Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Keeping 'La Traviata Exposed' real

Music and stage director Camille Lopez Molina

After a lull of three years, the Verdi opera La Traviata returns onstage on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ayala Museum in Makati City. The reason? "Basically because the right voices for it are there," said Camille Lopez Molina, music and stage director.

The story of Violetta, a courtesan, her ardent suitor Alfredo and his interfering father Giorgio may be a tale as old as time, but it has something to say in the 21st century with the rising incidence of HIV AIDS. The subject of a prostitute with a heart of gold may no longer be "as touchy as it was in Verdi’s time," Lopez Molina observed, "but certainly the issues that made it a sensitive subject still exist: prostitution, class discrimination, sexism."

Anna Migallos as Violetta

Nomher Nival as Alfredo

Asked how she tweaked the opera, which features soprano Anna Migallos, tenor Nomher Nival and bass baritone Noel Azcona with the Viva Voce Ensemble, and why the word "exposed" was added to the title, she answerd, "La Traviata Exposed is just refocusing attention from production aspects--costumes, sets, orchestra, personalities--back to the opera itself (music, text, voices). It serves a two-way purpose which resonates deeply with me. One, to give the singers, a chance to vocally, musically and emotionally connect with the opera--keep it real, so to speak--and two, by doing so, help the audience gain a deeper connection, a more truly ‘up close and personal’ experience of opera itself, not the spectacle of it. Give them a reason to want more of the music, not just the show. Granted, it is a theatrical art form, but the ‘theater’ aspect of it stems directly from the music and the text. Just because we don’t have a full production doesn’t mean we can’t have the full emotional experience of the opera."

For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or the Cultural Arts Events Organizer at tel. nos. 782-7164, 0918-3473027 and 0920-9540053. Tickets at Php 1,000, Php 700 (for senior citizens), Php 500 and Php 300 (for students).

Photos from the Facebook accounts of Lopez Molina, Migallos and Nival

Monday, August 7, 2017

Victory in Vienna

The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra at the Brahms Hall of the Musikverein where they had their warm-up before entering the Golden Hall for the competition

The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra (MSJO) capped its first-time visit to Europe by winning the second prize “With Outstanding Success” at the 11th Summa Cum Laude (SCL)Youth Music Festival held July 8 in Vienna, Austria. Thirty-four MSJO members, led by conductor Jeffrey Solares, performed before a jury and an audience that broke into non-stop applause after they finished the competition piece, Mozart’s “Divertimento No. 1 in D major, K. 136,” at the Musikverein’s Golden Hall.

Solares said there were six contestants in the strings category: two from Australia, two from Taiwan, one from Denmark, plus MSJO. The first prize went to Chin Ai String Orchestra whose members are from an indigenous group from a small village in Taiwan.

The MSJO went on to fulfill five concert commitments after the contest. The first was held July 9 at the Muth concert hall; followed by July 10 at the Kolpinhaus Wien-Leopoldstadt; July11 at the Winner's Gala Concert at the famous Konzerthaus after which there was an awarding ceremony at the Vienna City Hall. On July 13, they performed at the Rudolfinum Theatre in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Final concert was at Munch Festsall on July 15.

Interviewed online while in Vienna, Sara Maria Gonzales, violin/viola coach of the three-year-old MSJO and associate concertmaster of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, recalled the excitement of the day before the performance: “The entire morning happened so fast. We left the hotel at around 8:30 a.m. and went straight to Musikverein. We had little time to bring out the instruments and tune them. We went to the Golden Hall and waited outside for 15 minutes before we could go to the Brahms Hall to do a 20-minute warm-up. There were not enough music stands for everybody, but we managed to rehearse because the kids already memorized most of the pieces.”

Before their rehearsal, the MSJO was led to the Golden Hall to watch the Thai Youth Orchestra. Gonzales rated them as “very good. They played a piece that their late King wrote. All groups watch the performance of the previous orchestra and the orchestra after us.”

When the MSJO was called in, she said, “Everything happened so fast. We didn’t feel nervous. I played with the viola section. Most of the kids were excited to play at the Musikverein. I guess we were already very much prepared. We’ve played our repertoire on many concert occasions already before coming here.”

The jurors like Saul Zaks also expressed happiness, singling out the MSJO soloists who took turns in playing the solo parts for the Bartok’s “Rumanian Folk Dances”: Micah Pecson (orchestra concertmaster), Emanuel Villarin and Luigi Torres.

It is not the first time a Filipino group joined the SCL Festival. In the past, the Musikito String Orchestra from Malabon participated in the fest in 2010, but Gonzales said, “What is more appropriate to say is that this is the first time that a young Filipino string orchestra bagged a major prize at the prestigious SCL Festival.”

The MSJO at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

She described a peculiarity of the announcement of winners. “The announcement of results did not happen publicly at the Golden Hall. It was by a private phone call to the artistic director of the SCL, Mr. Jürgen Partaj. We were instructed to call him at 9 p.m. Our competition was at 10:55 a.m. After we performed, one of the jurors spoke to our group to welcome us and give comments. He waited for some time because the applause of the people was prolonged. He thanked us for performing and noted that the entire jury appreciates us coming all the way from the Philippines and having prepared well for the competition. They also gave a special commendation to the soloists of our orchestra.”

The festival also features events involving choirs and bands apart from orchestras.

To prepare for the SCL Festival, the MSJO had a two-day workshop with European conductor Thanos Adamopolous, a frequent Manila visitor. He was impressed with the group. Gonzales said, “That is why I felt that we were ready for the competition. I did not have expectations because I did not know the level of our competitors. So when I learned that we are in second place, I was happy. We asked our tour manager to make the call. The kids were so happy they ran up to the hotel rooms and informed everyone. They were screaming and crying with joy. They were hugging everybody. Even the parents were happy. We are a big group--69 all in all, 37 musicians. The receptionist had to go up to tell us to be quiet.”

The group earlier made a pilgrimage to Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart. Gonzales said, “Being in these places is like seeing what the great composers saw during their time here. It gives us a stronger connection and understanding of classical music and how it came to be. Europe is a beautiful place. The composers have so much inspiration to draw from in here. Yesterday we attended a Mozart Misa Brevis at the St Stephen Cathedral. There was a live orchestra and choir. Just being inside that church is an emotional experience for me and hearing the beautiful music of Mozart during mass is heavenly. It makes me think of great things, great plans, ideas. I am inspired from all of this. The Philippines is far from the culture they have here. Experiencing their culture definitely will influence my understanding of classical music.”

The MSJO returned to the Philippines July 17. Solares and Gonzales proceeded to Paris to join five of their students participating at the Copain Du Monde Camp. A victory concert is being organized.

The MSJO at Nussdorf am Attersee, near Salzburg, during their first concert in Europe. Conductor Jeffrey Solares stands at right.
Photos from the Facebook page of the MSJO

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Three cheers and kisses for the cook

Weeks before today dawned, there was talk around the dining table on where we'll celebrate someone's turning a new leaf or another year older. No consensus was reached despite lobbying on one side for Japanese food, pizza and pasta on the other.

The impasse was broken when I declared, "Let's just stay home and enjoy a home-cooked meal by Tatay." I requested that we have grilled fish and a salad. If there was anymore leftover fish, let it be cooked into a sour paksiw. Kimi volunteered to prepare the long-life pasta dish.

Tatay Rolly was assigned marketing and cooking chores, and he rose to the challenge. At 5 a.m. today, just as my phone pinged to announce the first text of the day, Rolly bent over me to pinch my cheek by way of greeting me. It was still dark and my eyes were reluctant to open, but I could hear him getting dressed to leave for the market. Before he did, I managed to utter a word: "Champorado!"

So he cooked the family's favorite breakfast fare before heading out to catch a fish or two. Sweet!

Not steak, not lechon manok either. It's grilled yellowfin tuna. Comes with a dipping sauce of soy, vinegar and small red chilies.

Salad of pomelo (too much of it, in my opinion) and wansoy

He didn't forget the cake, walking from the Baguio public market to his office to put down the market basket, then another walk to Vizco's on Session Road for its famed strawberry shortcake before heading home.

Our food and family portrait photographer, Kimi, catches us right before we dig in.

Kai made me a rainbow necklace from her blocks, but I found it too heavy to wear so she did. By the way, it's also Pride Month so here's to our LGBT friends and relatives!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Canto y Carmen

You can't miss the new home of Canto on Kisad Road, Baguio City. The large windows look out to stands of pine trees that surround the city library. Since the restaurant reopened this month, the queues have been long, a lesson on patience that gets more than adequately rewarded when a table becomes available. Behind the structure is more parking space plus a couple of swings for the children who can't stand queuing up.

Speaking for myself, I love the refreshing aftertaste of the lychee and almond slush served in a Mason jar. I always begin my Canto meals with this. My daughter Kimi has taken a liking to it, too. Kai took a sip once and made a face. Maybe after a couple of visits, the Not So Little One will have adjusted her taste buds.

Kimi's fave are the tacos richly topped with grated cheese which Kai adores. If you have this for starters, it's hard to move on to a main course. But you must try the famed, fall-off-the-bones Lomo Ribs, Rolly's favorite paired with mashed potatoes.

The Carmen's Best line of ice cream is agreeably pure indulgence, but I cannot say "No" to Kai who loves it and can finish a cup. No sharing, please. Proudly Philippine made.

Kai can't finish the Marshmallow Fluff and needs our assisting appetite. If you dig and eat through the marshmallow and vanilla ice cream in the first two layers, you'll hit gold mine at the bottom of the glass--a chunk of brownie.

Photos by Kimi Fernandez

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Enamored with ElYu

Our bodies are here already in Baguio, but our hearts and minds are still somewhere on the gray sand of San Juan, La Union.

As her 32nd birthday approached, my eldest child Kimi suggested we spend the Independence Day weekend at the beach. Who were we to say no? She was picking up the tab, another reminder that she was more than a full-fledged adult already.

For our soundtrack going down Naguilian Road to La Union (or ElYu in hipster language), we had the voices of the Four Seasons from the musical Jersey Boys.

Happy road trippers

Kai, the Not So Little One, came armed with her dark glasses and thrilled smile.

After repeated queries of "Are we there yet?" from the most junior in the group, we found our home for a night and two days--Villas Buenavista. It looked like a white castle from a distance because it's almost entirely made of marble. Of the weekend crowd, we were among the first to arrive with famished appetites. We had the restaurant to ourselves as we ate soothing sinigang na malaga and pinakbet with warm rice.

But Kimi told us ElYu is also a foodie's paradise so we shouldn't be eating resort food at all times. There were restaurants and hole-in-the-wall eateries to explore just a few kilometers down the highway, with Waze ensuring we didn't get lost.

Meanwhile, the Not So Little One made like she was to the resort life born.

Time for a "groupie," minus our younger child, Singapore-based Ida. Photos like this one are rare so when we remember we're almost complete as a family, we take time to commemorate the moment.

Kimi recommended we either go Mexican or Greek for our early supper. She and Kai had tried the Mexican in a past visit so Greek it was, together with waitresses dressed like acolytes of Aphrodite. We liked the view from where we sat. It looked out to the beach where groups of youngsters were throwing frisbees or volleyballs. Out in the sea, others swam or paddled with surfboards although there were no surfing-worthy waves.

Tres personas sin burritos

Just look for the blue and white building and you're in the Greek sanctuary.

Interiors of Gefseis Greek Grill are cool and open to the sea breeze.

While waiting for our orders, time for another three-generation "groupie."

I had the prawns and rice.

He (Rolly) had the grilled squid.

Next morning was playtime by the seashore for Kimi and Kai--they came equipped with bucket and shovels. The day before, Kai dug up a shell which she adopted as a pet and named Shelton.

Protected by sunscreen

Back to the pool we go.

Before noon we had checked out and decided on trying out the Independence Day turo-turo at Flotsam and Jetsam, another open-air resto by the beach. I loved it for its bohemian ambience--the hanging dream catchers, the parasols and lamps, the banana leaves topping the plates, the young girls and guys who stumble in from the beach for early beers or rum and Coke, etc.

Kimi recalled how in her college days she and friends would take the bus to San Juan. There weren't these many food places and bed and breakfast places. Sometimes they would just camp out on the beach. I'm happy I discovered San Juan and the ElYu vibe at this point in time.

At Flotsam and Jetsam, it feels like being thrown back to a hippie paradise.

Last stopover in Sablan, Benguet, before the climb to Baguio

Photos by Kimi and Rolly Fernandez

Monday, March 6, 2017

How did Noriko Ogawa become a Debussy specialist?

Pianist Noriko Ogawa with a young Filipino admirer Photos by Amado Chua

How does one become a specialist in the music of Claude Debussy? He doesn’t seem to be the warhorse kind of composer the way Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt are.

But to Noriko Ogawa, 54, a Steinway artist who visited Manila recently for an exclusive concert and a lecture-recital open at the Santiago Hall of the BDO Corporate Center in Makati, she knew Debussy was “it” for her when she first saw someone performing his music on TV.

“That was the beginning,” she said. “My teacher didn’t let me study Debussy, saying he was for weak fingers and that I wouldn’t develop well. So I became a secret Debussy player. My mother would be upset, to put it mildly, if I practice something not in my lessons.”

She used to sneak out to go to a music store. There she’d play Debussy pieces on a piano until she estimated that her absence would be noticed by her mother, then she’d return home. She recalled, “The pressure from my parents was incredibly great. It was very suffocating for me, but now I’m grateful to them. I can just cry thinking of them.”

She was something of a “wild child” but one who never forgot to practice her piano until the day came in her teens when her teacher told her she needed to speak to her parents. At the time, she played on a Yamaha. Nervous and all wrought up before the teacher-parent meeting, she overheard the teacher say, “Your child needs a better instrument like a Steinway.”
Being macho, her stoic father, replied, “I’ll get her one.” Her mother, although a piano teacher, was against the idea or maybe thought the family couldn’t afford a Steinway. The father kept his word, telling his daughter, “This is the last thing I’ll buy you.” Ogawa laughed, “Which is true!”

Ogawa went on to win the Leeds International Piano Competition. The Telegraph described her performance as “ravishingly poetic playing.” She is also the translator of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence, a pianist’s yearbook that has been reprinted several times. After the tsunami in Japan in 2011, she raised over €40,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund. She is the founder of Jamie’s Concerts, a series for autistic children and parents, and cultural ambassador of the National Autistic Society.

With piano prodigy Hansel Ang

She is a credible and animated storyteller on her subject’s life. She narrated how Debussy was born to poor parents (his father’s porcelain business was unsuccessful) whose recourse for their children to survive was to farm them out to aunts and uncles to be raised.

Debussy grew not wanting to talk about his childhood. But as a child there was money for piano lessons. His talent was recognized. At age 10 he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire which had “extremely high standards,” Ogawa said, “and this showed how talented he was.”

But his parents couldn’t understand or appreciate this, expecting the conservatory to be a regular school that would teach their son spelling, arithmetic and the like. Because Debussy’s primary education, particularly his arithmetic, wasn’t good, his music manuscripts have a lot of human errors. Nevertheless, he was good at sight reading, dictation and singing notes and was an “amazing piano accompanist who won plum prizes. His musicality flourished in Paris.”

The Frenchman admired Chopin and, like him, wrote ballades, mazurkas, etudes and preludes. Although he also respected the techniques in German piano tradition, Debussy, being French, “wanted beautiful things like clarity and simplicity,” Ogawa said. “He decided his music would float in the air and express more natural incidents of life.”

This was Impressionism in music. “Impressionism,” however, is not a positive word for many. Ogawa was taught this, and she wondered, “What’s wrong with it?”

She told the students in the audience, “We piano teachers know when you copy. You have to look at the music carefully. It has to come from you, not from YouTube. You can’t come from an impression—that’s the negative way.”

She narrated how Debussy entered many composition contests but didn’t win much so he concentrated on writing. Among his early pieces was “Clair de Lune” which Ogawa performed. Later, she said, “I recommend you learn this to use as an encore or to play at a party or a recital. It’s a very useful piece. The movement in the middle has beautiful tones. It requires a good instrument.”

Through this and other pieces, Debussy established his impressionist style which he preferred to call symbolist. When he saw the 1889 Paris World Exposition, he was so impressed with Asian music that he gave the “impression” of it in his “Pagode.”
Ogawa said, “Although he wasn’t able to go to Asia, based on the gamelan music, he was able to capture the hot, steamy air of the tropics.”

Sadly, she noted, all that Debussy wrote were “miniature pieces. He didn’t write a sonata for the piano, no half-hour long pieces like Liszt and Brahms did.”

Watercolorist Amado Chua's impressions of the Japanese pianist

To her studying and practicing Debussy is “about the beauty of the sound, not about Debussy or his relationships though he had dramatic ones. I look at the music and get directly the messages from the piano, not from something romantic. This is not about Debussy falling in love with a girl. ‘Clair de Lune’ is about the moon. Look at the music he put down, all the things he wants us to do. His music makes us imagine scenery, but for me the sound comes first, then the images of water come in.”-- Elizabeth Lolarga

This article appeared in a shortened version in today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Arts and Books section.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Before you're not little anymore

There's this saying that I find applicable to our Not So Wee One Anymore, our grandchild Kai, and her relatively new dog, the moxie puppy Nutmeg: "Let me love you a little more before you're not little anymore." Every time I visit family in Baguio, I find my husband Rolly has grown more gray hair--the inevitable "trophy" of old age--and I don't think it's from too much stress. He loves what he's doing whether newspapering, leisure reading or gardening. Kai has "shark teeth"--two permanent teeth emerging behind her lower front teeth while Nutmeg, in his playfulness, is running up and down the house and has all of us in a tizzy. Just wonderful to come home to. Photo by Kimi Fernandez

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Yasmin Almonte's bed of flowers

Painter and art teacher Yasmin “Jigs” Almonte isn’t called a survivor by friends for nothing. She has gone past the pain of cancer that claimed part of her jaw and prevailed over other physical and psychological challenges. If there’s a song to describe her, it may be ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All” because she has the mind-set, determination and tenacity of a winner.

In her ongoing 20th solo show, “My Garden,” at Sining Kamalig, Almonte celebrates her 60th birthday by showing 60 paintings of flowers done in acrylic on 400gsm heavy acrylic paper. Like the cockeyed optimist that she is, she said, “After all is said and done, my life is still a bed of flowers.”

Her paintings were done alla prima (“of the moment”) or in one sitting. She explained, “I painted this way because I don’t have the luxury of time. I painted in acrylic so the works would dry fast. I don’t have the space for oil paintings to dry.” (She lives in one of the walk-up apartments at the University of the Philippines Diliman where she teaches at the College of Fine Arts.)

She chose flowers as her subjects because, she said, “The flower’s life, beauty and purpose is so ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. It blossoms, then it dies. There is so much activity in the flower as it goes through its dying stages. I see it dance. I am a flower.”

Almonte turns 60 this month, adding, “I want to create my garden: sixty paintings, sixty years. I want to surround myself with blossoms. Flowers that live, bloom, die—each one is beautiful.”

To her flowers stand for the fleetingness of life, for youth, purpose, beauty. She considers them “symbols of love at weddings, for giving at Valentine’s Day, for celebration birthdays, for grief and death at wakes. They’re all beautiful, fragrant, pungent, dichotomous in being.”

Asked what her favorite flowers are, she answered, “The ones that are past their bloom, flowers that are nearing their end. They have served their purpose, but they are still there, clinging to life, bringing memories of the giver and what they are for. I am this flower.”

She continued, “There is beauty in decay. There is the hastening dance of death. The colors change. There is movement. Leaves are lifted, petals drop and fall. The meaning of beauty is redefined. The flower will soon rejoin the earth and will serve another purpose for another life. Hopefully, the memory of it remains.”

Due to the serious illnesses she has gone through, the painter looks at herself as “the dying flower.”

She said, “I still have so much to give. There is this frenzy. There is so much that I want to share, to leave behind. In these last chapters of my life, I feel more beautiful than ever, more vital because of the wisdom that I have accumulated and want to share, because of the patience that I’ve developed through the years. I feel compassion and understanding because the love I have is unconditional, because I have forgiven. I have forgiven me.”

Sining Kamalig is on the second floor of Ali Mall, Cubao, Quezon City. The exhibit runs until the first week of February. -- Elizabeth Lolarga

Photos by Yasmin Almonte

This article was originally published by www.verafiles.org on Jan. 14, 2017.