Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A journey to a different realm in Jeffrey Ching's A Chamber Requiem

Andión Fernandez, soprano/whip
Lars Grünwoldt, bass baritone/guiro
Modern Art Ensemble
     Klaus Schöpp, piccolo/flute/alto flute/bass flute
     Unolf Wäntig, Eb clarinet/clarinet/bass clarinet
     Theodor Flindell, violin/re-strung and re-tuned violin
     Jean-Claude Velin, viola/re-strung and re-tuned viola
     Matias de Oliveira Pinto, cello/re-strung and re-tuned cello
     Yoriko Ikeya, piano/tam-tam

Jeffrey Ching
     A Chamber Requiem

When cellist Renato Lucas told me back in November 2015 that composer Jeffrey Ching’s next work to be performed here would be his completion of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s unfinished Requiem, I had to take several moments to let that thought sink in. It was hard for me to imagine the classicism of Mozart combined with the contemporary, 21st century idioms of Ching.

Some months later, still unable to grasp the notion of these two styles combined, I braced myself for the world premiere performance of Jeffrey Ching’s A Chamber Requiem at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. And I have to admit that I came in to this concert almost blind so to speak as my knowledge of Mozart’s Requiem is extremely limited. Yes, I know that Mozart died leaving the work unfinished and that there are many, mostly romanticized stories surrounding the work. Unfortunately, I have no idea which parts were truly by Mozart and which were the parts completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr. This meant that I won’t be burdened by overanalyzing Ching’s work but still I had to be all ears throughout the performance.

A couple of days before the concert, I attended a reception in honor of Jeffrey Ching that was held at the residence of Michael Hasper, Deputy Head of Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany. There, I was able to have a brief chat with Jeffrey Ching and a few members of the Modern Art Ensemble that certainly got me into the mood to hear the new work already despite not knowing much about it.

Based on the title and the performers made up of only two singers and six musicians, A Chamber Requiem was more focused on the individual with the overall mood being more solemn and somber. Whenever soprano Andión Fernandez and bass-baritone Lars Grünwoldt sang, it was intimate and introspective.

What was most remarkable for me was the parts played by the six member Modern Art Ensemble composed of flutist Klaus Schöpp, clarinetist Unolf Wäntig, violinist Theodor Flindell, violist Jean-Claude Velin, cellist Matias de Oliveira Pinto, and pianist Yoriko Ikeya. Both Schöpp and Wäntig utilized all of the members of their respective instruments giving the piece more range, color and texture. But what really gave the work its distinct character was the additional violin, viola, and cello that were re-strung and re-tuned to the Qing dynasty scale. The unusual sounding string instruments were first heard during the Graduale, earlier on.  As the vocalists chanted in unison and the winds burst out brief phrases, the strings played long, sustained notes that sounded like an unstable drone. The juxtaposition of the chant with that of the distinctly Chinese sounding accompaniment fascinated me.

But the next time I heard the re-tuned strings near the end at the Responsorium, I was left perplexed. The trio playing in the standard western scale with their re-tuned instruments not only sounded as if they were playing the wrong notes, but the quality was also scratchy as if they weren’t capable of producing a good, solid tone yet. I think that this effect was intentional and by design but whatever it meant to convey was lost in me.

Another moment in the music that grabbed my attention was when Lars sang falsetto. I thought it was initially the flute that I heard until I realized otherwise. What made this bit more interesting was that Andión was singing along with him but with lower notes. It was a case of the soprano descending the depths while the bass baritone scaled the heights.

The inclusion of stage direction also gave the piece an added layer/dimension. Near the beginning, there was an extended moment of silence with everyone standing up with their heads bowed for about a minute. The second part opened with the musicians playing as they walked around the audience section. Both singers descended the stage and performed at the audience section at one point too. There were parts that were played offstage most notably the tam-tam that was immediately followed by a dissonant chord by the strings located at the back rows among the audience.

Probably the most striking stage direction was right at the end when Andión and Lars exited the theater while still singing, their voices fading away as they walked farther away. All the while, the members of the Modern Art Ensemble gathered around the piano and slowly closed the lid not unlike lowering a coffin to the ground. Then, it was suddenly pitch black. And it took me several moments to let everything that I've seen and heard sink in before I let my mind head back from a trip from a different realm which was Jeffrey Ching's A Chamber Requiem.

It is never a guarantee that one will get to like a Jeffrey Ching composition or any other contemporary piece for that matter. I was very relieved that the overall concept of the work being a Requiem mass and a basic familiarity of Mozart’s other works meant that I had more than enough to ease me through A Chamber Requiem. So it wasn’t that jolting whenever the piece took some unexpected left turns. The world premiere performance of Jeffrey Ching’s A Chamber Requiem was dedicated to the memory of Celia H. Fernandez.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Baihana and Pinopela join forces in Akapela concert

April 23, 2016, 7:30 PM
Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium
RCBC Plaza, Makati


Contemporary a cappella music is in full swing here in Manila as Baihana and Pinopela join forces to present Akapela, a one night concert where the human voice reigns supreme happening on April 23, 2016, 7:30 PM at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati.

Baihana, composed of Krina Cayabyab, Anna Graham, and Mel Torre, burst into the music scene as a jazz/doo wop trio with tight harmonies in the vein of the Andrew Sisters and with each member possessing lead singer capabilities. Not only a frequent performer at jazz festivals and corporate events, the trio has also showcased their versatility by covering current hits with their own brand of a cappella that can be viewed online.

Coming from Baguio, members of the Saint Louis University Glee Club originally formed Pinopela to join the inaugural Akapela Open competition back in 2013. Pinopela became one of top contenders in the field as it placed second in 2013 before finally bagging the championship in 2014. Soon enough, the group found itself the performing/gig circuit here in Metro Manila. The current roster of Pinopela are made up of Ingrid Payaket, Roxanne Omilda, Sheevani Brylle Sibayan, Charmaine Irish Suyo, JJ Valiente Pimpinio, Anthony Castillo, Deo Ramirez, Timmy Go, and Zsaris Mendioro.

The one night concert Akapela is presented by the Philippine Contemporary A Cappella Society spearheaded by Krina Cayabyab and JJ Valiente Pimpinio. The concert also serves as a fundraiser for Pinopela to shoulder their expenses as they head for international competitions later this year including one in Singapore.

Akapela’s artistic team consists of Mara Paulina Marasigan (Director), Krina Cayabyab and JJ Pimpinio (Musical Directors), Stephen Viñas, Nicolo Magno and Delphine Buencamino (Choreographers), Joseph Matheu (Lights Designer and Technical Director), and Joee Mejias (Video Design).

Ticket Prices:
P1500 Orchestra Center
P1200 Orchestra Side
P1000 Loge
P800 Balcony

For inquiries:
Ryan Cayabyab Music School 914-5055, 637-9840
JJ Pimpinio (0917) 678-0952
Ronah Rostata (0906) 451-1926

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Olivier Ochanine conducts final PPO season concert, violinist Odin Rathnam returns

April 22, 2016, 8:00 PM
Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater)
Cultural Center of the Philippines
CCP Complex
Pasay, Metro Manila

Odin Rathnam, violin
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

     PPO Composition Competition Winner
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
     Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35
Jules Massenet
     Suite for Orchestra No. 6 Scènes de Féerie
George Enescu
     Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A major, Op. 11
Alberto Ginastera
     Four Dances from Estancia, Op. 8a

Olivier Ochanine, the outgoing music director/principal conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra takes to the podium for his last season concert with the orchestra this April 22, 2016, 8:00 PM at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Main Theater. Special guest for the evening is violinist Odin Rathnam.

Music to be performed at the concert include Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, with Odin as the soloist, Jules Massenet’s Suite for Orchestra No. 6 Scènes de Féerie, George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A major, Op. 11, Alberto Ginastera’s Four Dances from Estancia, Op. 8a, and the winning piece of the PPO Composition Competition.

Odin is no longer a stranger to the PPO audience as he was the orchestra’s featured soloist for Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.77 at their February 2014 season concert held at the Meralco Theater. He was very kind enough to grant me an interview leading up to his performance here.

RAd: It was initially announced that you were to play Nielsen's violin concerto. I've heard a few people get disappointed when they learned of the change to Korngold. How can you convince those disappointed few to come see you perform the Korngold?

Odin Rathnam: Korngold is a better piece, no offense to my fellow Danes.

I love the Nielsen Concerto too, but sorry, Korngold is better architecturally, melodically and in terms of the harmonic language, at least for MY TASTE!

And I am half Danish.

I love Nielsen. But there is a reason why he is Nielsen and not Brahms. In Korngold’s case, the direct connection to the Viennese tradition is very strong. His biggest enemy is how players interpret him, biased on their perception writing for Hollywood somehow cheapened or compromised his art.

RAd: What do you mean by Nielsen not being Brahms?

Odin Rathnam: I guess what I was saying is that Nielsen is a wonderful, second tier composer, to me, who wrote a few things that touch greatness and timelessness. A couple of the symphonies, some chamber works, some of the concerti. I LOVE HIM, biased on being half Danish, proud and biased, but I also know he isn't Brahms.

Brahms is an infinitely more complex and satisfying composer for my ears. Nielsen has a wonderful and unique "Nordic" vocabulary of melody and harmony, but I don't see it ever grabbing the masses the way Brahms, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, and others do.

Personally I love Nielsen. I don't expect everyone else to though. His sounds for me are Danish, familiar, and tied to my upbringing and childhood memories. So I am the wrong one to ask. I am very biased, and proud of him.

Dominicans and Puerto Ricans love salsa and merengue.

Argentines, the Tango. I could go on… but rating all these different things??? Perhaps they are all great, but DIFFERENT.

RAd: I do think that it’s silly to rank these things. I mean, 5 people will react differently to the same piece of music, literature, artwork, etc. And that is what makes art so great.

Odin Rathnam: Exactly! So we can love a composer, for specific things, regardless of whether critical scrutiny would make him or her generally rated as ok, good, very good or great. And the ratings are always somehow biased or subjective.

But in the end, something has to grab you, by the throat, in your gut, or in your loins, or in the depth of your HEART.

If it does that, there is no need to compare to anything else. It is ART.

RAd: Lastly, how does it feel to be part of the final season concert of Olivier Ochanine with the PPO?

Odin Rathnam: It is an absolute honor to be invited back. I love his musicianship, character and how he WORKS. PERIOD. That is the starting point. Interpreting scores with him is always honest, uncompromising and inspiring. My favorite Brahms Concerto was with HIM. So I am truly excited to present Korngold with him and the PPO on the 22nd. I think it will be an important collaboration, at least in my life.

Aside from the upcoming concert, Odin will also conduct a workshop on Galamian principles at Coke Bolipata’s Casa San Miguel in Zambales. And the concert with Odin may be the Olivier’s last season concert with he PPO but he is not yet finished with the orchestra. This June, he and the orchestra will embark on a US tour including a concert at the famed Carnegie Hall.

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

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Jeffrey Ching's A Chamber Requiem to have world premiere at the CCP

April 9, 2016, 7:30 PM
Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (CCP Little Theater)
Cultural Center of the Philippines
CCP Complex
Pasay, Metro Manila


Andión Fernandez, soprano
Lars Grünwoldt, bass baritone
Modern Art Ensemble
     Klaus Schöpp, flute
     Unolf Wäntig, clarinet
     Theodor Flindell, violin
     Jean-Claude Velin, viola
     Matias de Oliveira Pinto, cello
     Yoriko Ikeya, piano

Jeffrey Ching
     A Chamber Requiem

The Cultural Center of the Philippines presents the world premiere performance of Jeffrey Ching’s A Chamber Requiem happening on April 9, 2016, 7:30 PM at the CCP Little Theater.

A Chamber Requiem, Ching’s own completion of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s unfinished Requiem Mass in D minor K. 626, will be performed by soprano Andión Fernandez, bass baritone Lars Grünwoldt and the six member Modern Art Ensemble made up of flutist Klaus Schöpp, clarinetist Unolf Wäntig, violinist Theodor Flindell, violist Jean-Claude Velin, cellist Matias de Oliveira Pinto, and pianist Yoriko Ikeya.

With this configuration, one can just imagine how different Ching’s revision of this work differs than that of the well-known completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr. And the differences doesn’t end here. The press release states that he has set aside all existing completions by other composers like Süssmayr and examined Mozart’s manuscript sketches and his compositional procedures. With this in mind, he has completed the fragmentary Lacrymosa and Ossana fugues on a broader scale than any previous attempts.

More radical in this Requiem is Ching’s incorporating parts of a Chinese hymn using the Qing dynasty scale (I have no idea how the intervals in this scale are) that will require some string instruments to be re-strung and re-tuned.

The world premiere performance of Jeffrey Ching’s A Chamber Requiem is dedicated to the memory of Celia H. Fernandez. The concert is presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in cooperation with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Manila and Makati Diamond Residences.

Ticket prices:
P1000 Orchestra Center
P800 Orchestra Side

For inquiries:
CCP Box Office at 832-3704
TicketWorld 891-9999

Monday, April 04, 2016

Japanese guitarists Tomonori Arai and Duo Trussardi's music journey around the world

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

Agustín Barrios Mangoré
     La Catedral
Lucrecia Kasilag
     Prelude Etnika
Agustín Barrios Mangoré
     Julie Florida
Georges Bizet
     Serenade Espagnole
Shingo Fujii
     Rhapsody Japan
Hirokazu Sato
     Journey to the Far Valley
Rami Vamos and Randall Ayers
     12 Silly Song
Dušan Bogdanović
     No Feathers on this Frog
Celso Machado
     Imagens do Nordeste
Roland Dyens
     Saudade No. 3
Francisco Tárrega
     Caprichio Arabe
Heitor Villa-Lobos
    Prelude No. 1
Leo Brouwer
     Elogio de la Danza
Klaus Wüsthoff
     Samba Quica
Luigi Boccherini
     Introduction and Fandango
Paulo Bellinati
     Baiao de Gude
Goran Ivanovic
     Ethno Dance
Agustín Barrios Mangoré
    Zapateado Caribe
Máximo Diego Pujol
     Fin de Siglo
Hirokazu Sato
     Song of Birds

Fujii Keigo
     Soap Bubble Variations

The solo, duo, and trio performances by Japanese guitarists Tomonori Arai and Duo Trussardi’s Eisei Tanigawa and Takashi Endo earned their recent concert the title …Three, Two, One, Arai!  But for me, the title was more apt as a countdown to the music journey across the world that these artists took the audience that gathered inside the Abelardo Hall Auditorium at the UP College of Music in UP Diliman.

Performing a diverse selection of music from the Americas, Europe and of course, their home country of Japan, the concert was a great venue for increasing knowledge and awareness of the vast guitar repertoire that included transcriptions and those composed specifically for the instrument.

Duo Trussardi, made up of Eisei Tanigawa and Takashi Endo performed a mixture of traditional Japanese tunes transcribed for guitar duo along with contemporary pieces by Japanese, American, Yugoslavian, and Brazilian composers. Takashi, who is able to communicate in limited English, provided brief backgrounds before playing each piece. And with such a varied selection, the duo’s set brought about different moods like nostalgia and cheeky playfulness. I particularly enjoyed the duo’s performance of Hirokazu Sato’s Journey to the Far Valley which evoked a laidback, rural vibe accompanied by guitar taps that added a percussive element to the piece.

A clear and rich tone (mostly owing to a combination of a superior instrument and impeccable technique) was evident when Tomonori Arai played his first notes. Presenting Romantic era music with more of a Hispanic/Latin flavor, Arai played most of his pieces during his set without pauses in between. It felt as if he played a long, multi-movement composition like a sonata or a suite. Arai's take on Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tárrega was a highlight with him bringing out the exotic flavor in this Romantic piece.

Arai and Duo Trussardi later on joined forces for the trio portion of the concert. The humorous banter among the three made the crowd more relaxed and resulted in a more enjoyable listening experience not minding that the concert clocked for more than two hours already by this point. What was very interesting for me was seeing how the main melody, harmonies, and other passages were passed from one guitarist to another. And having a visual of these things made me appreciate more the layers, textures, and overall structure and form of the music. Máximo Diego Pujol’s Fin de Siglo, with the music resonating well to 21st century ears and sensibilities, was the gem for me during the trio portion.

And to cap the evening after travelling all over the world music wise, the trio ended in the bathtub with a fun piece called Soap Bubble Variations by Fujii Keigo. The trio explained that the main theme of this variations was a children’s song about soap bubbles and if my impression is right, these bubbles are the one made during bath time.

Prior to the Japanese guitarists’ performances, opening acts Sting Asistores and Marlee Pabico gave guitar performances that belied their youth.

The concert …Three, Two, One, Arai! was a presentation of Independent Philippine Art Ventures, Inc. (iPav) and was supported by the Japan Foundation, Manila.
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