Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's triumphant Carmen and Ballet Manila's promising future in BM 21

BM 21, the closing production of Ballet Manila’s 20th season offered a glimpse towards the future of the company as much as it was a triumphant return to the stage in a lead role for Co-Artistic Director/CEO Lisa Macuja-Elizalde.

The future of the company seemed to be in solid hands (or feet) when the female corps de ballet were put on the spotlight with the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere. Entering the stage in a series of arabesques, it was a test of stability and consistency for each member of the corps while making sure that they remain in sync. This set the stage for Tiffany Chiang, Abigail Oliveiro, and Joan Sia, the lead Shades who hurdled the technical demands of their respective variations while making them look easy.

Katherine Barkman as Nikiya exuded an aura of tranquility. She displayed neat, controlled and tight turns and seemed to land on a pillow of air when she did her series of jetés across the stage. Katherine found ample support in Romeo Peralta’s Solor although the assisted pirouettes could’ve been more fluid. I found myself at the edge of my seat and rooting for Romeo when he did his jetés en manège which is always exciting to see.

Of all the ballets presented in BM 21, it was Bloom by Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa that I looked forward to seeing the most.  When the curtain was raised revealing the bare chested danseurs on stage, there were some who cheered already. I concluded that these people had seen Bloom before and went on to see it again. Finally seeing it made me realize why people have been raving about it. Using the music of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1, the fierce, sharp, intense and athletic movements utilized the exciting pulse of the music’s outer movements. The slow, middle section provided great contrast and highlighted the intimate adagio of Mark Sumaylo and Dawna Mangahas. Knowing how the music would end, I wondered how this ballet would pull off the soft, quiet ending. Without spoiling anything, the ballet ended with a striking and iconic visual that remained in my head long after the whole show was over.

The show’s finale was Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s return to Carmen, a BM staple that was choreographed by founding artistic director Eric V. Cruz. While not as technically difficult as Nikiya from La Bayadere, dancing Carmen rather allowed Lisa to embody the character more and let her hair down figuratively and literally and not be too worked on say, completing 32 fouettés (which this choreography didn't have). I could really sense that she had the time of her life on stage as she engaged in cat fights, seduced men, and then hopped over to another lover just because her character can.

Aside from Lisa, I anticipated seeing Rudy de Dios as Don Jose. The way Rudy showed his character’s transformation from a law abiding guard to a tragically obsessed smuggler/bum always moves me. And his partner work with Lisa, especially when they do the effortless and well centered assisted pirouettes, is always a sight to behold. Lisa and Rudy’s portrayal of their respective roles were highlighted further by Romeo Peralta’s Escamillo and Sofia Peralta’s Micaela who I think served as foils. Romeo, a busy man during this evening, was sharp and charismatic as Escamillo. While Sofia’s meek Micaela was made more pitiful. I haven’t seen such a broken down and devastated Micaela when ultimately dumped by Don Jose.

During the show, the lineup for the 21st season billed as Revenge of the Classics was finally revealed. Since Lisa has already bid farewell to full length ballets, it will be the ballerinas and danseurs featured in BM 21 to be on the spotlight next season..

Monday, March 28, 2016

An unexpected live music treat in Dance Heginbotham show

A tight schedule on a busy Saturday night almost prevented me from watching the performance of Dance Heginbotham, the culminating activity of their week long DanceMotion USA tour here in the Philippines. But a stroke of luck and the Cultural Center of the Philippines being just a stone throw’s away from my next destination allowed me to squeeze viewing Dance Heginbotham’s show. And boy, am I extremely glad that the odds worked in my favor.

Usually, contemporary dance is a hit or miss for me with me relying too much on the music used to serve as my anchor to the choreography/performance. Thankfully, the hour long show by Dance Heginbotham, founded by John Heginbotham, had excellent piano music by Scott Joplin and Darius Milhaud performed live by musician Nathan Koci. Not only did Nathan play in three different pianos throughout the show, but he also played the accordion in between the dance numbers. I have to admit that at several moments during the show, I felt like I was watching a music recital that had some dancing on the side.

The show started with the number Waltz Ending that featured dancers John Eirich, Lindsey Jones, Courtney Lopes, Weaver Rhodes, Sarah Stanley, and the tiny Macy Sullivan as the soloist with Nathan playing Scott Joplin’s Harmony Club Waltz at the upright piano (Joplin just had to be on an upright). With Joplin’s very accessible and pleasant waltz, it wasn’t difficult at all to get into the performance which still bears the dancers’ classical training and elegant lines.

I thought that the use of recorded music during the following number Rockefellers would be a letdown, but the duet between John Eirich and Lindsey Jones featuring a selection of Raymond Scott’s music proved otherwise. I greatly enjoyed the choreography and the footwork that harkened the old days of swinging jive. At the end of this bit, I already had Scott’s Manhattan Minuet music and the two dancers’ steps (especially the knee and heel patting) firmly imprinted in my head.

The next number Diamond was the highlight of the show for me due to the music by French composer Darius Milhaud. With Nathan playing selections from Saudades do Brasil, Op. 67 at the grand piano this time, my attention was almost glued to the pianist and I just snuck some glances towards Kristen Foote who was playful, cheeky and at times sultry as the lone dancer for this. I was very mesmerized by the dance rhythms and especially the polytonality that gave this piece rich harmonies. I just decided right then and there that I have to get a copy of the score right after the show and learn how to play this.

A dash of unexpected theatrics was delivered by Nathan during the last of his accordion interludes. Walking further back the stage and with seemingly nowhere else to go, the back curtains were drawn to reveal a second grand piano (the third piano overall) for him to play for the finale.

Featuring the entire company, this lengthy number Easy Win showcased the athleticism and stamina of the dancers in ensemble, partner, and solo work often times forming a complex weave (yet with recognizable classical lines) of movement with just seven bodies. The music, unfamiliar to me, was composed by Ethan Iverson and was commissioned by the company for a new work dedicated to John’s mother on the occasion of her 70th birthday.

After the show, I’ve had the pleasure of having a brief chat with both Nathan and John. I didn’t waste time telling both of them how the music helped a lot in my appreciation of the dancing. And I had to confess that I wasn’t able to focus on the dancers as much as I would want to since it was difficult for me to take my eyes off Nathan whenever he was playing.

I almost didn’t get to watch the performance of Dance Heginbotham and it was only through external forces that it became possible for me. I wish that I was able to stay longer at the lobby to meet the dancers (who took their time before heading out for the meet and greet) and to discuss music more with Nathan and John, but I had to hop over across the street for yet another dance show.

A part of DanceMotion USA, Dance Heginbotham’s performance was presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the US Embassy in Manila and was produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

PPO, Rachelle Gerodias, Byeong-In Park, Madz, et al in enthralling Brahms Requiem

Rachelle Gerodias, soprano
Byeong-In Park, baritone
Philippine Madrigal Singers, et al
     Mark Anthony Carpio, choir master
Philippine Madrigal Singers Alumni
UE Chorale
     Anna Piquero, choir master
UP Choral Class
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

Herminigildo Ranera
     Philippine Symphonic Folksongs
Johannes Brahms
     Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45

As his stint as outgoing principal conductor/music director of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra nears its end, Olivier Ochanine drew another ace from his sleeve with the Philippine premiere performance of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45. With a choir of at least a hundred members and soloists Rachelle Gerodies (soprano) and Byeong-In Park (baritone) joining the orchestra, the Brahms performance proved to be a feast not just for the ears but for the eyes as well.

But first, the concert opened with Herminigildo Ranera’s Philippine Symphonic Folksongs. This was just the second time this piece has been performed since its debut by the Orchestra Nipponica Tokyo for the Japan-Philippines Contemporary Music Festival held in February 2013. With this short work steeped in folk idiom, the PPO took the audience on a musical journey of the Philippines’ three main islands: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Each island/movement had a distinct orchestral color with Luzon having only the winds, brass and percussion section playing, Visayas just the strings and harp, while Mindanao had the full orchestral complement.

Then it was off to the evening’s main work: the Brahms German Requiem. The combined forces of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, Alumni, et al with choir master Mark Anthony Carpio, the UE Chorale with choir master Anna Piquero, and the UP Choral Class were expected to produce a wall of sound and they did. More impressive were the deft handling of the softer passages with the entire choir sounding as if their voices were just mists hovering/floating above the ground. But it was during the fugues that the choir truly shone and that’s something coming from me who isn’t too keen on fugues. It is interesting to note the presence in the choir of a handful of countertenors who sang the alto parts which is something I don’t see very often.

For the audience members who weren’t familiar with the Brahms piece, they were let down when they realized how brief the parts of Rachelle Gerodias and Byeong-In Park were. Byeong-In was imposing and firm, quite a contrast with the delicate solo of Rachelle. Being husband and wife, I wouldn’t be surprised that some expected a duet between the two, but none was written for this Requiem. No wonder that the talk at the lobby after the concert was wishing to hear more from the two of them. Personally, I wish the Olivier conducted this with a more glacial pace but doing that would’ve added at least five more minutes to the program. And that is five minutes more that the choir had to endure standing at the risers.

I admit that during this concert, it was very difficult for me to keep my eyes from the choir and the soloists during the Requiem. If not for the Philippine Symphonic Folksongs, I would’ve probably ignored the orchestra altogether. Well, not quite since I did savor the harp parts and also the low strings passages that opened the Brahms.

It is a remarkable coincidence that the last PPO concert that featured a huge choir happened exactly five years before and that the piece back then was also a Requiem albeit the one by Giuseppe Verdi. I think that the concerts seeming to go full circle serve as a reminder for everyone that Olivier Ochanine’s term with the PPO is about to wrap up and that next month's concert will be his last.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

UST Symphony Orchestra looks forward in New World concert

Anthony Say, piano
Fe Marsha Nicolas, piano
UST Symphony Orchestra and Alumni
Herminigildo Ranera, conductor

Franz Liszt
     Les préludes S.97
Francis Poulenc
     Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor, FP 61
Antonín Dvořák
     Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, From the New World

Derrick Atangan (arranger)
     2015 Playlist

Watching the young members of the UST Symphony Orchestra in their latest concert, I had a sense that I was seeing a preview of the future of the orchestra scene here in the country. Led by conductor Herminigildo Ranera, the concert also featured pianists Anthony Say and Fe Marsha Nicolas. With a line up consisting of groundbreaking pieces by Franz Liszt, Francis Poulenc, and Antonín Dvořák, the concert lived up to its billing of New World, New Generation.

I couldn’t help but notice the massive orchestra made up of UST Conservatory of Music students, UST SO Alumni, and some faculty members assembled on stage as they started their opening piece, Liszt’s Les préludes S.97. From where I was seated, I could count around six flutes and the other sections had a few more instruments/chairs than what is typical. I doubt that List wrote this piece with this number of instruments in mind. As a result, the brass and winds somehow drowned the strings section that probably because of their size (around seven stands in the first violins alone), weren’t as tight and even. Despite the orchestra’s slight hiccups, their performance became a lightbulb moment for me as I was finally able to grasp the piece. The main motif and how it was repeated and transformed throughout the symphonic poem’s six sections, somehow became clear to me.

For obvious reasons, the main highlight of the concert for me was Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor, FP 61 with pianists and UST Conservatory of Music faculty Anthony Say and Fe Marsha Nicolas as the two soloists. Since it was my first time to see this piece played live and I had no idea how the piano parts were divided, I paid extra attention to this performance. Say, who was Piano 1, had a more prominent part than that of Nicolas’ Piano 2. It may not be as virtuosic like a Rachmaninoff concerto, the Poulenc concerto with its eclectic themes was still tricky nonetheless that demanded precise timing between Say and Nicolas as well as the orchestra.

The sheer number of musicians on stage was utilized to great effect with the orchestra’s take on Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, From the New World. Again, the strings were a bit wild at the start, but somehow found their groove during the inner movements. I wish that the second movement Largo was played slower than they did it but that would’ve been extremely difficult on the English horn player who had to do the very famous melody. Towards the end, the orchestra started to strain a bit, with the horns getting unpredictable, and some out of sync bowing here and there. I guess that this was probably fatigue or a loss in concentration thinking that it’s just smooth sailing to the finish. One thing’s for sure, these students learned that they have to pace themselves well in order to finish strong, especially if it’s a long work like the New World Symphony.

With the main program already out of the way, everyone on stage was able to let their hair down with the encore, 2015 Playlist arranged by Derrick Atangan. The crowd pleasing medley featuring recent chart topping songs like Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk feat. Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber’s Sorry and Love Yourself, and Brandon Beal’s Twerk It Like Miley was such a hit among the UST students inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Theater. But what was particularly amusing for me was seeing the alumni and faculty (especially those who also play with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra) on stage performing this number.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Japanese guitarist Tomonori Arai returns to Manila

March 20, 2016, 5:00 PM
Abelardo Hall Auditorium
College of Music, University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City

Tomonori Arai
Duo Trussardi
     Eisei Tanigawa
     Takashi Endo
Marlee Pabico
Sting Asistores

Japanese guitarist Tomonori Arai returns to Manila for a one night concert billed as Three, Two, One… Arai! happening on March 20, 2016, 5:30 PM at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium, UP College of Music in UP Diliman. Presented by Independent Philippine Art Ventures, Inc., this concert will also feature a guitar duo from Japan, Duo Trussardi.

Tomonori Arai, born in Shibuya, Tokyo, started studying guitar at the age of six with his father Kazuo Arai. He was last seen in Manila back in January 2012 during the 2012 Philippine International Guitar Festival & Competition that had him conducting a masterclass, serving as a member of the jury, and performing at a concert with Gen Matsuda. For this concert, Tomonori will perform music by Roland Dyens, Francisco  Tárrega, Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Leo Brouwer.

Duo Trussardi, made up of Eisei Tanigawa and Takashi Endo, studied classical guitar and music theory under Japanese guitarist Tomonori Arai. After taking a liking to classical Brazilian music, especially the work by composer Egbert Gismonti, they started playing as a guitar duo focusing on Brazilian music. The duo will perform pieces composed by Shingo Fujii, Hirokazu Sato, Rami Vamos and Randall Ayers, Dušan Bogdanović, and Celso Machado at the concert.

Young and upcoming local talents are always featured in Independent Philippine Art Ventures, Inc. productions and this concert is no exception. Two young guitarists namely Marlee Pabico and Sting Asistores, both students of the Philippine High School for the Arts will serve as the concert’s opening acts.

Three, Two, One… Arai! is supported by Japan Foundation, Manila, and is part of the 60th anniversary celebration of Philippine-Japanese Friendship.

Ticket prices:
P2000 VIP
P1000 Patron
P500 Regular

For inquiries:
TicketWorld 891-9999

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde returns to Carmen in BM 21

March 19, 2016, 8:00 PM
Aliw Theater
CCP Complex, Pasay City

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde returns to Carmen in BM 21 – A Ballet Concert happening this March 19, 2016, 8:00 PM at the Aliw Theater. The closing production of Ballet Manila’s 20th season, BM 21 will feature three pieces The Kingdom of the Shades from Act 3 of La Bayadere, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Bloom and Eric V. Cruz’ Carmen with Lisa dancing the lead title role.

My first encounter with La Bayadere was way back in the 1990’s and even though this was more than two decades ago, I can still remember the part of The Kingdom of the Shades where the female corps de ballet, the shades, make their entrance. After this number, I doubt that anyone in the audience will not know what an arabesque is. The Russian Vaganova method that Ballet Manila espouses will be put to the fore in this piece from La Bayadere.

Since its debut back in 2015's Ballet Manila 2.0, Bloom by choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa has fast become one of the company’s signature pieces. Set to the music of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1, Bloom will showcase more contemporary moves by the male members of the company. I have yet to a performance of this and BM 21 is giving me (and those who still haven't had the opportunity or just want to see it again) another chance to do so.

Carmen by Eric V. Cruz marks Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s return to a lead title role after her Swan Song Series. The role of Carmen, a feisty and sensual gypsy who jumps from one lover to another, is a departure from her prim and proper image as the country’s most popular ballerina. Portraying Don Jose will be Lisa’s perennial dance partner Rudy de Dios. And while it will be a definite treat to see Lisa dancing Carmen once again, I also look forward to seeing Rudy’s solo in the La fleur que tu m'avais jetée aka the Flower song that had me mesmerized when I saw this production a few years back. I bet that the music by Georges Bizet/Rodion Shchedrin would be very familiar to those who will see this.

Ballet Manila is set to wrap up their 20th season with a show that seems to look back to the past with classic standards like La Bayadere and Carmen, and also to the present with the more recent Bloom. And since the show is billed as BM 21, it is also look towards the company's future. After this, I await with anticipation what CEO/Artistic Director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, Co-Artistic Director Osias Barroso, and the rest of Ballet Manila have in store for their 21st season.

Ticket prices:
P1500 Gold
P1000 Silver
P500 Bronze

For inquiries:
TicketWorld 891-9999

Monday, March 14, 2016

PPO, Rachelle Gerodias, Byeong-In Park, and Madz set for Brahms Requiem Philippine premiere

March 18, 2016, 8:00 PM
Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater)
Cultural Center of the Philippines
CCP Complex
Pasay, Metro Manila

Rachelle Gerodias, soprano
Byeong-In Park, baritone
Philippine Madrigal Singers et al
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

Johannes Brahms
     Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45

The Philippine premiere of Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 headlines the penultimate concert of music director/principal conductor Olivier Ochanine with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra on March 18, 2016, 8:00 PM at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater).

Real life couple soprano Rachelle Gerodias and baritone Byeong-In Park will be the evening’s soloists while the Philippine Madrigal Singers lead the group of choirs performing in this magnum opus of Brahms. As the title suggests, this Requiem features German text as opposed to the Latin of a traditional Requiem Mass. And instead of being a mass for the dead, this piece centers more on comforting and consoling the living.

This upcoming performance of a large choral work comes almost exactly five years after the PPO played Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem. Olivier Ochanine told me that it wasn’t by design that this is happening but I think that as his stint with the PPO is about to wrap up, things are going full circle albeit by coincidence.

The initially announced world debut performance of the winning piece of the PPO Composition Competition is now scheduled for the concert on April 22, 2016. The piece(s) to be performed alongside Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem is to be announced.

Ticket prices:
P1500 Orchestra Center
P1200 Orchestra Side
P800 Extreme Orchestra Side
P500 Balcony I Center
P400 Balcony I Side
P300 Balcony II

For inquiries:
CCP Marketing Department 832-1125 local 1806
CCP Box Office 832-3704
TicketWorld 891-9999

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Nostalgia spins out of J-Pop concert

     Masashi Akiba, vocals/guitar
     Tetsuro Kimura, guitar
     Johnny Yanagawa, bass
     Takahiro Shikano, dums
Joe Inoue
Diana Garnet

Surrounded by hundreds of giddy millennials inside Whitespace Manila, I asked myself a handful of times if I was lost or if I found myself in one of those baffling dreams. Alas, there was no denying that I signed up for Spinning Manila: J-Pop Live!, a concert featuring THE BEATMOTORS, Joe Inoue, and Diana Garnet. I believe that my anime/manga loving days have long since reached its peak around a decade ago but my support for the Japan Foundation, Manila urged me to relive my otaku days and let loose on a lazy Sunday for one night of J-Pop music.

Things quickly warmed up inside the cold, air conditioned interior of the venue when THE BEATMOTORS took to the stage. The infectious energy of vocalist/guitarist Masashi Akiba, guitarist Tetsuro Kimura, bassist Johnny Yanagawa, and drummer Takahiro Shikano, all donning identical Jollibee t-shirts, got the crowd going. I found it remarkable that despite the language barrier (none of the members could speak English) and the unfamiliar set list, the audience response was very enthusiastic. Towards the middle of their set, the band performed a cover of The Carpenters’ Top of the World, in an arrangement similar to that of Shonen Knife that was released a little over 20 years ago. I found it very amusing that there was a throwback from my time as a teenager at a concert that I initially thought I would not be able to connect to.

The next act, Joe Inoue, had no problem communicating at all since he was born and raised in America. Visiting the Philippines for the fifth time already, he was very comfortable with the crowd. I think he got too comfortable since he even went a bit naughty with some of his spiels which made the crowd go wild. Even his occasional sips of water drew cheers from the crowd which greatly amused Joe. Unlike the previous act, the audience sang along with him, especially during Closer, a track he recorded that was used as the opening song for the anime Naruto. His take on the popular Dragon Ball Z opening song Cha-La Head-Cha-La was a surprise for me and definitely took me back to the 90’s when the series was regularly shown in here.

I thought that the crowd would’ve been exhausted already (I was) after the energy draining performances of THE BEATMOTORS and Joe Inoue. But the last act, Diana Garnet, managed to get a second wind out of everyone. Sounding like a character straight out of an anime, she endeared herself to the crowd especially when she professed her love to mango juice. Wildly cheered was her performance of Spinning World, an ending theme for Naruto: Shippuden which made her the first female solo act to sing a theme song for an anime. She also evoked nostalgia when she sang A Cruel Angel's Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion along with her personal favorite, Yuzurenai Negai from Magic Knight Rayearth. Diana was joined by Jhona in a couple of duets and I think that the two were splendid, harmonizing really well in Secret Base from Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, a bittersweet anime series that brought me to tears a few years back.

What really caught my attention was when she sang in an operatic/classical style during the performance of Nankai! Mystery, the theme song from the anime of the same name that she has recorded. Later on, I was able to have a word with her at their holding area and found out that she did have a background with that type of singing. When I asked how she managed to shift from the anime type of singing to that of western classical, she responded that it takes a lot of practice.

I really thought that I would be unable to connect to the artists, the crowd, and the songs at Spinning World: J-Pop Live! but the sprinkling of nostalgia through the anime songs from the decades past, made me look back with fondness the series that I’ve loved. I may not be crazy about the current popular anime/manga right now like One-Punch Man, Attack on Titan, Fairy Tail, etc., but the concert made me want to unearth and revisit Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, Slam Dunk, Great Teacher Onizuka, Beck and Nodame Cantabile, to name a few.

What astonished me with this event was having two Americans, Joe and Diana, who’d gone to Japan to establish a career in the world of J-Pop, now performing outside Japan as J-Pop artists. Just like what Diana’s song title says, it’s truly a Spinning J-Pop World out there.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Manila Symphony Orchestra champions Filipino music in 90th anniversary concert

Gabriel Paguirigan, piano
Manila Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Molina, conductor

Alexander Lippay
     Variations on the Philippine National Hymn
Rodolfo Cornejo
     Philippine Rhapsody No. 2
Antonino Buenaventura
     Symphony in C

Antonino Buenaventura
     Mindanao Sketches A Village Festival Dance

The Manila Symphony Orchestra paid tribute to the Music of the Filipino at the concert that not only capped their 2015-2016 Season but also celebrated the orchestra’s 90th anniversary. Led by principal conductor/music director Arturo Molina, the MSO performed at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium in UP Diliman rarely heard pieces by Alexander Lippay, Rodolfo Cornejo, and Antonino Buenaventura.

To open the concert, the MSO paid homage to their roots by performing Variations on the Philippine National Hymn, composed by the orchestra’s founder, Dr. Alexander Lippay.  The main theme of this piece comprised only of the first two thirds of the Philippine National Anthem. The variations that followed suit had the theme passed on to various instruments in a call and response fashion, dissonant figurations accompanied the melody, tonalities shifted to minor, time signature switched to triple meter, and even the melody inverted.

As the piece went on, I was expecting that the final third would be heard at last during the finale. But it wasn’t so. I don’t know if this was a deliberate omission by Lippay’s part in order not to break any law concerning the usage of the Philippine National Anthem during his time.

After looking back to the past, the second piece, Philippine Rhapsody No. 2 by Rodolfo Cornejo, looked towards the future with Gabriel Paguirigan, a young pianist who has won numerous competitions including the most recent NAMCYA. The single movement piece featured passages from popular Filipino folk tunes that. The work didn’t fully explore the full range of heights and depths that one could make of folk tunes. Nonetheless, the work is labelled as a rhapsody so I shouldn’t expect the grandeur and the contrasts of say, a concerto. Gabriel performed with the command that made him the First Prize winner of the inaugural Henrietta S. Tayengco-Limjoco Piano Concerto Competition just a week before this concert.

Antonino Buenaventura's Symphony in C made up the second half of the concert. This symphony was made in the typical western form and structure but was steeped in folk/national idiom. The sprinkling of mordents throughout the piece gave the music a very Asian/Filipino feel. For an encore, another Buenaventura piece, the second part A Village Festival Dance from Mindanao Sketches, was performed. The shouting and the clapping make this piece a crowd pleaser and undoubtedly one of the most popular orchestral music by a Filipino composer.

Overall, this evening was for discovering and unearthing music that have gathered dust in the archives/libraries and are itching to be performed on stage. I wish that there were program notes regarding these pieces in the souvenir program so that I would’ve been armed with some background information before hearing them for the first time. I do find it very strange that resources such as recordings and other related literature are almost nonexistent considering that these are Filipino pieces. It should be the other way around but that is not the case in here. And this concert by the MSO is a step towards the goal of having Filipino music at the forefront of the concert scene in the country.

With the concert celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Manila Symphony Orchestra wrapped up, it’s time to relish the orchestra’s rich history and also look to forward to the next decade as they inch closer towards their centennial.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Ballet Manila's Rebel: a brave commemoration of the EDSA People Power Revolution

Let me start by saying that it was very brave of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, CEO and Artistic Director of Ballet Manila to stage Rebel, the company’s newest ballet about the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that recently had its world premiere at the Aliw Theater.

It was a no brainer premiering it this year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution. But 2016 also happens to be an election year for national and local officials meaning that political sides will be drawn in the sand. And having a ballet such as Rebel, a modern retelling of the ballet Spartacus, could very much ruffle the feathers of those on the other side of the political fence. That’s why I watched with great interest how the characters and the events of the EDSA Revolution would be presented from the concept of Lisa and through the choreography of Martin Lawrance.

At the performance that I was able to watch, the roles of Benigno and Cory were danced by Rudy de Dios and Katherine Barkman while Ferdinand and Imelda were portrayed by Gerardo Francisco and Tiffany Chiang. Rudy’s Benigno brimmed with an inner strength while Gerardo’s Marcos conveyed power with his flashy leaps and turns. Katherine’s Cory embodied a gentle and meek soul while Tiffany’s Imelda was regal and as Imeldific as you can get in pointe shoes. What clearly defined these key four characters was how they related to the people (performed by Ballet Manila company members): the Aquinos siding with the struggling common folk led by Juan de La Cruz (played by Michael Divinagracia) and the Marcoses cavorting with their cronies and Blue Ladies in waiting.

And whenever the two sides clashed, the one who suffers most is the Inang Bayan portrayed by Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, who is always a welcome presence on the stage. If I’m not mistaken, this was the first time I saw her dance on the Aliw stage, en pointe since Gold, the show celebrating her 50th birthday back in 2013. While Lisa danced her sorrows on stage, her thoughts, hopes and dreams were sung by Joanna Ampil through songs like Pilipinas Kong Mahal, Magkaisa, Bayan Ko, and Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.  With Joanna’s stirring voice, the sense of patriotism inside the theater was definitely heightened.

These songs were sprinkled throughout Rebel amid the music score from the ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Gerard Salonga providing the live music accompaniment. A few orchestra members told me that the music will not be played chronologically so it was a waiting and a guessing game to see when and how the music of the famous Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia would be utilized.

As expected, the exquisite music was used for the pas de deux between Benigno and Cory. What was unexpected was that as the Adagio went on, the people and Inang Bayan entered the stage and literally came in between the two. As the orchestral climax came, it dawned on me the sacrifices that Benigno and Cory had made for the sake of the country. The pas de deux was no longer just about the two of them but for the people and the country. It was no wonder that the Adagio was reserved for that crucial moment and this part lingered in my thought even after the show was over.

Lastly, I remembered much later on something that Lisa said about months ago when Ballet Manila launched their 20th season. She said that she wanted to have a tank on stage but no tank made it in the final version of Rebel. A tank would’ve been an impressive sight to behold but in true People Power fashion, it was ultimately the people (the performers who sang and danced on stage, played at the pit and worked behind the scenes) who impressed more. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Liesl Batucan "sits tall" in Mabining Mandirigma

Liesl Batucan “sits tall” as the new Mabini as Tanghalang Pilipino’s steampunk musical Mabining Mandirigma cranked up its gears once again for a second run wrapping up the company’s 29th season.

Familiar with Liesl’s past roles, I needed some time to get used to her hardened voice and lowered pitch as I first her speak and sing early in the musical. But once over that, I found Liesl’s Mabini very firm and with a strong resolve. When faced with growing despair as the revolution unraveled before her very eyes, I could really feel her cling to what she believes in despite feeling abandoned. Her voice, now has risen in pitch, made her emotional turmoil almost palpable. Such a strong showing from Liesl dispelled any worries on how the show might fare with Delphine Buencamino, the original Mabini, not returning for the second run.

Arman Ferrer, the breakout performance of the previous run, had more grasp with his character Aguinaldo making him more human making me feel the conflict within him when he had his back to the wall and had to make decisions that would not please his close allies especially Mabini. Arman also showed more confidence and swagger this time by hitting a high C in Viva La Republica y Mabini that closed out the first act.

With solid performances by both Liesl and Arman, the intense and heated main confrontation between Mabini and Aguinaldo was easily the main highlight of the musical for me. Arman, with his stature and booming voice, could’ve easily overpowered Liesl, but her steadfastness made her seem as if she also “stood” as tall as him even if she was confined to a wheelchair. When the final decision was made, I felt worn down that it was hard to applaud the musical numbers after that.

Arman’s undeniable vocal chops and the inclusion of Liesl, herself a secure singer with excellent control in her low and high registers, make this Mabini cast much stronger vocally. The new Pule, played by Paw Castillo, also provided vocal support that was able to match the other powerhouse vocalist of the cast, Carol Bello who played Mabini’s mother Dionisia. No longer did Carol overpower whoever she was singing with. Too bad that Pag-aalay, a lovely duet between Liesl and Paw didn’t make the final cut. Thankfully, I was able to hear the song a couple of times when they performed it during the press launch and at the Pasinaya People’s Gala show.

The original music composed by Joed Balsamo employs various textures that had the ensemble singing in homophonic and polyphonic textures as if they are gears of different sizes that make the machine move. The orchestration also makes liberal use of sound effects like clicks and ticks, steam engine sounds and whistles. This further supported the musical’s steampunk aesthetic which was the brainchild of director Chris Millado. The original treatment of Mabining Mandirigma by playwright Dr. Nicanor Tiongson was a straight play.

The few things about the production that had me scratching my head was the contemporary choreography by Denisa Reyes danced this time by Ali Santos, Erick Dizon and Remus Villanueva. I’ve long struggled grasping most contemporary dances and it was hard for me to unite this realm with that of steampunk. I guess that this was also why it was hard for me to figure out what the second act bit meant when the whole cast were on stage wearing almost nothing but undergarments doing one of those contemporary dance complete with flashlights as props/lighting effect prior to Aguinaldo waving he white flag. Lastly, while the first act went smoothly and was easy to follow, the second act felt more disjointed wherein my knowledge of history had to quickly fill in the blanks.

A new attraction aside from the actual production inside the theater is Casa Fuego, the new exhibit by Toym Imao, the show’s set designer, located just outside at the lobby. In the exhibit, featuring larger than life sculptures, mixes the trio of Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Apolinario Mabini with that of Mazinger ZVoltes V, and Voltron, a trio of Japanese animated mecha series that rose into popularity during the Martial Law era. Just like the other exhibit during the previous run, a Marcos, Ferdinand this time, was depicted in a negative light inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines which I think is a brave act considering that the CCP was one of Imelda Marcos’ pet project back then.

Tanghalang Pilipino’s production of Dr. Nicanor Tiongson’s Mabining Mandirigma runs until March 13, 2016 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Little Theater. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Carl Nielsen music, Danish singers shine in PPO concert

Denise Beck, soprano
Thomas Storm, baritone
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

Carl Nielsen
     Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 Sinfonia Espansiva
     Overture to Maskarade
Phillip Faber
     Shattered Song (in Hommage to Carl Nielsen)
Carl Nielsen
     Seven Tidlige Sange (Arranged by Bo Holten for Singer and Orchestra)
          Æbleblomst Op. 10, No. 1
          I Seraillets Have Op. 4, No. 2
          Silkesko, Op. 6, No. 3            
          Det bødes der for Op. 6, No. 4
          Genrebillede Op. 6, No. 1
          Irmelin Rose Op. 4, No. 4
          Vise af "Mogens" Op. 6. No. 5
     Min søde Balsambøsse from Maskarade

Denmark may be thousands of kilometers away from the Philippines, but through the power of music, the two countries never felt much closer when the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Olivier Ochanine devoted an entire concert to the Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

The concert, a part of The Carl Nielsen Project, a worldwide celebration of the composer’s 150th anniversary of his birth had the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with Ambassador Jan Top Christensen and the Embassy of Denmark pulling out all the stops by flying in a couple of guest artists from Denmark: soprano Denise Beck and Thomas Storm. Carl Nielsen’s music is rarely heard in Philippine shores and PPO principal conductor/music director Olivier Ochanine has made it his mission to introduce works of one of his favorite composers in this part of the world.

Opening with Symphony No. 3, Op. 27 Sinfonia Espansiva, the orchestra delivered an arresting start with the increasingly violent outbursts of the “A” note. The ever forward moving waltz that followed right after had the strings stumbling but they eventually redeemed themselves at the idyllic second movement. This was also when Denise and Thomas first appeared on stage singing a wordless “Ah” that had me imagining lying on the grass, staring at the bright sky, looking at the passing clouds, and then hearing those two voices as if coming from a distance carried by a gentle, cool breeze. The third movement felt like a tug of war between two opposing forces that I still have yet to grasp fully but finally watching a live performance has made me a step closer. The symphony wrapped up nicely with a fourth movement that had very rural vibe that resolved whatever conflict there was in the third.

Also featured in the concert was the Overture to Maskarade, a short, brisk piece which is a direct contrast to Phillip Faber’s Shattered Song (in Hommage to Carl Nielsen). The Faber piece, a world premiere performance, featured languid strings that was interrupted by the snare drum reminiscent of Nielsen’s Symphony No. 5, Op 50.

The audience heard more of Denise and Thomas as the two sang a selection of songs by Nielsen: Æbleblomst Op. 10, No. 1, I Seraillets Have Op. 4, No. 2, Silkesko, Op. 6, No. 3, Det bødes der for Op. 6, No. 4, Genrebillede Op. 6, No. 1, Irmelin Rose Op. 4, No. 4, Vise af "Mogens" Op. 6. No. 5. Singing in Danish, I understood next to nothing about what the songs were all about. But I was savoring the strangeness of the Danish language, trying to pick out clues from the tonality and tempo of the music, and the two’s facial expressions as to what the songs were all about. Thankfully, the two gave a brief background on the flirty duet between the maid and a valet before ending with the quirky Min søde Balsambøsse from Maskarade. The audience gave the two a reception that is definitely a lot warmer than the cold winters they are accustomed to over in their homeland.

Having Denise and Thomas at the concert made it easier for me (and hopefully to others) to connect as the two gave a “face” and a “voice” to Carl Nielsen. I can imagine that the impact would’ve been a lot different had Olivier and the PPO performed just orchestral pieces by Nielsen. Lastly, a funny anecdote happened at the cocktails prior to the concert when a regular at the symphony wanted me to point out where Carl Nielsen was among the crowd at the lobby. I guess that she got too excited about the concert (or enjoyed the wine and Arla cheese too much) that she didn’t get the 150th birth anniversary part of the whole affair.
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