Thursday, October 19, 2017

Philippine history from a Spanish perspective at Pelikula

Director Salvador Calvo being interviewed

The smashing box office success of Heneral Luna back in 2015 has heightened the interest not just for historical films but for Philippine history as well. With the film’s sequel Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral, still in works, the 16th edition of PELÍCULA-PELIKULA, Spanish Film Festival, offered the next best thing for historical film buffs: 1898. Los últimos de Filipinas/1898, Our Last Men in the Philippines.

Depicting the plight of Spanish soldiers held under siege inside a church in Baler, Aurora during the final days of the Philippine-Spanish War, the movie made its Philippine premiere was the opening film of the festival with the director himself, Salvador Calvo, in attendance.

The screening of the film during opening night was preceded by cocktail reception held at the Ayala Museum with actor John Arcilla (Heneral Luna) and director Mark Meily (Baler) among the distinguished guests. A brief chat with Arcilla over some drinks led me to discover that he once played on stage the role of Martín Cerezo, the Spanish Lieutenant who is among the main characters in the film.

1898. Los últimos de Filipinas/1898, Our Last Men in the Philippines



Narrating a pivotal moment in the shared history of the Philippines and Spain but from a Spanish perspective, 1898. Los últimos de Filipinas (2016) starts beautifully with aerial shots of the newest Spanish detachment wading chest deep through a river. Stunning the visuals may be, but the film was shot in Equatorial Guinea as having it done on location in the Philippines would’ve been too far and costly. The sweeping landscape at the start would quickly give way to the small village and the claustrophobic confines of the church once the siege starts.

Serving as the audience’s eyes is the young soldier Carlos (Álvaro Cervantes), a fictional character created for the film. An aspiring artist who only enlisted to earn a recommendation letter for art school once the war is over, Carlos is presented as an unwilling participant in the war. I felt that his character wasn’t aware of the horrors of the centuries’ long Spanish rule that has led the locals to revolt in the first place. Carlos is a direct contrast to Lt. Martín Cerezo (Luis Tosar) whose stern defense of the church is matched only by his denial that the war between the Philippines and Spain was already over.

Speaking of the locals, the villagers’ characters and personalities weren’t fleshed out with the exception of Teresa (Alexandra Masangkay), the whore who tempted the Spanish soldiers with her seductive singing. The other women were depicted as whores/temptresses like Teresa and it made me curious to see if this was how Cerezo saw the Filipinos in his memoirs El Sitio de Baler which Calvo said was one of the source material for the film.

This film is another piece of the puzzle in the bigger picture which is Philippine history. The viewer then has to figure out what was real and what was fiction or changed for dramatic effect. Interesting to note also is how history is skewed in favor of the film maker’s country of origin. And as someone who came from the other side, how I tried to nitpick and look for inaccuracies in the film. 

Salvador Calvo is all smiles before the screening of his film

But for whatever this film is worth, this screening is very timely as the Philippines is steeped in too much political intrigue of late and looking back at history is essential to make sure that the country moves forward towards the right direction. It made me want to brush up on my Philippine history like what the film Heneral Luna did for a lot of people. It also made me want to get an English translation of Cerezo's memoirs if it's available.

PELÍCULA-PELIKULA, Spanish Film Festival was presented by Instituto Cervantes, Manila.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A merry outing for Philippine Ballet Theatre's rising ballerinas

The Merry Widow's matinee cast

Two of Philippine Ballet Theatre’s young and award winning ballerinas, Kim Abrogena and Veronica Atienza were the belles of the ball at The Merry Widow, the company’s second production of its 31st season.

Adapted from Franz Lehár’s operetta Die lustige Witwe, this comic ballet restaged by PBT’s artistic director Ronilo Jaynario, is a breath of fresh air from the usual romantic, tragic, classical ballets where the lead female role ends up dying.

The Merry Widow's evening cast

So Kim and Veronica, making their principal role debuts in this production, do not die in the end. The two alternated the role of Hannah Glawari, who happens to be a widow (so it’s her husband who died off stage even before the start of the ballet). And the poor, grieving widow was thrust into the schemes of the Pontevedrian Ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta, his young wife Valencienne and French Attaché Camille, Count de Rosillon, in an attempt to make sure that her wealth will remain in financially strapped Pontevedro. And this would be made possible if she ends up marrying Count Danilo Danilovitsch, First Secretary of the Pontevedrian Embassy. In typical opera fashion, it is revealed that Count Danilo and Hannah were former lovers and what should’ve been an easy route to rekindled love has to go through complications (and an affair by Camille and Valencienne). But since this is a comedy, everything gets sorted in the end and Count Danilo and Hannah end up in each other’s arms, Baron Zeta gives Valencienne her freedom to be with Count Camille and Pontevedro is saved from financial ruin.

I’ve seen Kim dance a handful of times already and her previous roles as the Dew Drop Fairy, Odette and Nikiya paved the way for her to do a more rounded portrayal of Hannah, showing both elegance and vulnerability. Veronica, on the other hand, displayed clean technique and impeccable extension. Still only in her late teens, Veronica’s youth and that aura of innocence just made it hard for me to be fully convinced of her portrayal of Hannah. But she still remains as one of the most exciting ballerinas who burst into the scene last season and I’ve been a huge fan since then.

Martin Buczko and Kim Abrogena

I’ve actually had the same view about Kim some years ago, that she still felt like a girl, when I first saw her dance the role of the Dew Drop Fairy at The Nutcracker. With her Hannah, I finally saw her as a young woman who can confidently pull off principal roles.

Both Kim and Veronica had the chance to be partnered by guest danseur Martin Buczko, who danced the role of Count Danilo. The towering Martin made quite an impression with his first appearance on stage that had him turning and leaping as if he was drunk. He showed enough looseness to be in character but still in control exhibiting unconventional technique. And to see a tall, lean danseur on stage who is secure with his pirouettes and has superb extension with his high kicks was a sight to behold.

Martin Buczko and Veronica Atienza

PBT veterans Lobreza Pimentel and Regina Magbitang weren’t left in the dust as both alternated the role of Valencienne. The role gave both the chance to be spunky, naughty, and flirty while still showing their signature bravura technique like doing effortless fouettés while wearing a ball gown. Another veteran, Peter San Juan danced the role of Camille with reckless abandon as if there’s no more tomorrow but still maintaining that comic timing which is second nature for him.


This production of The Merry Widow showed the formidable strength of Philippine Ballet Theatre’s lead ballerinas with the fast rising Kim and Veronica now joining the ever reliable duo Lobreza and Regina. I have no doubts that all four could dance lead roles for the company now and it’s just a matter of rotating them to give each her own share of the spotlight. The male members of the company do not have the same depth and it’s up for them to step up and be at par with their female counterparts.

The wait is on for Philippine Ballet Theatre’s third and final production of the season with the all-time favorite The Nutcracker happening this November 18-19, 2017. But right now, I need to acquaint myself to the operetta in which the ballet The Merry Widow was adapted from.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The joy of a string quartet with the Mandelring Quartett

Mandelring Quartett
Sebastian Schmidt, Nanette Schmidt, Andreas Willwohl, and Bernhard Schmidt

The Berlin based Mandelring Quartett treated Manila audiences to the joy of hearing a string quartet performance characterized by an extremely balanced, tight, precise, and cohesive playing rarely seen on the local stage.

Composed of violinists Sebastian Schmidt and Nanette Schmidt, violist Andreas Willwohl, and cellist Bernhard Schmidt, the quartet presented a program that was thematically linked by the String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K.465 “Dissonanzen-Quartett” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


The Mozart piece, with its purity and transparency, served as a great introduction to the Mandelring’s sound. I am typically drawn to the middle tones (2nd violin and viola) rather than the outer ones and the quartet’s balanced playing made it easy for me to pick out those tones that add texture and depth to the overall sound. It was amazing to hear a quartet produce such resonating tones with just four musicians on stage.

This was soon followed by the world premiere of Jeffrey Ching’s Quartett-Dissonanzen. Meant to be a sequel to Mozart’s Dissonanzen-Quartett, this piece was composed for and dedicated to the Mandelring Quartett. Strains of the preceding Mozart that was still fresh in my mind made this more palatable than other Jeffrey Ching works that I’ve seen and heard before. The most interesting parts for me were the two fugues, the first had all four instruments muted as if the music was contained and itching to go out. At the second fugue, the mutes were off but the music was an inversion of the previous one. It was as if the music crossed to a mirror dimension and got transformed. There were some parts in the piece when the quartet did some bowing and plucking action without making contact with the strings. I know that these were notated on the score but I won’t pretend that I understood what those meant.


With the Dissonanzen pieces done and over with, it was time for me to relish Antonín Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 "American" which I consider as the little brother to his New World Symphony. No offense to Mozart, but I find this piece more appealing and charming as it has more character in it which the Mandelring was able to fully showcase. I also savored watching the quartet in action give the minutest of cues to each other. It was almost that each has a sixth sense of the others. Glorious also were the crescendos done with such balance that it brought me goosebumps. Sadly that this piece didn’t last that long. But they indulged the audience with more Dvořák with their encore of his Waltz in A major, Op. 54 No. 1.

RAd with the Mandelring Quartett

I am extremely pleased to have seen the Mandelring Quartett perform in here since it’s rare to see chamber music performances, especially by string quartets, by those who perform regularly and exclusively as such. Typically, musicians in here just form groups for a specific concert and then go their separate ways soon after. This often results in performances by a not so cohesive group and it shows that they’re individuals who just gathered to play this certain piece. But it wasn’t the case with the Mandelring Quartett’s performance. They may be four musicians, but they played as one. I wish that I was able to attend their masterclass the morning after but the early time didn’t allow me to catch it.


Lastly, it was unfortunate that Jeffrey Ching wasn’t present to witness the world premiere of his work. That meant also missing the chance to discuss the work with him over drinks right after the concert which we had done before a few times.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

L’Elisir d’amore to premiere in Manila


That intoxicating feeling of love is in the air as one of the world’s most beloved operas, Gaetano Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, finally gets its Manila premiere with a limited two performance run this October 7 & 8, 2017 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

For years, small, abridged concert stagings have been performed in here but a full production of this opera has never been done. Now, thanks to the Rustan Commercial Corporation, Cultural Center of the Philippines, and The Peninsula Manila, in cooperation with the Philippine-Italian Association under the auspices of the Italian Embassy that this is seeing the light of day.

Nemorino (David Astorga) hangs on to Adina's (Elena Monti) every word

This production boasts of an international cast led by Italian soprano Elena Monti (Adina), Costa Rican tenor David Astorga (Nemorino), and Italian bass Francesco Vultaggio (Dulcamara). Korean baritone Byeong-In Park (Belcore) and our very own Rachelle Gerodias-Park (Gianetta) round up the cast. They will be joined by Coro Tomasino under Ronan Ferrer and Philippine Ballet Theatre under Anatoly Panasyukov.

Providing live music is the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of former principal conductor/music director Ruggiero Barbieri.

Dulcamara (Francesco Vultaggio) making outrageous claims

I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek and watch the technical dress rehearsal. It is so tempting to describe what I saw and heard in detail and also to post a lot more photos in here but that would be  telling. I want others to see the opera for themselves. All I can say is that David’s Una furtiva lagrima was so exquisite that there were shouts of bravo from the small number of audience present and those at the wings after he finished the famous aria.

This may sound trivial but for me it’s extremely vital: thank goodness that there will be a real harp in this, or else, Una furtiva… will be ruined.

Belcore (Byeong-In Park) proposes a toast at his wedding

Director Vincenzo Grisostomi Travaglini leads the artistic and production team along with Direction Consultant Sisowath Ravivaddhana Monipong. Completing the team are Maurizio Varamo (Set Design), Flavio Monti (Set Project Assistant), Otello Camponeschi (Costume Design), and Giovanni Pirandello (Lighting Design).  

Gianetta (Rachelle Gerodias-Park) spreading gossip

This production of L’Elisir d’amore is in celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Italy as well at the 65th Sapphire Anniversary of the Rustan Group of Companies. This project is made possible through the sponsorship of Royal Duty Free Shops, Hermes, Debenhams, Rustan Marketing Corporation, Rustan Supercenters, Inc., Megaworld, and Bergamo.

This opera fundraiser is produced by Zenaida R. Tantoco with Nestor O. Jardin and Dr. Raul M. Sunico as Executive Producers. Proceeds from this will benefit the construction of the San Pablo Apostol Parish Church in Tondo, Manila.

Nemorino (David Astorga) sings Una furtiva lagrima

Gala Night performance of L’Elisir d’amore is on October 7, 2017, 8:00 PM and the matinee performance is on October 8, 2017, 3:00 PM at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo.

Virtuoso youths on fire at NAMCYA's winners concert


Whoever said that classical music is now only for the old and that young people are no longer interested in it should’ve watched Konsyerto: Unang Hakbang. at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. He or she would’ve seen five promising young musicians who performed alongside the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, were met by a very enthusiastic audience and therefore would’ve dispelled the notion that classical music doesn’t connect with today’s youth.

The five young musicians featured in this concert, namely Andrew Constantino, Aaron Rafael Aguila III, banduria player Nikki Zen, Mishael Romano, and Gabriel Paguirigan were top prize winners at the annual National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA)

The PPO, led by Herminigildo Ranera, set the tone with Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture from Der Freischütz, Op. 77, J. 277 and Gioacchino Rossini’s Overture from L'Italiana in Algeri to start each half of the concert.



Clarinetist Andrew performed the Allegro from Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 74, J.118. He had a presence on stage as he stood tall and was in great command as he went through the fast and difficult passages in this movement. I am more relaxed and not nervous at all whenever he had solos at the UST Symphony Orchestra. And seeing him as a soloist performing a concerto, I was very much at ease that he would nail everything. After his performance, I felt bad and disappointed with myself for abandoning learning how to play the clarinet.



Guitarist Aaron slowed and quieted things down with the very nostalgic Adagio from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. This movement may not be the flashiest but sometimes, the quiet moments are the most emotionally affecting. In fact, I heard some audience members getting stirred as the popular theme reached its dramatic crescendo. I for once, wished that Aaron was able to play the entire concerto so that not only he would be able to showcase a wider range of technique and emotions but would also satisfy my craving for a live performance of the complete piece.


My unfamiliarity wih Nikki and the rare sight of the banduria playing alongside the orchestra made her performance of Niccolo Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo, Op. 11 one of my most awaited moments of the concert. It was the shortest piece of the night among the featured soloists but the constant flurry of notes with almost no chance for her to rest throughout the entire time. All these factors resulted with the audience bursting into applause and cheers once she was done.


Violinist Misha may be tiny but he was quite the showman as he performed the Allegro molto appassionato from Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Looking very confident and playing without any inhibitions, he, at times, even played to the audience. I’ve told myself prior to the concert that I am still not yet ready for another dose of this piece after hearing around five violinists play this during a NAMCYA competition some years back. It was the only thing that held me back from truly enjoying Misha’s performance but it also made me await which piece he would perform with an orchestra next. That’s how confident I am with his chances of doing a concerto again.



While Misha’s music has been overplayed Gabby’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in E major, Sz. 119, BB 127 by Béla Bartók is definitely not. In fact, it was my first time to see this piano concerto performed live. And as expected, Bartók is not everyone’s cup of tea: a Philippine High School for the Arts told me after the concert that he liked it while an elderly concert organizer said that she doesn’t like Bartók. As for me, this piece may not excite me that much but I’m always up for piano concertos beyond the Rach, Tchaik, Schumann, Chopin, and the rest of the usual repertoire. I also wished that Gabby, performing like the veteran that he is despite his young age, played the entire piece instead of just the two movements of what I think is the most digestible among Bartók’s three piano concertos.


All five young musicians performed in a manner that was beyond their years. But the awkwardness that exhibited while entering and exiting the stage, shaking the hands of the conductor and concertmaster and taking their bows, reminded me that they’re all still young and had very little concert experience. But all is forgiven as this concert is just their starting steps towards becoming the future of classical music in here.

More NAMCYA excitement is on the way as the National Final Competitions happen this November 21-26, 2017 at various CCP venues.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Revisiting Ballet Philippines’ first decade with The Exemplars


For its second production of its 48th season, Ballet Philippines brings back gems from its first decade with The Exemplars: Amada and Other Dances. With National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes on the helm as Artistic Director, BP is set to reintroduce various pieces, some rarely performed, from its vast repertoire as the company gears towards the milestone golden anniversary in 2019.

Candice Adea (front) as Amada

Candice Adea (kneeling) as Amada and
Sarah Alejandro (standing) as the Tadtarin

Leading the charge for The Exemplars is Amada, which premiered back in 1970 and was one of first pieces performed by the company. Choreographed by Alice Reyes to the music of National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag, this piece is based on the short story Summer Solstice by Nick Joaquin, National Artist for Literature. Guest artist Candice Adea will be dancing as Amada once again some years after her PHILSTAGE Gawad Buhay! Award winning performance of the titular role.

Eugene Obille (raised) as The Sultan

Lester Reguindin and Monica Gana as
the star-crossed lovers in The Sultan

The other dances are comprised of The Sultan, a perennial favorite whenever this was toured. Telling the story of star-crossed lovers set in pre-colonial Philippines, this work choreographed by Gener Caringal premiered back in 1973. This piece also features the music of Lucrecia Kasilag.

Denise Parungao in Valse Fantasy

Full of leaps and turns, Valse Fantasy, is a neo-classical piece inspired by George Balanchine choreographed by Muñeca Aponte. Featuring the music of Mikhail Glinka, this piece was first staged by Ballet Philippines in 1974

Edna Vida-Froilan gives instructions to Denise Parungao, Jessa Tangalin,
and Katrene San Miguel in Concertino

The challenging choreography of Pauline Koner in the American Modern Dance vein, characterizes Concertino which was premiered back in 1973. The complex, angular, and highly syncopated movements of this piece meshes well with the lushly textured counterpoint of Giovanni Pergolesi’s music.

Ronelson Yadao as Young Man in Songs of a Wayfarer

Former principal dancer Richardson Yadao was the latest to dance the Young Man in Norman Walker’s Songs of a Wayfarer and now the torch has been passed to his younger brother Ronelson Yadao. Featuring Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in its entirety, this piece is about unrequited love and has become one of the company’s most critically acclaimed opus since its premiere back in 1973.

I could think of a number of reasons why one must catch The Exemplars. One reason for me is to see some of the company’s timeless signature works that predated my birth. Of all the dances lined up in this production, it’s only Songs of a Wayfarer that I’ve seen and it’s time high time for me to catch up with the rest of Ballet Philippines’ repertoire. Another reason is for me to see Candice Adea in a new light. I’m used to seeing her in ingénue roles and Amada would allow me to see a more feral side of her. Lastly, it’s a chance for me to hear, albeit canned, the music of Lucrecia Kasilag inside the CCP Main Theater. It’s been ages since her violin concerto was last performed and I could not recall if there had been a live performance of her work since then.

Until the curtain rises, I'd get myself pumped up for the by listening to Dietrich Fischer-Deskau's recording of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen as recommended by Mr. Norman Walker himself when he was last here back in 2014.


Ballet Philippines

The Exemplars: Amada and Other Dances will run on October 20-22, 2017 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo and on October 25, 2017 at the Globe Auditorium, Maybank Theater, BGC Arts Center.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Unusual music pairing in UST Symphony Orchestra’s Brahms Meets Disney


The UST Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Daniel Bartolome tried to hit two birds with one stone and appeal to a wide variety of audiences at their opening concert of the season with Brahms Meets Disney. held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Probably the most unusual music pairing that I’ve ever seen at an orchestra performance, this concert featured the music of Johannes Brahms along with music from Walt Disney feature films throughout the decades.

As the USTSO’s first concert for this academic calendar, this was my first opportunity to see new blood replacing those who have already graduated. Not surprisingly, the upper strings outnumbered the lower strings and the violins drowned the cellos and basses earlier on with the opening piece of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80.

The big test for the orchestra though was accompanying Malaysian pianist Ng Chong Lim with Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. While Lim was up to the task and handled the grand scale of the concerto with command and relative ease (and giving me another opportunity to hear the Fazioli grand piano so soon after the last time I did), the orchestra struggled especially the numerous upper strings that were prone to go wild at times. At the end, I felt more relieved that the orchestra was able to get through and survive the entire concerto. And major props for Lim for keeping his ground even if the orchestra was not up to par.

RAd and Ng Chong Lim

Finally, with the Brahms part out of the way, the orchestra and everyone else were more relaxed with the Disney Suite arranged by Jedrick Itugot. The featured soloists in the suite were faculty members Ronan Ferrer, Eugene delos Santos, Elisanta Cortes, Thea Perez, Nenen Espina, and students Demi Fresco, Faye Transfiguracion, John Saga, and Ryan Tamondong. Backing them up were the combined forces of the UST Vocal Performance Department, Coro Tomasino and Liturgikon. The songs performed were from a wide range of Walt Disney animated feature films like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and Moana. Having Santa Fe, a song from the live action film and later on adapted as a stage musical Newsies, was an odd inclusion and I think that this was probably a nod for Ronan Ferrer (who sang it) and Daniel Bartolome as the two were the vocal coach and music director respectively at the musical’s recent staging.

While I have my misgivings with the Brahms piano concerto (my most anticipated part), I knew the importance of the Disney Suite (I was not initially really keen on it, I admit) as it marked the return of Nenen Espina to the stage after suffering from a major health scare earlier this year. She exuded joy in all of her solos and it was truly a treat to witness this important moment for her after being aware of everything that she has gone through this year.


Overall, this concert was a brave risk for the USTSO especially with the Brahms piano concerto. A few concerts are still lined up for the orchestra this season and it’s up to them to make sure that they would show marked improvement in their upcoming performances.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Jury duty and a singing comeback at Cine Europa 20


The contemporary and the classic converge at the 20th edition of Cine Europa, the film festival that boasts not just the longest but the widest reach in the country. Unfortunately, the dreaded traffic of Metro Manila makes it difficult for me to take full advantage of the 24 films from 16 EU countries lined up this year. So far, I’ve already seen just two films, Germany’s The Verdict/Terror - Ihr Urteil and France’s Souvenir during the press preview screening and the festival’s opening night respectively.

The Verdict/Terror - Ihr Urteil (Germany)


Guilty or not guilty? That is what the audience need to decide while watching The Verdict/Terror - Ihr Urteil (2016), which was directed by Lars Kraume. The courtroom drama has the audience taking the role of the jury which would decide not only the verdict but which of the two endings filmed will be shown.

The man on trial is Major Lars Koch, played by Florian David Fitz, an air force pilot who defied his superior’s orders and shot down a passenger plane with 164 people on board. The plane, hijacked by terrorists, was on course to crash on a packed stadium filled with 70,000 spectators.

And I did take this opportunity to be part of the jury very seriously. I have never been more focused on reading English subtitles so that I would make an informed decision when it was time to cast my vote. Because of this intense focus, I almost never noticed that the film only had one scene (an impressive looking court room) and that everything happened in the course of one day (if only our trials can arrive at a verdict that soon!). It was only later on that I learned that this was adapted from a play by Ferdinand von Shirach with the audience also casting a vote to decide the ending.

At a time when popcorn flicks, summer blockbusters, and CGI heavy movies dominate cinemas, a film such as The Verdict is much welcomed. It forces audiences to focus on the dialogue and think deeply on relevant issues that the world is facing today. And I would make it pass that the movie was originally shown on German television and not on the big screen.

Souvenir (France)


In Souvenir (2016) by Bavo Defurne, Lilliane, played by the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, has settled into the mundane life of a faceless/nameless worker putting the final garnish at a pâté factory. Four decades ago, she was Laura who shot to fame as she almost won the European Song Contest (think Eurovision and all the campiness that entails). Then enter into the picture new factory employee Jean, played by Kévin Azaïs, an aspiring boxer who figures out Lilliane’s past life in the spotlight. The next thing you know, Jean has managed to book her gigs (lousy ones) eventually paving the way for her to attempt a comeback via entering the European Song Contest. Oh yeah, before I forget the two also enter into a May-December love affair much to the dismay/delight of Jean’s father who still had the hots for her as he did decades ago.

Huppert’s unimpressive vocals and the stiff choreography whenever she performs failed to convince me that Laura was a big deal back then and that a successful comeback was indeed possible. Also, the subplot involving Laura’s former husband/manager Tony Jones felt too forced and unnecessary as conflict between the two lovebirds needed to happen and a third party/former flame is a very convenient one. And don’t get me started on the ghostwriting aspect that never gets resolved.

I know that Huppert has an impressive filmography and Souvenir is one of her lighter fares. But once I got over the novelty of the age difference between the two lovers and also the idea of her singing (which I wasn’t really too thrilled at even though I had her “Je dis oui” from Joli garçon still ringing in my head a couple of days after), the film is ultimately forgettable. This has just want me to dig up and see Huppert’s more substantial films like La Cérémonie if I have the courage to see i again since it still haunts me to this day.


I really wish that I could see more films in the remaining days of the festival. If only the Shangri-La Plaza Mall was just a stone’s throw away from where I live. Presented by the Delegation of the European Union to the PhilippinesCine Europa screenings at the Shang Cineplex are still ongoing until September 26, 2017.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pianist Yury Shadrin's musical Liszt at PPO concert

Pianist Yury Shadrin and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra

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

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


Pianist Yury Shadrin

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


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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

NAMCYA winners concert, stepping stone for young virtuosos.


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

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

Guitarist Aaron Rafael Aguila III

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


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


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


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


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

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



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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria shines in Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concertos


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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