Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Tribute to Lucio San Pedro, National Artist for Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Angono Chamber Orchestra

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wifi Body @ Greenbelt

The UP Dance Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 20, 2010

9th Philippine Toys, Hobbies and Collectibles Convention 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pinoy - French Contemporary Dance Week

Contemporary dance is something that I have very limited knowledge of but I'm very much interested in it. I've seen several ballet productions before and it's usually the music that drew me in. But an opportunity came for me to gain more experience in the field of contemporary dance when Ms. Flora Geley of the French Embassy invited me to watch a performance during the Pinoy - French Contemporary Dance Week.

The Pinoy - French Contemporary Dance week had two performance dates and I chose to catch the second performance that featured the short performance Kung Fu Commandos or Clamor in the East, Attack in the West. And also featured in this date were the long performances of the pieces Which Way? and Kung Fu Dancing. Yet, this event is still a part of a series of dance performances at the PETA Theater Center called the East West Danse.

The night began with the short performance of the piece called Kung Fu Commandos or Clamor in the East, Attack in the West. This was performed by the Eolipile Dance Company from France and it featured dancers Caroline Desmaison and Sibile Planques. And accompanying them was musician Thierry Madiot.

Ms. Geley tried to warn me that this was an unconventional piece and she was right. The piece started with one of the dancers whom I can't recall if she was either Caroline or Sibile, entering the stage cautiously, very wary of an impending threat. Then long balloons were thrown on stage and the dancer seemed trapped by those. Then the other dancer, this one looked menacing, came on stage armed with more balloons and she somehow act as the aggressor, shooting more balloons at the first dancer. The dance continued on with both dancers engaged in conflict, with one gaining the upper hand over the other and then their roles getting reversed once again. The piece wasn't pleasant to watch. The movements weren't meant to highlight the beauty of a dancer's lines. The piece was oppressive, threatening, disturbing and sometimes jarring. In the end, the second dancer was alone on stage and her movements became crooked, uncomfortable and very restricted as if she has lost the ability to move freely.

As the piece ended, I could sense that the audience was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. It wasn't easy watching two dancer engaged in combat even though it was a dance performance. There wasn't any attempt to show that this act of fighting had any beauty in it. Even the embrace of the two dancers at several points during their entanglements looked extremely suspicious and it was indeed a deceptive embrace. I'm just glad that prior to watching this, I've prepared myself to expect something different and something unusual which was the case with this first performance.

The second performance was one of the main performances of the night. Taking to the stage was Rhosam Prudenciado Jr. performing his award winning piece Which Way?. I've seen Prudenciado perform before and I've read about his triumph at the 2008 Wi Fi Body Contemporary Dance Festival and at the Yokohama Dance Collection R 2009. But I haven't seen him perform this piece before so when I found out that he was supposed to perform this at the second night of the Pinoy - French Contemporary Dance Week, I decided that this was the one that I had to watch.

I could sense during his performance that this piece was very personal to him and I did feel his struggle, confusion and indecision while he performed. Compared to the first piece of the night, this performance was a lot more accessible and the audience did respond very positively to this piece.

The last performance of the night was the highlight of the night. The piece Kung Fu Dancing was performed by Lin Yuan Shang. And at the beginning of the piece, there was a message shown on the video projected at the background that somehow acted as a warning. The message was wondering why it was easier to watch a Kung Fu movie than a contemporary dance. And this piece proved to be one of the hardest to understand since this included some Eastern Philosophies that tied Kung Fu and contemporary dance together. Shang's movements were more circular than what is normally seen in Kung Fu movies and yet there were moments when he would go for a rotating kick in the air or one of my favorite movies, a butterfly kick. It was quite a challenge to digest everything that was offered by this piece, the actual movement of the dancer, the philosophies that were shown at the screen and the words that were spoken by Lin Yuan Shang. But there was indeed a very different energy in the theater while he was performing. It may be a bit strange but this was when I sensed that there was beauty in the performance.

The artists during the brief discussion after the performance.

After the performance, all of the artists were invited back on stage and a brief panel discussion happened and it was a nice moment to learn more about the artists and the pieces that they performed. And after the show was over, I had the opportunity to talk to some of them and it was quite a surprise to see a couple of musicians in attendance as well.

I was very glad to see this night's performance and the pieces had variety and it took me to many different moods. I might have felt disturbed during the first piece but I left the PETA Theater Center feeling that I took something more with me, possibly a new insight in life.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Evening of Russian Masters

A pianist friend of mine has been telling me about her close friend, pianist Oliver Salonga. She has told me how good he is and that I should watch him if ever he performs. So when it was announced that Oliver Salonga would be having his solo piano concert entitled An Evening of Russian Masters at the Philamlife Auditorium, I knew that I had to watch it. And when Mr. Ray Sison of ROS Music Center and the principal flutist of the Manila Symphony Orchestra gave me a few free tickets, then it would only mean the end of the world if I failed to watch this performance.

It wasn't the end of the world but a sudden pouring of heavy rain before the concert resulting in heavy traffic that prevented a lot of people from either arriving on time or even making it to the concert at all. All throughout the concert, people arrived in small numbers and indeed a lot weren't able to see the whole concert which was very unfortunate because my friend was right in praising Salonga.

He started by playing a couple of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pieces: The Twelve Variations on Ah! vous diria je maman, K. 265 and Piano Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K. 330. The performance was indeed how I expected Mozart to be: light, playful and seemingly effortless. It was in direct contrast to the bad weather outside. I am not usually drawn to this happy type of music but I knew that the serious pieces would be coming up next.

And the serious pieces that I like were performed next starting with Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 36. And despite the constant arrival of late comers, I paid them no attention since I was absolutely floored by Salonga's interpretation of the piece. I was amazed on how he was able to switch gears from the Mozart and then to the Rachmaninoff.

During intermission, my friend who told me about Oliver Salonga finally arrived since she was one of the many who got delayed by the bad weather. And I heard some accounts of people deciding to go back to where they came from and not attend the concert at all when they got stuck at traffic.

Going back to the concert, Salonga resumed with Maurice Ravel's Poeme Choreographique: La Valse. And for his last piece, he played Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7 in B Flat Major, Op. 83. I can't imagine how one could have a solo piano concert with three piano sonatas and other such heavyweight pieces. I was absolutely floored on how he was able to perform the tumultuous last movement of the Prokofiev sonata with such ease.

Despite the less than ideal audience attendance, those present still showered him with very generous applause since he absolutely deserved it. And a lot demanded that he played an encore since they probably missed the earlier parts of the concert. And Salonga did oblige by playing a couple of encores but I completely missed getting the titles of this pieces.

It's been quite a while since I've been to a piano concert and I was glad to be able to have the chance to watch one such concert again. The last ones that I've been to was dominated by music by Chopin and this night was completely devoid of Chopin. I love Chopin but it was nice to have a change of pace once in a while. The concert was entitled An Evening of Russian Masters but there were only two pieces by Russians. Earlier programme lists featured more Russian works but changes were made so only two were left.

It was indeed a masterful performance by Salonga and I am still in awe of how he played those heavyweight pieces. I am now hoping that he performs again and probably play a piano concerto by a Russian composer soon. By then, it will be another evening of Russian masters once again.

Thank you once again to Mr. Ray Sison for the tickets to this concert!

Pianist Oliver Salonga

Friday, June 11, 2010

Quartetto Espressivo

I admit that I'm not really familiar with string quartets. I don't listen to recordings of it and I can't recall if I ever watched a live performance before. But since then, I've gotten acquainted with the members of the Quartetto Espressivo composed of Joseph Brian Cimafranca (violin 1), Sara Maria Gonzales (violin 2), Rey Casey Concepcion (viola) and Gerry Graham Gonzales (cello). And when they invited me to come over the GSIS Museum to watch their concert, I did so without any second thoughts.

The weather during that afternoon seemed ominous but the opening piece of the concert, Franz Joseph Haydn's Quartet No. 43 in G Major, Op. 54 No. 1, somewhat provided some cheer to block the thoughts of the threatening rain outside. I'm not a huge fan of Haydn's happy music but I'd take anything to counter the gloomy weather outside.

The next piece they performed was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Adagio and Fugue K. 546. I was very much pleasantly surprised by this piece since the Adagio sounded very dark which I didn't expect from Mozart. I never liked fugues before but the introduction made me like the fugue part that followed it.

The last piece they played was Ludwig van Beethoven's Quartet No. 3, Op. 59 "Razumovsky". I've never heard this piece before as well as the other pieces that they played but this was the one that brought me through many different moods. But the one thing that stood out during this performance was the way that Sara Gonzales' face lit up during the final bars of this piece. It was such a delight seeing her face in triumph as she savored the last moments of the performance. She knew that they performed well and the audience did so too.

For an encore, the quartet played a Cebuano medley and it was then when they appeared to be relaxed and just focused on enjoying playing this encore. This piece was quite fitting since with the exception of Concepcion, the other three members all hail from Cebu.

One thing that I really liked about this concert was the spiels done by Jeffrey Solares who hosted the event. He provided some background information regarding the pieces to be performed which really sparked my interest. And he even commented on an Amorsolo painting that was displayed at the gallery to provide some insight on how western music has been embraced by the Filipino people. And proof of that is the Quartetto Espressivo and the much improved audience attendance at the GSIS Museum that night.

Quartetto Espressivo

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Philippine Festival

Finally, the 2010 Season of the Manila Symphony Orchestra has begun. And I absolutely made sure to come to the Philamlife Auditorium to see their season opener entitled Philippine Festival. I went there still carrying with me the buzz and excitement of the Uto Ughi performance that happened just a few days before this. And I really had to comment the dedication of this orchestra, under the music direction of Prof. Arturo Molina, since they opted to rehearse instead of seeing Ughi which was very tempting indeed.

As the title states, the programme for this night consisted of works by Filipino composers. So after attending a few concerts made possible by foreign companies, it was nice to hear something very close to home and that embodies the Filipino spirit.

The night started with a performance of the Philippine Festival Overture by Angel M. Peña. I tried to listen closely to this piece since I've never heard this before but I failed with this. And I had violinist Gina Medina to blame for not remembering much of this piece. Medina was the featured soloist for the second piece of the night which was Lucino Sacramento's Violin Concerto No. 2. Medina played her part with suchy beauty that I was completely mesmerized especially by the dreamy second theme of the first movement. And it was this piece that got stuck in my mind at the expense of the opening overture. I just hope that this never happens again in future concerts.

Peña should not fret since I do remember what happened when the orchestra performed Trinity, which was another piece that he wrote. The addition of a few theatrics like the lights out at the beginning of the piece and the solo flute who played at the back of the concert hall made sure that this performance would not be easily forgotten.

At the beginning of the second part of the concert, the audience was treated by a performance of the PREDIS kids who performed Dugtung-Dugtungan which was basically a medley of popular folk tunes. I can only imagine how excited these kids were performing at an evening concert and some of these kids were so young that it was possibly past their bedtime when they got to perform on stage. Despite their young age, I was impressed by this piece that was arranged by Jeffrey Solares.

Then it was time for the Nicanor Abelardo composed Piano Concerto performed by Virginia Laico-Villanueva. I admit that I've never seen her play before this so I had no idea what to expect. Alas, I found it difficult to connect with her probably because I was more drawn with the violin concerto that was performed earlier. It felt odd because I play the piano so a piano concerto should be easier for me to connect with. But not all was lost since I liked Laico-Villanueva's encore piece a lot more than the piano concerto.

The last piece for the night was Lahing Kayumanggi by Lucio San Pedro. I've heard this piece played a few months before and the Bahay Kubo theme was still on my mind. Having heard this piece quite recently enabled me to appreciate the performance a lot more this time. And I was able to notice that the orchestra seemed very comfortable with this piece.

The only gripe I had with this concert was that there was a keyboard used to play the parts of instruments that weren't available that night like the harp. As I've said before, this really distracted me from the overall performance and I do hope that the orchestra manages to get the actual instruments in future concerts. The electronic sound really felt out of place with the impressive overall sound of the orchestra.

But I really do appreciate the theme of the concert that really celebrated the Filipino spirit. Not only does the country celebrate their Independence Day during this month, but they also usher in a new era with the new administration that is set to take office. So it was really a poignant choice of music for their season opener and it renewed my sense of pride and nationalism. Well done, Manila Symphony Orchestra and Prof. Arturo Molina and see you at the next concert!

Violinist Gina Medina

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Italian National Day Concert: Uto Ughi

Uto Ughi

When word got out that in line with the Italian National Day celebrations, the Italian Embassy would be bringing in violin virtuoso Uto Ughi to perform at the CCP Main Theater, I immediately secured tickets for myself and convinced friends to do the same. Events like this, especially if admission is free, are always a hit with people and reserving them later would only cause the disappointment of being informed that tickets are no longer available.

And there were indeed a lot of people who attended this concert. There was a very diverse mix of people: members of the diplomatic corps, key figures in local classical music scene, concert regulars and other people who grabbed at this rare opportunity. So even before the concert started, there was already this energy and buzz that made the atmosphere in the lobby very exciting.

So what can I say about the performance? Well I got a bit distracted at the start since there was an announcement that there would be a change of program and I tend to get a bit disappointed about things like that. And the piece that would be replaced was one of the pieces that I’ve been looking forward to that night so. So I wasn’t able to listen that well to the first piece that was played which was Fritz Kreisler’s Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Paganini. I do admit that it’s hard for me to get settled at first during concerts and sometimes it takes a familiar work for me to finally get into the mood. And it was difficult for me this time since the Kreisler piece is an unfamiliar work for me. But I do like to point out that the violin had a very lovely tone and if I’m not mistaken, he was playing with the Guarneri del Gesú violin. And throughout the concert, Ughi was accompanied by Alessandro Specchi on the piano.

And because he played with the Guarneri, he opted not to play with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47 also known as the Kreutzer Sonata which he does with his other violin, the Stradivarius of 1701. Well, that was what I was told but I’m not too sure if that was indeed his reason. And he replaced it with the Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major Op. 24, which is also known as Spring. Although I am a lot more familiar with this Spring sonata, I was really looking forward to another performance of the Kreutzer sonata since I’ve learned to like it in recent weeks. Yes, Ughi played splendidly, especially the very familiar first movement but I was really hoping that didn’t have that change in the programme.

The disappointment of the first half was nullified by another change in the program at the start of the second half. Instead of playing Henryk Wieniawsky’s Fantasy on Faust Theme, Op. 20, he played Pablo de Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25 which is one of my favorite violin pieces. And Ughi certainly didn’t disappoint especially during my favorite parts of the piece: the Seguidilla and the Gyspsy Dance. The only thing that could’ve topped this performance was if he played it with an orchestra instead of just having Specchi accompany him on the piano.

I guess that the Sarasate piece had a way of relaxing him since he loosened up a bit and started to talk more to the audience introducing the piece and giving a bit of background about the composer before playing. He explained that the next piece, La Campanella by Niccolo Paganini was from the Violin Concerto No. 2, Op. 7. And he got a bit cheeky, pausing midway through a performance to tell the audience that the section where the bells would come in was already next. If this was a regular concert, I would’ve been aghast by this but I didn’t mind at all since he played Carmen Fantasy after all.

And then came the last piece of the night’s programme which was what I was originally waiting for until the Sarasate piece stole its thunder. I really love Camille Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor, Op. 28 and I’m glad that this piece wasn’t replaced by another. At this point, Ughi already owned the stage and again, the only thing that could’ve made this performance better was having an orchestra playing alongside with him.

The night was still young after he finished this piece and people had some glasses of wine so they thought that Ughi needs to play more. Fortunately, he gave about four encores. The two pieces weren’t really familiar to me but I was told that one of them was The Dance of the Goblins (La Ronde des Lutins), Scherzo fantastique, Op. 25 by Luigi Joseph Bazzini. The last two encores I knew. First was the latter part of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20. And the last was the very popular Meditation from Thaïs by Jules Massenet. I wish that he’d played the entire Sarasate piece but I guess that they didn’t have enough time. And I felt that he went a bit too fast with the Massenet piece.

Even after the concert ended, people still hung out at the lobby and enjoyed the food, wine, coffee, gelatto that was served. I’ve had too many espresso shots that night which didn’t help me sleep at all. It was nice bumping into familiar faces many of whom I haven’t seen for the past couple of months. But it was very nice seeing groups of people who, judging from the excitement that they exuded that night, aren’t regular concert goers and are quite new to this. They may be unfamiliar faces to me for now but I do hope that get to be regular concert goers too since they looked like they were having a grand time. And if this actually happens, then it’s mission accomplished for Uto Ughi, Alessandro Specchi and the local arts and culture scene.

Too bad I wasn't able to take any photos since the two musicians immediately had dinner after the performance.