Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Russian romantic music opens MSO 2016-2017 Concert Season

June 4, 2016, 8:00 PM
Power Mac Center Spotlight
Circuit Makati

Brian Howrey, saxophone
Manila Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Molina, conductor

Modest Mussorgsky
     Dance of the Persian Slaves from Khovanshchina
Alexander Glazunov
    Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra in E flat major, Op. 109
Aram Khachaturian
     Spartacus Ballet Suite No. 2
Alexander Borodin
     In the Steppes of Central Asia
     Polovetsian Dances from Prince Igor

A slew of Russian music and the latter third of Beethoven’s immortal symphonies highlight the Manila Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-2017 Concert Season. The new season, billed as 90 in celebration of the orchestra being 90 Years Young, starts with the inaugural concert, entitled Russian Romanticism, happening on June 4, 2016, 8:00 PM at the MSO’s new gala concert venue: the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati.

Led by the MSO’s principal conductor and music director Arturo Molina, the concert will feature music by Russian composers namely Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Glazunov, Aram Khachaturian, and Alexander Borodin.

American saxophonist Brian Howrey joins the MSO this evening in a rare performance of Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra in E flat major, Op. 109. The saxophone, invented back in 1840 by Adolphe Sax wasn’t utilized as an instrument in symphonic works during the Romantic era. It was only during the early 20th century that the instrument started to find its way in works that are now part of the standard orchestral repertoire. Most people nowadays would typically associate the saxophone with jazz music or with marching bands rather than classical music. This is what makes the Glazunov concerto truly interesting because it is deeply rooted in Russian romanticism and there’s nothing jazzy in it despite being composed in 1934, a time when jazz music was already in full swing.

Saxophonist Brian Howrey

The rest of the music during this concert, Mussorgsky’s Dance of the Persian Slaves from Khovanshchina, Khachaturian’s Spartacus Ballet Suite No. 2, and Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia and Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor highlight another aspect of the Romantic era which is Exoticism. Composers at the time made music that depicted the music of faraway places, taking the listener to exotic realms. The combination of unforgettable and exotic melodies, along with crafty orchestration helped cement these works and their respective composers to be among the pillars of Russian Romanticism.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra’s remaining Season Gala Concerts will feature more music by Russian composers like Dmitri Shostakovich and Igor Stravinsky. The last three symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven will also be performed in each of the remaining concerts with the monumental 9th Symphony with soloists, choir, and all at the season finale.

Ticket prices:
P1250 Patron
P850 Gold
P650 Silver
For inquiries:
Carlos Garchitorena 523-5712, (0917) 861-2275, info@manilasymphony.com
TicketWorld 891-9999

Friday, May 20, 2016

Festive music cap Olivier Ochanine stint as PPO music director.

Odin Rathnam, violin
Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra
Olivier Ochanine, conductor

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

Francesco Maria Veracini
     Allegro from Sonata No. 1 in A Major, Op. 7
Aram Khachaturian
     Lezghinka from Gayaneh

Capping his six year stint, Olivier Ochanine took to the podium for the very last time as the music director/principal conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra at a concert with music that toned down the drama and amped the festive mood instead.

The concert also featured returning violinist Odin Rathnam as the featured soloist in Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35. At times, the orchestra felt anemic, a bit bland during the quiet moments and also not swelling enough during the romantic climaxes of the first movement. After an unsettling disconnect at the start, Odin and the orchestra eventually clicked during the latter part of the first movement and both were in their element during the exhilarating jig of the third movement. It was a bit of a letdown that the opening movement, which was my favorite, didn’t pan out perfectly as I hoped it would. Also in between movements, Odin cracked some jokes and while the audience found it funny, I thought that it broke the mood that should've been kept until the end of the piece. My anticipation to hear the Korngold performed live again after almost six years set such a high expectation that it wasn't easy for me to let pass the things that have gone awry no matter how small they were.

During Odin’s encore, when he was left on his own to play the Allegro from Francesco Maria Veracini’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 7, he was absolutely phenomenal and was able to make the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Theater acoustics sound divine. It didn’t matter that this was the same encore he did when he performed the Brahms a couple of years ago.

While the orchestra struggled with the long, sweeping passages during the Korngold, they had no problem with the very pronounced rhythms of the other pieces in the program namely Jules Massenet’s Suite for Orchestra No. 6 Scènes de Féerie, George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A major, Op. 11, and Alberto Ginastera’s Four Dances from Estancia, Op. 8a. These pieces, mostly taken from ballets, didn’t feature that much contrast in mood and dynamics and didn’t have much drama. Instead, the music went on to build and build, ultimately snowballing into an exciting climax which was evident during the percussion frenzied Malambo, the final dance from Ginastera’s Estancia that ultimately ended the concert And the dancing fever didn’t stop there as the orchestra did Aram Khachaturian’s Lezghinka from the ballet Gayaneh as their encore. They performed this as an encore years ago too, but this time, it was at a tempo that I am satisfied with.

What left me a bit unsatisfied in this concert was the lack of a symphony. For a milestone concert, marking the end of a memorable run, one would expect a major symphony to be part of the program. In the end, the night felt like there wasn't enough meat in it. Also, the previously announced performance of the PPO Composition Competition winner didn't happen due to the entries not meeting the criteria that were set. 

Olivier Ochanine came to the PPO at the time when the orchestra lacked a clear direction, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra and FILharmoniKA started having their respective season concerts also. Being the youngest music director of the PPO to date, Olivier took advantage of social media (and also his cameo roles in a couple of television series) and successfully used it as a promotional tool to entice younger audiences to watch the concerts.  Music wise, he was able to introduce to the Philippine audience works by Carl Nielsen, Alan Hovhaness and Steven Stucky while also accommodating audience requests for the more popular fare like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Personally, I am grateful that throughout the years, Olivier has been very kind in entertaining (and enduring) my numerous requests, suggestions, complaints, and brutally honest views. Our discussions about the PPO, the music scene here in the Philippines, and almost anything under the sun have always been animated with a lot of stuff not suitable for print. Olivier may not be the PPO’s music director/principal conductor anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve already seen the last of him.
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