Monday, November 28, 2011

Disney's The Little Mermaid

Right after attending a piano masterclass, I was able to chat with a friend, pianist Dingdong Fiel and I found out that he would be one of the keyboardists for Atlantis Productions’ staging of Disney’s The Little Mermaid at the Meralco Theater. This musical, adapted from the classical animated  film, made a splash months ago when it was announced that recording artists Rachelle Ann Go and Erik Santos were cast as Ariel and Prince Eric respectively. Thanks to Dingdong, I was able to see how these two pop stars fared in their theatrical debut during the preview night of the musical.

Rachelle Ann Go was a perfect fit for the role of Ariel to the point that it’s very difficult to imagine someone else playing the part. The memorable song Part of Your World seemed to be tailor made for her. She was Ariel and Ariel was her, period. Erik on the other hand needed more princely conviction in tackling his role that didn’t have as much meat compared to Ariel. But he delivered his solo number Her Voice with relative ease reminding me that he is first and foremost a singer who is still trying to find his way into acting. But it was Jinky Llamanzares as Ursula who showed the two how musical theater is done. Her years of experience in both the local and international stage resulted in Jinky’s Ursula all but stealing the show. She was nasty, seductive, witty and she seemed to possess an infinite bag of vocal tricks.

The musical, directed by Bobby Garcia and Chari Arespacochaga also featured OJ Mariano as Sebastian, Lee Villoria as Flounder, Enrique Canoy as Scuttle, Calvin Millado as King Triton, Felix River and Jamie Barcelon as Flotsam and Jetsam respectively, Raymond Concepcion as Grimsby and Juliene Mendoza as Chef Louis. The musical had choreography by Cecile Martinez, set design by Lex Marcos, costume design by Erik Pineda, lighting design by Jay Aranda, puppetry design and execution by Liz and Benny Batoctoy and Sam Fuentes, and vocal coaching by ManMan Angsico.

There is no doubt that vocally, the cast was top notch. The set design, costumes and the props were satisfactory knowing that local productions do not have the same budgets as the original productions in Broadway or in West End. But I did have some reservations regarding the material itself. The musical adaptation had 10 additional songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater and book by Doug Wright. I think that the film didn’t translate well on the stage and that the changes made in the ending weren’t enough to affect me. There wasn’t enough urgency or sense of danger during the final confrontation that should have left me at the edge of my seat. I also think that my age manifested itself when I found myself cringing regarding the subplot about Prince Erik and his obligation to find a wife and get married before a certain date. I guess that I don’t believe in fairytales anymore and that I've grown cynical with age. And also, the new songs didn’t capture the magic that Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman did with the original soundtrack. After the musical, I wasn’t able to recall any of the tunes of the new songs since they were that forgettable. The changes made to Under the Sea like raising the key with Sebastian belting was too over the top and that lost the charm of the original for me. Still, with a material that didn’t prove to be a total hit for me, the cast and crew, as well as the rest of the production still managed to deliver a noteworthy staging of this musical. I expect that I will be in the minority and that most people will be singing praises for this production like the celebrities who were present during the preview night like Markki Stroem, Stephanie Dan, Pilita Corales and Jackie Lou Blanco.

Markki Stroem interviewed after the show

Atlantis Productions’ staging of Disney’s The Little Mermaid is made possible through a special licensing agreement with Music Theatre International.

Sound Fusion

   Kei Wada, percussion
   Miki Maruta, koto
   Chkudo Takahashi, tsugaru shamisen
Taiko Matsumoto, vocals
Bandang Malaya

The Japan Foundation, Manila never fails to satisfy the cravings of music lovers here in Manila as they regularly bring artists that showcase the rich and diverse music of Japan. And just recently, they presented Sound Fusion at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium at the RCBC Plaza. This unique musical experience featured Japanese trio Trinity, Japanese singer Taiko Matsumoto and Filipino group Bandang Malaya. Trinity is composed of Chikudo Takahashi (tsugaru shamisen), Miki Maruta (koto) and Kei Wada (percussion). I’ve seen shamisen and koto performances before in previous music offerings of the Japan Foundation but Sound Fusion brought in something different by featuring collaborations and mixing the traditional with the modern.

The concert started with Bandang Malaya performing a couple of songs encompassing the northern and southern regions of the Philippines while using traditional and modern instruments. Then it was the turn of Trinity with Chikudo Takahashi performing first with the tsugaru shamisen. His style of playing the instrument was very different from what I’ve seen before. He played it while seated in a very upright posture as opposed to the more loose, rocker type of playing that I was able to see before. In between pieces, he gave a brief description about the instrument, its parts and how to play. He also played the kokyū, which is a smaller type of shamisen played with a bow as opposed to being plucked using a bachi with the regular shamisen.

Next, he was joined by Miki Maruta with the koto. I really look forward to hearing the sound of the koto especially when the player slides her left hand resulting in the bending of the notes which Maruta did to my absolute delight. Then percussionist Kei Wada joined in as Takahashi took a break. This was when the fusion of the traditional and the modern became evident as the percussion instruments (cajón, chimes, tambourine, djembe) added a new dimension to the music. And just like Takahashi, Wada gave a brief background regarding one of the instruments: a frame drum which I think was the tar and how the different stroking/hitting/playing techniques represent the four elements. And when Takahashi returned on stage, Trinity finally performed as a trio and they did two pieces which are very familiar to me but played with unusual arrangements. The first piece had the kokyū playing the main theme of the Adagio from Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo. And the second piece was the very popular Libertango by Astor Piazzolla. I’ve heard these pieces played with the usual western music instruments so it was really interesting to hear them played with the Japanese traditional instruments accompanied by the various percussions.

Singer Taiko Matsumoto then joined Trinity and they did a Beatles medley (Long and Winding Road, Imagine, Hey Jude) along with two more traditional Japanese songs. Despite the Beatles’ popularity, I felt that these songs didn’t suit the shamisen and the koto well and I wasn’t able to connect to it as much as I wanted to. The following two songs were a lot better and a more musically rewarding experience for me despite not understanding a single word since they were in Japanese. But the long, sustained notes with occasional flourishes coming from Matsumoto blended really well with the continuous, rhythmical notes of both the shamisen and the koto. The concert ended with Bandang Malaya collaborating with Trinity and Matsumoto resulting in the Sound Fusion that was promised by the title of this concert. Filipino and Japanese, playing with both traditional and modern and electric instruments, making harmonious music just proved that music is indeed the universal language.

Shuji Takatori, director of the Japan Foundation, entertaining guests

This concert gave me more ideas on the wide range of the traditional instruments of Japan. They may have been in existence for thousands of years already but it is always refreshing to see and hear them played in both traditional and modern ways, further proof that music is always evolving and never stagnant. Unfortunately, Trinity had another performance and a workshop the day after at the De La Salle University which I wasn’t able to attend due to previous commitments.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marcelo Adonay’s works brought to life at the CCP

Marcelo Adonay

November 30, 2011
1:30 PM Talk
Tanghalang Manuel Conde (CCP Dream Theater)
3:00 PM Concert
Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater)
CCP Complex
Pasay, Metro Manila

Philippine Madrigal Singers
Mark Carpio, piano
Greg de Leon, bass
Nita Abrogar-Quinto, piano
Chona Noble, violin
UP Cherubim and Seraphim
Elena Mirano, choirmaster
UP Orchestra
Edna Marcil Martinez, conductor

Marcelo Adonay
     La Marieta
     La Julita
     Pequeña Balse
     Meditacion Lugubre
     Salve Regina
     Libera Me Domine
     Gozos a la Santisima Virgen (a Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion)
     Villancico a Belen Pastores
     Kyrie and Gloria from Pequeña Misa Solemne

I’ve often wondered why there is a dearth of performances featuring works by local composers. Because of this, I am not as knowledgeable regarding our local composers and their works as I would like to be. Thankfully, the Cultural Center of the Philippines through its Arts Education thrust will remedy just that by presenting the music of renowned 19th century Filipino composer Marcelo Adonay happening this November 30, 2011 3:00 PM at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater). And there will also be an informal talk about Adonay happening at 1:30 PM at the Tanghalang Manuel Conde (CCP Dream Theater) before the concert.

Bringing to life the music in this concert entitled Adonay, the Maestro from Pakil will be the Philippine Madrigal Singers led by Mark Carpio, bass soloist, Greg de Leon, pianist Nita Abrogar-Quinto, violinist Chona Noble, the UP Cherubim and Seraphim, conducted by Elena R. Mirano, and the UP Orchestra under the baton of Prof. Edna Martinez. Performances will include include La Marieta, La Julita for solo piano; Pequeña Balse, Meditacion Lugubre for violin and piano; Salve Regina, Libera Me Domine, Gozos a la Santisima Virgen (a Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion), Villancico a Belen Pastores, and two movements (Kyrie and Gloria) from the Pequeña Misa Solemne.

I absolutely have no idea how these works sound so I am grateful that I will be having the opportunity to see and hear for myself the compositions of Adonay who lived and worked in what was called as The Golden Age of Filipino Music. Incidentally, a book entitled The Life and Works of Marcelo Adonay by Elena Mirano, Corazon Dioquino, Melissa Mantaring, Edna Martinez, Ma. Patricia Silvestre, Inigo Vito and Patricia Lopez was also published by UP Press back in 2009.

Ticket price:
50% student discount
20% senior citizen discount

For inquiries:
CCP Music Division at 832-1125 loc. 1604
CCP Box Office 832-3704
TicketWorld 891-9999

Dorian Leljak Solo Recital

Pianist Dorian Leljak

Dorian Leljak, piano

Frédéric Chopin
     Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45
     Mazurka No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 63 
     Mazurka No. 4 in B minor, Op. 33
     Nocturne No. 1 in B major, Op. 62 
     Nocturne No. 2 in E major, Op. 62
     Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60
Sergei Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 (Second Version)

Serbian pianist Dorian Leljak recently had a solo piano concert at the Philam Life Auditorium presented by the Piano Teachers Guild of the Philippines and the UST Conservatory of Music. A few days before this concert, he also conducted a masterclass at the UST campus. This concert happened after a very busy week for me in which I didn’t even feel the weekend pass by. And despite being already tired, I just had to see this since it’s a solo piano concert featuring one of my favorite composers. And that composer is no other than Frédéric Chopin whose pieces comprised the first half of the programme.

The concert opened with the Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45 which was the last and also the longest prelude that Chopin wrote. The pieces that followed were Mazurka No. 3 in C sharp minor, Op. 63 and Mazurka No. 4 in B minor, Op. 33 which were played back to back. I’m not really familiar with these two pieces since the Mazurkas were never my favorites among Chopin’s compositions. After this, the two Nocturnes that make up Op. 62, No. 1 in B major and No. 2 in E major, were played. These pieces which were among the last that Chopin wrote are more subtle, intimate and introspective compared to his earlier and more accessible nocturnes require a lot more attention from the listener in my opinion. The first half ended with the popular Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60 which has the feeling of paddling through a gently flowing river.

After the interval, the concert resumed with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36 (Second Version). This intense piece was such a change of pace from the more subdued and sedate character of the pieces from the first half. There was more tension, agitation, drama in this demanding sonata and one has to have the technical chops to pull this one off since this piece is almost like a symphony for the piano because of its epic nature. And Dorian did exactly that, impressing the audience made up mostly of students from UST. After this piece Dorian performed two charming encores: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sheep May Freely Graze transcribed by Egon Petri and Nun komm der Heiden Heiland transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni which made me rethink about my aversion to playing Bach.

I was so glad to see Dorian conduct the masterclass before this concert since I was able to see and hear during the performance everything that he pointed out during the class. As he played the opening Prelude, my mind went back on how he talked about the consistency in the top and bass lines for optimum clarity. Also, in the Nocturnes, I noticed how he employed the technique in continuing the note taking into consideration the decay of sound. Lastly, he ditched being nice in some parts of the Rachmaninoff sonata when it needed to be agitated and tense. If I hadn’t gone to the masterclass, I wouldn’t have noticed these minute details which greatly contributed my enjoyment of the entire performance.

The Masterclass

As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, Dorian conducted a masterclass at the UST campus days before the concert. His impressive résumé (he is just the President of the World Piano Teachers Association for crying out loud) made those who were taking part in the masterclass very nervous at first. But quite surprisingly, Dorian came out as very warm, friendly and the masterclass actually was a lot of fun. I really appreciated it when he gave some background information alongside specific instructions regarding technique. One example of that was when he shared the history and the development of the keyboard instrument to explain the concept of the decay in sound. And this was very helpful when he taught how to maintain the flow of the melody right after a long, sustained note that is subject to this decay in sound. He shared more techniques like in bringing out the colors of the piano through being consistent in the lines at the top, bass and those in between. One of the most helpful as well was playing certain lines like the bass line for example with no sound at all while playing the top line normally in order to perfect this consistency. And what made me really dig his teaching style was when he suggested to one pianist who played a Toccata piece that she listens to other Toccatas by other composers and take note of the similarities and differences. I do enjoy this method of knowing a lot regarding the piece and its composer, realizing that there’s also a story behind the notes so that when I get to play it, I eventually (and hopefully) play more than just the notes.

RAd with Dorian Leljak

I’ve learned so much from Dorian during the masterclass that I was inspired to practice really hard and to apply everything that he said to my current pieces. Also, his solo piano concert made me yearn for a return performance from him very soon and that he must play a piano concerto next time. And it makes me really giddy when I recall when he told me that I seem to be a well rounded musician.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Moviemov: Italian Cinema Now Experience Part 4

The Last Night

RAd with Sen. Goffredo Bettini

As much as I wanted to go for five straight days and watch as many free movies as possible, my busy schedule during the weekend prevented me from doing just that. So I had to accept that I had to miss the third and fourth days of Moviemov: Italian Cinema Now at Greenbelt 3. But I still managed to go back during the fifth and last day and was able to catch the awarding of the winners and also view the closing film of the festival. And how could I pass the opportunity to see Pietra Montecorvino once again? Thankfully, she stayed for the duration of the Italian Film Festival organized by Asiatica Film Mediale and Playtown in cooperation with the Embassy of Italy, the Philippine-Italian Association, Rustan’s, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Film Development Council of the Philippines and the Peninsula Manila.

Upon arriving at the Greenbelt 3 Cinema lobby, I asked friends from the Embassy of Italy, the Philippine-Italian Association and Rustan’s manning the festival table how the past couple of days were taking into consideration the weekend crowd. They reported that the turnout was excellent with the cinemas getting filled with some people sitting on the stairs. And I was able to see first hand how people lined up early to get free tickets which were distributed an hour before the screening time. But less than five minutes after they started giving away tickets, there were already none left. It was quite sad to see people who came to the table afterwards asking for tickets only to be disappointed. Thankfully, I didn’t need to worry about lining up for tickets courtesy of my media pass.

Moviemov: Italian Cinema Now Winners

Special Mention
Mine Vaganti

Best Film

Producer Gianni Paolucci with the Best Film Trophy

Before I watched the last film, I first went to the awarding of the winner of the festival. The jury who eventually chose two winning films (Special Mention and Best Film) was composed of Nick Deocampo, Mel Chionglo, Raymond Lee, Gil Portes and Angelo Lacuesta. Senator Goffredo Bettini, who spearheaded Moviemov was very pleased with the success of the event and remained optimistic that this would be an annual event that will keep on getting bigger and better. I was also very satisfied with the festival despite some setbacks like Dario and Asia Argento not being able to make it and also not knowing if the planned workshop by film composer Franco Piersanti ever happened. But seeing Pietra Montecorvino for the three days and being told by her that I have a Neapolitan heart made me forget the other stuff that didn’t happen.

The Dreamers

The Dreamers, which was the last film screened during the festival, is not really wholly an Italian film (a co-production between France, Italy and Great Britain) but this was included in the festival since this was part of the tribute to noted Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. The movie, set in Paris during the late 60’s tells the tale of Matthew (Michael Pitt), an American student who befriends French siblings Isabelle (Eva Green) and Théo (Louis Garrell). Amidst the escalating protests happening in France, the three friends retreat into their own world, playing childish games, recreate scenes from classic films and engage into sexual activity that would definitely raise eyebrows even in this supposed to be modern and liberated society. This very unconventional friendship was put to the test when the reality of the current social and political situation forces the three to face reality and take a stand.

The film was very effective in making the audience get lost in the secluded world created by the protagonists. I did forget the outside world for about a couple of hours as I got intrigued, stirred and also disturbed by the irrational behavior and scandalous relationship of the three. There was frontal nudity and sex scenes but these didn’t bother me at all knowing beforehand what I was getting into. What bothered me was that I felt older since I got aghast by the irresponsible behavior of the Isabelle and Théo. In my younger years, I would’ve relished the journey, the headiness, and the romanticism exhibited by the three. But strangely, I felt like the parents instead.

The Final Word

I wish that I was able to maximize every opportunity regarding this film festival but there were so many events happening during the same week that I had to employ creative scheduling and budgeting in order to survive this very busy week. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to see the two winning films from the festival so I couldn’t say if they were truly deserving of the recognition. Overall, it was a splendid experience for me since I’ve never attended a film event of this magnitude before. I am glad that I also had the opportunity to practice my very rusty Italian which made me want to practice speaking the language more. And it took me towards the end of the festival to have my photo taken with Sen. Goffredo Bettini. It’s odd knowing that the festival is over and that all the buzz and excitement has already dwindled. But this just makes me anticipate what’s to come and makes me want to sing Libiamo.

RAd with Pietra Montecorvino

Christian Bautista Bloggers’ Conference

Christian Bautista

Christian Bautista came into the scene via the singing competition Star in a Million and since then, his recording career has soared not only in here but also in neighboring countries as well particularly in Indonesia. Aside from recording albums that include the 4x Platinum selling Romance Revisited: The Love Songs of Jose Mari Chan, he has also dabbled into theater with West Side Story, into film with A Special Symphony and very recently, into television with the first Pan-Asian musical TV series The Kitchen Musical. He branches out once again, but this time musically as he embarks on a new sound with Outbound, his latest album under Universal Records.

This new album, geared towards penetrating more territories at the international market features collaborations with Grammy-nominated songwriter Jim Brickman, Korean R&B trio One Way, Japanese artist Baby M and songwriters Tat Tong from Singapore and Satrio from Indonesia. And these collaborations resulted in a bold, new sound for Christian whose experience with The Kitchen Musical has given him more confidence and more drive to take more risks and go out of his comfort zone.

In line with spreading the word regarding Outbound, a Bloggers’ Conference was held at the Universal Records office wherein chosen bloggers got the chance to interact with Christian Bautista. I was very much amused when I noticed that some of the female bloggers in attendance really got dressed and made up for this event. And their giddiness made the event more laidback, relaxed and less stiff which was helped by Christian who was very much in high spirits right from the moment he entered the room.

During the conference, Christian proudly showed to us a recent recognition given to him by the National Youth Commission as an achiever for the entertainment and the arts. This led him to recall that it was the song The Way You Look at Me that paved the way for him to penetrate the ASEAN market especially Indonesia where his album was certified double platinum. And he also talked about how much he has changed while doing The Kitchen Musical. He mentioned that he gained more confidence to try new things like dancing. He also got to experience the different working conditions abroad (he gets the chance to rest) compared to how show business is run in here. He also became more outspoken and opinionated yet he still prefers to keep his personal life private.

With all these changes and new experiences, he felt that it was the right time to take more risks with his music. He hopes that his continued exposure abroad will spark more interest with his music thus creating the need to come up with an album that appeals to a wider audience. Yet, he doesn’t want to alienate his long time listeners by abandoning the ballads altogether. He points out that ballads will always be part of his repertoire but he wants to add more variety especially during live performances. And speaking of live performances, he hinted of a major concert set to happen next year. And a minor concert of sorts did happen as Christian performed one of the tracks from the album, I’m Already King that was also featured in the film A Special Symphony.

Now on to the album Outbound, my initial reaction was that of surprise upon hearing Christian doing mid-tempo songs accompanied by drum machines (All That’s Left, Unphotographable, Faith and Wrong Number). But after a few spins, these songs no longer felt alien. They felt like they belong to Christian’s repertoire just like the ballads in the album (What Can I Do, Never Far Away and Sakura). It was exactly like he said during the conference that the songs didn’t feel forced and that they still have the melodic flow that utilized his vocal range. I think that it was a good decision to stick with mid-tempo songs than going up-tempo which might’ve been difficult to take in. My minor gripe with the album was that its running time of just about 33 minutes is a bit too short. I wish that they’ve also included a Filipino song in the album that could’ve served the international market their first taste of our local music.

Christian Bautista’s Bloggers’ Conference was made possible by Universal Records in cooperation with Pinoy Magazine and official online partner Orange Magazine TV with special thanks to Ever Bilena Blackwater.


1. All That’s Left
2. Unphotographable
3. Faith
4. I’m Already King
5. What Can I Do
6. Never Far Away
7. Wrong Number
8. Sakura

Saturday, November 19, 2011

MSO V: Beethoven Lives!

Alexander Vikulov and the Manila Symphony Orchestra

Arturo Molina, violin
Greg Zuniega, piano
Victor Coo, cello 
Manila Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Vikulov, conductor 

Ludwig van Beethoven
     Overture from Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43
     Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 56
     Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

The Manila Symphony Orchestra recently held their closing concert of their Gala Season celebrating the orchestra’s historic 85th year at the Philam Life Auditorium featuring guest conductor Alexander Vikulov and soloists Arturo Molino (violin), Greg Zuniega (piano) and Victor Coo (cello). The concert entitled Beethoven Lives! featured the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (obviously) that very much delighted the inner Schroeder in me.

But I am not as obsessive as Schroeder when it comes to Beethoven since I had no idea how the Overture to Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43, the first piece of the evening, actually sounds. And it didn’t help at all that while the orchestra was playing this piece, I paid more attention in checking out how they sounded under the baton of guest conductor Alexander Vikulov. I am prone to doing this especially if the opening piece is not familiar to me. I also checked out if those who didn’t play during the last concert were back this time around. And before I knew it, the piece was already over.

Arturo Molina, Victor Coo and Greg Zuniega perform the Triple Concerto

Then it was time for the Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 56 which was probably the main highlight of the concert for many in the audience that night. This piece also known as the Triple Concerto is an unusual one since instead of just one soloist, there are actually three. And what was more unusual during this performance was that the three soloists do not actually perform together regularly. I usually see Arturo Molina conducting the MSO and I couldn’t even recall if I ever got to see him during his days as the concertmaster of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. On the other hand, I’ve seen Victor Coo perform with violinist Joseph Esmilla and pianist Rudolf Golez (Trio con Brio). And it was during recitals that I’ve seen the very reliable Greg Zuniega. And despite this lack of playing together, they showed excellent rapport especially during the first movement which featured a lively conversation between the three with each instrument taking on the themes. I was also able to appreciate the attention to detail that Beethoven did especially with the cello that had the tendency to be drowned by the piano and the violin. In all three movements, the cello delivered the first solo hence giving it the chance to shine before the piano and violin eventually dominate. After this piece, the trio of Molina, Coo and Zuniega delivered a charming encore of Pamulinawen arranged by Ryan Cayabyab.

As much as I appreciated the Triple Concerto, it was actually the last piece, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 that I was really looking forward to that evening. This piece has become very popular in recent years because of the manga/anime/drama series Nodame Cantabile. With the exception of the second movement, this piece exudes such joy all the way through. I normally don’t like happy and cheerful pieces but this is a major exception. The fourth movement is one of the pieces I normally listen to whenever I’m feeling down in the dumps and experiencing a live performance easily trumps listening to a recording anytime. And when the MSO played this fourth movement, the joy and the sense of triumph coming out from the orchestra was almost tangible. I don’t know if it’s the November rain but this concert just continued the streak of outstanding orchestra performances that started with the Taipei Symphony Orchestra.

Special thanks should be given also to Lisa Macuja-Elizalde for bringing over the exceptional conductor Alexander Vikulov. He had a rather understated style that didn’t call much attention to himself. But what’s more important was that he was able to bring out the best in MSO who delivered a very inspired performance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend his masterclass over at the University of the Philippines that happened a few days later due to a conflict in schedule.

Since their season has already ended I couldn’t help but look back at the season as a whole. The MSO had a hit lineup for me since they included some of my favorites like the Mahler Symphony No. 5, Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, Brahms Symphony No. 4, and Beethoven Symphony No. 7. And also, they performed the Khachaturian Violin Concerto which I’ve wanted to hear for some time now. For this concert season, I’ve noticed that everything went ahead as planned without any of the mishaps (Ondoy back in 2009) or sudden program change (July 2010) that they’ve experienced in previous seasons. I do hope that the next season will continue the upward momentum of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Friday, November 18, 2011

PPO III: Jae-Joon Lee and Bùi Công Duy

Violinist Bùi Công Duy

Bùi Công Duy, violin
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Jae-Joon Lee, conductor

Johannes Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Max Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14

November 11, 2011 was a day highlighted by numerous events around Metro Manila since organizers wanted to take advantage of the 11-11-11 phenomenon. But I couldn’t care less for any of these events since I’ve already committed to the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s third concert of their 29th season featuring guest conductor, Jae-Joon Lee of Korea and violinist Bùi Công Duy of Vietnam held at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater) over at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. But a day before that, Bùi Công Duy held as masterclass at the University of Sto. Tomas and it should no longer surprise anyone that I was there to observe.

As previously announced, pre-concert lectures given by associate conductor, Herminigildo Ranera is back and he did give one to the people who were there early. I wasn’t able to listen much but I heard him talking about the contrabassoon to be used later. Going to the concert proper, the show started with Johannes Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 which is really a piece that is filled with drinking songs that were popular with students during the time of its composition. Unfortunately, the inside joke was lost as time went on but current listeners like myself can still appreciate the magnificent orchestration, contrabassoon included, by Brahms. And the orchestration did shine since the PPO, under the baton of Jae-Joon Lee, sounded a lot better which I think was spurred by the inspiring performance of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra a week before.

And speaking of weeks, the Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 26 by Max Bruch was heard once again a the CCP exactly a week later. This time around, Vietnamese violinist Bùi Công Duy was the featured soloist and thankfully, I wasn’t sick and tired of this piece yet. His rendition showed restraint and a great deal of control giving emphasis to key moments throughout the piece. And I got a lot of what he said during the masterclass like playing the notes distinctly and not rushing them. It was definitely a treat for those who find this violin concerto among their favorites if they were able to watch both performances.

The number of people during the first half of the evening didn’t look too promising and I suspected that a lot got stuck in traffic due to the 11-11-11 events. A lot did arrive late and was relegated to the back of the hall in order not to disturb the other members of the audience during the first half. By the second half of the concert, there was already a good sized audience who were ready for the final piece of the evening which was Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. This piece has a very interesting origin and one really had to know it to fully understand, appreciate and feel the music. As always, love has been the driving force for a lot of enduring works in music and art in general and this piece is no exception. Composed by a young, irrational Berlioz for actress, Harriet Smithson when his previous love letters for her were left unanswered, this piece is a monumental undertaking from someone who was hopelessly smitten and it manifested in the grandeur of the piece. For almost an hour, the PPO transported me to a fantasy realm of obsession, desperate longing, dazzling balls, ominous march, and a wild dance. And seeing and hearing an Eb clarinet made me want to have one to add to the Bb clarinet that I already own.

For many in the audience, the most memorable part of the concert was the encore which was Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez. I wasn’t able to get what Jae-Joon Lee said when he announced the encore but upon hearing the opening clarinet line, I knew right away what the piece was. And I quickly recalled the encore that the PPO did during their previous concert, Huapango, which was by yet another Mexican composer and a piece that also recently became closely associated with Gustavo Dudamel and the Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar back when they were still a youth orchestra. And for a moment, the PPO and Jae-Joon Lee seemed to be transported back to the time of their youth. The orchestra enjoyed themselves very much while playing this and Jae-Joon Lee even swayed and danced to the beat and also urged the audience to clap along.

Maestro Jae-Joon Lee in a post concert discussion
with Raul Sunico, CCP President and violinist Gilopez Kabayao

The concerts keep on coming and the bar is being raised for every performance and I couldn’t be happier. What also made me very glad after this concert was seeing a number of Korean kids among the audience who mobbed Maestro during the meet and greet. I do hope that these kids will grow up and be regular concert goers as well.

The Masterclass

I really prefer it when a masterclass happens before the concert since I am able to appreciate the performance a lot more when this occurs. Experiencing a masterclass, seeing how it was conducted, taking notes of the points made and having a glimpse of the musician’s off stage persona can really make a difference in the viewing of the actual concert. And I did get to experience this during Bùi Công Duy’s masterclass. He had some difficulty in articulating himself in English since he is not a native speaker of the language. But that didn’t hamper him in giving specific instructions regarding the technique in order to bring the optimum and desired sound from the students. Someone with a weak constitution may find his teaching methods a bit too harsh especially if there are a lot of corrections to be done. But after the masterclass, it was a different and a friendlier Bùi Công Duy who gamely posed for photos and invited everyone to watch his concert the day later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Moviemov: Italian Cinema Now Experience Part 3

The Second Night

I had a blast during the opening of the Moviemov: Italian Cinema Now and I couldn’t fathom not ever going back despite a very busy week for me. I knew that I had to return for more since I wanted to catch a film screening on the second day and a cast member from the film personally invited me to do so during the opening. So after attending a violin masterclass and an opening of an exhibition, I hurriedly made my way to the Greenbelt 3 Cinema hoping that I make it on time. Fortunately, I did make it with ample time for me to refresh myself.


Right after the press conference, I’ve read the booklet of film synopses that was included in the press kit and Passione practically screamed at me. And then I also found out that, Pietra Montecorvino, who appears in the film would be arriving as well. Without any hesitation, I decided to come back and thankfully, my schedule for the next day cooperated with this one so everything went well.

The main draw for me in this film was the music. I’ve experienced the music of southern Italy through Eugenio Bennato and the Taranta Power and I’ve had the rare opportunity to play with them when they were here during the Italian National Day Event. Since then, I’ve wanted to learn and experience more of this kind of music and the screening of this film was the perfect opportunity for me. The film, directed by John Turturro, simply describes the city of Naples or Napoli but through the music that came out of it. For some, what came out next might seem to be an extended music video, but for me, it was a quenching of my thirst for this type of music. The music, just like the title of the film suggests is passionate, seductive, penetrating and like it’s always spiked with alcohol. After watching the film, I told Pietra on how moved I was with the music and she told me that I have a Neapolitan heart. And I didn’t even understand most of the lyrics since I was drawn more to the melody and the rhythm of the songs performed by Mina, Spakka-Neapolis 55, Avion Travel, Misia, Massimo Ranieri, Lina Sastri, M’barka Ben Taleb, Gennaro Cosmo Parlato, Peppe Barra, Angela Luce and of course, Pietra Montecorvino,  already one of the darlings of the festival who did an impromptu performance inside the cinema before the screening of the film. I was a bit surprised when I saw Max Casella in the film and it made me realize how long it was since his Doogie Howser, M.D. days.

RAd with Pietra Montecorvino

I was tired when I came to watch this film but I had no regrets since the music invigorated me for about half an hour and Passione was the film that I couldn’t miss. And it was always a pleasure seeing Pietra Montecorvino and Marta Gastini once again. Too bad that a couple of orchestra performances for the next two days prevented me for attending the next two days of the festival but I was able to return on the last day.

Marta Gastini

Foreign Familiar Photography Exhibition Opening

Despite my busy and hectic day, I managed to drop by the opening of the Foreign Familiar Photography Exhibition at the Shaw Hallway, Level 4 of the Shangri-La Plaza. I may not be good at taking photographs but I’d like to think that I have an eye for good and interesting photos. And I did find it interesting that featured in this exhibit are the works of nine Western photographers who have lived and worked in Asia. And their photos of various Asian sights and scenes seen through their perspective drew me in to this exhibit.

Photographer Wolfgang Bellwinkel

The opening was graced by one of the photographers and also the curator of the exhibit, Wolfgang Bellwinkel of Germany. His work entitled Babel featured the cropped shots of unfinished buildings in Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. Other photographers featured in the exhibit were Swiss Ferit Kuyas with his City of Ambition, England born Olivier Pin-Fat with his Space-in-Between, Marrigje de Mar of Netherlands with Home, German Nick Nostitz with his Bangkok Twilight, French Bruno Quinquet and his Salaryman Project, American Peter Steinhauer with Reflections of Chaos and Calm, French Laurence Leblanc with her Rithy, Chéa, Kim Sour et les autres, and Swiss Graziella Antonini with her Voyage imaginaire au Japon

It was very interesting to see the Asian sights, culture and people captured by the lenses of Westerners. I particularly liked the Salaryman Project by Bruno Quinquet since I’ve already been fascinated by the salaryman ever since I’ve came across that term while reading a manga about them. I was also drawn to City of Ambition by Ferit Kuyas with his hazy photographs of splendid buildings and structures in China. It made me wonder if the haziness was caused by fog or by smog. And then, there is Bangkok Twilight by Nick Nostitz with probably the most disturbing shots in the whole exhibit and one has to see them in order to get what I mean.

This exhibit runs until November 20, 2011. Organized by the Delegation of European Union in the Philippines, Goethe-Institut Philippinen, the Alliance Française de Manille and the Embassy of Italy, in cooperation with the Embassy of Switzerland and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Foreign Familiar Photography Exhibition heads to Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh after its Manila leg.
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