Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pianist Yury Shadrin's musical Liszt at PPO concert

Pianist Yury Shadrin and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra

Despite being one of the more popular piano concertos out there, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, S.124 never really appealed to me. I find it emotionally lacking and it doesn’t grip me at all. That’s why it surprised me when I found myself glued and in all ears at a performance of this piece during the opening night of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s 35th concert season. Billed as Romancing the Classics, this season also marks the sophomore year of Yoshikazu Fukumura as principal conductor and music director.

Responsible for my reaction with the Liszt was the guest artist of the evening, the Russian pianist Yury Shadrin. His take on the concerto was not about the dazzling fireworks nor the boastful display of virtuosity although he was extremely precise. His Liszt, if I may say, was very musical if one can believe that. Most important for me, he was able to make the Fazioli grand piano sing, and with the Liszt at that. Acquired by the Cultural Center of the Philippines almost a year ago but only used a few times since then, the much talked about Fazioli’s potential was finally realized. Shadrin was able to bring out shimmering, crystal clear notes especially on the piano’s higher registers. And the piano’s lush tones were highlighted in his sublime encore of Frédéric Chopin’s Étude Op. 25, No. 1 in A-flat major. Prior to the Liszt concerto, the orchestra played Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to Il viaggio a Reims which meant that the triangle (and its respective player) had a major workout during the first half of the concert.

Pianist Yury Shadrin

The second half of the concert satisfied my much needed desire for a strong emotional punch as Fukumura led the orchestra with a sweeping rendition of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27. For almost an hour, the orchestra showed not only the discipline and focus evident under Fukumura’s helm but also unfaltering energy that I think is probably fueled by a sizable number of young guest musicians in this concert. I am extremely pleased that Fukumura wasn’t swayed by too much excitement and kept at the expected tempo through most of the symphony, although I wished that he went just a tad slower during the third movement Adagio. Some audience members being jolted by the “surprise” at the Allegro molto second movement told me that either the Rachmaninoff symphony is still not familiar to most concert goers here or that there were newbies among the audience that night. Either case, it brought me a moment of amusement that almost 110 years after the symphony’s premiere, that surprise is still making audiences jump off of their seats.

With a piece such as the Rachmaninoff, I usually have some worries that the audience might find it too long or too heavy. But the resounding and enthusiastic response from them dissipated my fears that they aren’t yet ready for music like this. Like what I’ve said earlier, this season was billed as Romancing the Classics, the next step after Fukumura’s debut season of going back to basics. And with the PPO’s performance during the opening night, it looks like the audience got swept on its feet and got caught up in the romance already.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NAMCYA winners concert, stepping stone for young virtuosos.

Not every young musician can have the opportunity of being accompanied by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at the Cultural Center ofthe Philippines. But that’s one (and probably the coolest) perks in winning the top prize at the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) and five winners from the past two editions get to do just, as they take to the stage with the PPO conducted by Herminigildo Ranera in Konsyerto: Unang Hakbang this September 24, 2017, 5:00 PM at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater), no less.

Founded in 1973, the NAMCYA has produced many artists who have become the pillars of the Philippine classical music scene throughout the decades. In recent years, the annual competition has become for me a good way to scout new and exciting talent and it's a thrill to be there somehow accompanying them every step of the way as they grow and mature as artists. And this upcoming concert is another opportunity as the featured soloists are a nice mix of new and familiar faces.

Guitarist Aaron Rafael Aguila III

Crazy as it seems, this upcoming concert will be my first time to see guitarist Aaron Rafael Aguila III, 1st Prize winner 2016 Guitar Senior Category, perform on stage despite knowing him for quite some time now. In fact, it was only during the lunch with NAMCYA Secretary General Renato Lucas that I got to see him perform before my very eyes. I’ve first met Aaron not as a performing musician but as one of the organizers from Independent Philippine Art Ventures putting up the concert of Tomonori Arai and Duo Trussardi over at the College of Music in UP Diliman where he hails from. The very popular Adagio from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez will be Aaron’s piece for the concert.

Andrew Constantino, (1st Prize winner 2015 Woodwind Clarinet Category C) first came to my attention back in 2013 when he took a masterclass under Marcel Luxen and earning praises from the visiting Belgian clarinetist. A year later, he was featured soloist with the PPO at the Sunsets at Makiling concert and had his first professional debut in MCO Foundation’s Young Artist Series at the Ayala Museum. Just recently, he had massive exposure on television as a finalist at Eat Bulaga’s Music Hero segment. In Unang Hakbang, Andrew will be back to his classical music roots with the Allegro from Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 74, J.118.

A new face for me, Nikki Zen Obmasca, the 1st Prize winner Solo Rondalla from 2012 and 2016, will be playing a transcription for the banduria of Niccolo Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo, Op. 11. Rondalla and solo banduria are not often featured outside the NAMCYA and occasional rondalla festivals, so this is a great chance for me to expand my music horizons beyond the usual western orchestral instruments. The rondalla tradition is very strong outside of Metro Manila, especially in the Quezon Province where Nikki comes from, and competitions for this category has seen busloads from the provinces make the trek to the CCP to lend support and cheer for their respective ensembles.

I can still recall the first time I saw Gabriel Allan Paguirigan back in 2010 at the Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines’ Beethoven Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert wherein he placed 3rd. Since then, I haven’t heard him place aside from 1st at any of the solo piano competitions that he has entered. His impressive winning streak, including 1st Prize wins at 2011 Category B and 2015 Senior Category at NAMCYA, has resulted in a handful of performances with both the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and Manila Symphony Orchestra. As the most veteran among the soloists, Gabby will be playing two movements, Adagio religioso and Allegro vivace, from the rarely heard Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major, Sz. 119, BB 127 by Béla Bartók.

During last year’s competition, Gerard Salonga gave me the heads up about Mishael Romano who has been having violin lessons with his US based teacher via Skype. There was much buzz around him, being virtually unknown here in Metro Manila. But his 1st Prize winning performance at the 2016 Junior Strings category proved that the hype is real. And his upcoming rendition of Allegro molto appassionato from Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 will be one of the most awaited portions of the concert.

“All I can say is that I'm really excited. And since it's my first time being accompanied by an orchestra, I don't know what to expect. But, for sure, I'll enjoy it”, says Mishael when I asked him what his thoughts are about making his debut with an orchestra.

Just like the title of the upcoming concert suggests, this is just the early steps for these musicians. This also marks as a teaser and a prelude to the upcoming NAMCYA National Final Competitions happening on November 21-26, 2017 at various CCP venues. And then the countdown begins as NAMCYA celebrates 45 years in 2018.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria shines in Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concertos

My apologies if updates with the blog had been extremely scarce of late. People might’ve started to think that there hadn’t been any classical music concerts in here during the past few months. But there had been quite a number in fact, and September is geared to be extremely busy with at least six concerts that I know of.

Just recently, I witnessed the performance of veteran pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria with the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Professor Arturo Molina. This concert held at the Meralco Theater was in line with the 5th anniversary celebrations of the First Pacific Leadership Academy.

Sala Santamaria showcased her mastery in pacing oneself as she tackled two of the most popular piano concertos ever: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23. Performing just one of the two is already taxing for a pianist and for her to do both in a single concert defies belief.

It was forgivable that both concertos were played in a more leisurely, relaxed manner than usual although I admit that there had been times when I wanted her to quicken the tempo as some portions dragged on. I thought that she appeared running out of gas towards the end of the Tchaikovsky but she showed that she still had it in her with her delightful encore of the final movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25, a light, cheerful change from the heavy and brooding Rach and Tchaik.

While Sala Santamaria may no longer possess much of the speed and power of her peak years, she still exhibited sensitivity, musicality, finesse, and majesty. It helps also that she has a regal presence that hasn't diminished at all in time.

Prior to each concerto, conductor Molina led the MSO to a rousing rendition of Mikhail Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Lyudmila and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture in A major, Op. 96.

It pleases me to point out that not only was the Meralco Theater filled to capacity, there was a diverse audience who were present ranging from Imelda Marcos, the regulars at the symphony, dozens of students, and surprisingly, even Gilas Pilipinas, the national basketball team that bagged the gold medal at the recent South East Asian Games.

Those who have missed this concert have other chances to see Ingrid Sala Santamaria as she performs Johannes Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 with the MSO once again to be conducted by Christoph Poppen this October 14, 2017 at the BGC Arts Center, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. On March 16, 2018, she partners with Raul Sunico in Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in A flat major with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Yoshikazu Fukumura at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Revisiting Mario Lanza’s legacy in concert

I first became aware of who Mario Lanza was through the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, one of the most disturbing movies that I’ve ever seen. The film, featuring two deranged teenage girls who imagine Mario Lanza in their fantasy world (the two eventually end up as murderers), was hardly the ideal way to get acquainted with the legendary Hollywood actor credited to bringing opera music to the masses.

Soprano Stephanie Aguilar

But now, a chance to relive Mario Lanza in all his glory comes our way as soprano Stephanie Aguilar and tenor Nomher Nival perform in a concert entitled The American Song Book: Mario Lanza Revisited happening this June 1, 2017, 6:30 PM at the Ayala Museum. Collaborating artist for this evening will be award winning pianist Gabriel Paguirigan.

Tenor Nomher Nival

The American Song Book: Mario Lanza Revisited is presented by the Ayala Museum and the Cultural Arts Events Organizer with the support of Lyric Piano and 98.7 DZFE The Master’s Touch.

The American Song Book: Mario Lanza Revisited
June 1, 2017, 6:30 PM | Ayala Museum

Stephanie Aguilar, soprano
Nomher Nival, tenor
Gabriel Paguirigan, piano

Ticket prices:
P1000 | P700
Discounted rates for Ayala Museum members, AGC employees, ARC members, senior citizens and students are available

For inquiries:
Ayala Museum 759-8288 local 8272,
CAEO (0917)347-3027
TicketWorld 891-9999
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