange to me coupled with my lack of knowledge with the viola itself, I enjoyed watching this recital. Concepcion performed with heart and he never made me feel anxious and nervous like some of the student recitals that I’ve seen recently. And if this recital sets the tone for the entire series, then it’s extremely unfortunate that I have to miss the next two recitals due to conflict of schedule.

Violist Rey Casey Concepcion