Monday, September 12, 2016

Camille Lopez Molina and her love of music and singing

Camille Lopez Molina

The word “chiaroscuro” may be inextricable from the world of painting. This hasn’t stopped soprano Camille Lopez Molina and pianist Najib Ismail from choosing it to be part of their coming concert’s title, “Love in Chiaroscuro,” on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Ayala Museum in Makati.

While they brainstormed about the repertoire, they started choosing songs based on what they felt strongly about. Molina said, “You want your audience to enjoy your performance. But they only receive and reciprocate the performers’ own enjoyment. The terms ‘nuance,’ ‘expression,’ ‘colors,’ ‘shades,’ ‘levels,’ ‘layers,’ ‘contrasts’ can refer to the voice, text, music and personal references. Chiaroscuro, referring to the play of light and shade in painting, drawing, photography and other visual arts, seemed to be the word that articulated most clearly what we meant.”

Among her personal preferences in the program are: Liszt’s “Sonata de Petraca,” Wagner’s portrayal of love in “Wessendonk Song,” “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak's “Rusalka” which, by the way, she voiced in the Peque Gallaga film “Sonata” wherein Cherie Gil played a diva who had seen better days.

Although Molina sings with the vocal ensemble Viva Voce of which she is founder-artistic director, she seldom holds solo concerts. “Love in Chiaroscuro” is the first since 2010. After her students Myramae Meneses, Renee Michaela Fajardo and Anna Dinah Migallos were featured in the concert “Divas: The Beauty of the Soprano Voice” in April this year, Joseph Uy of the Cultural Arts Events Organizer and Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation (MCOF) asked this writer to go up to Molina to the holding room and tell her she was being lined up next on the second half of this year.

She recalled with a laugh, “The decision was clinched for me. I was given a date and told to have a recital. ’Yun na ’yon (That was that)!” As two of the country’s top voice teachers, she and her husband Pablo are overjoyed at the triumphant acceptance of Fajardo and Meneses at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and recently, Migallos’s being the star of the night at an Indonesia Opera Society event in Jakarta.

She said on the effectiveness of her team teaching with Pablo: “His is the technical brain. I’m more on the application and interpretation. There is a sense of validation which is fulfilling (when our students make it abroad). After the initial thrill, it always boils down to what are we doing next? What else can be improved? There’s always something to improve, if not vocally, then maybe physically, or as is usually the case, mentally. Singing is coordination, a synthesis of physicality, emotions, artistry, intellect, energy, etc. Since we are constantly evolving as human beings, then the process of learning is never-ending.”

Ismail assured that Thursday’s concert would have hugot songs, meaning, the song’s interpretation comes from somewhere deep. Molina said, “Najib and I are similar in how we go into the music so our repertoire is a true collaboration. We bounce opinions back and forth. He knows my voice and what I can do. I know him and what he loves to play. So yes, these songs are straight from our hearts and guts.”

Asked to comment on the film “Florence Foster Jenkins” and its tone-deaf protagonist, she said, “I loved it. It expressed so much of what lovers of music feel, of what all musicians and artists feel about their craft. It wasn’t about Florence’s lack of talent, but how much she loved singing because she loved the music.”

For tickets, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or the MCOF, tel. nos. 997-9483, 782-7164 or cell phone nos. 0920-9540053 and 0918-347-3027.

Published in the online edition of Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sept. 14, 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Arca's Yard and its camote pie

A row of bulols (rice granary gods) found in the attic of Arca's Yard Photos by EV ESPIRITU

Come rain or come shine, Arca’s Yard up in Tiptop, the boundary of Baguio and La Trinidad along Ambuklao Road, enjoys full-house patronage. Locals don’t mind the drive up outside city limits to get their slice of camote pie.

Owner Nida “Ninj” Sabado believes “I’m the only one serving this pie probably in the whole Philippines.” She cites the root crop’s role in Igorot rituals, especially in cañaos where pigs or carabaos are butchered to mark special occasions like wedding feasts. Alongside the cooked meat, staples like camote and gabi are served,

Sabado grew tired of boiled camote so she thought of a different way of serving it. She researched and discovered that sweet potato pie is the favorite dessert of Michael Jackson. Through trial and error, she got the taste she liked—pure, organic, with loads of anti-wrinkle and anti-oxidant elements.

Camote pie a la mode

Before Arca’s Yard Café opened, there was the gallery she put up to assuage her grief over her mother’s death in 2014. It was a combination of mini library and museum with the Cordillera as its theme. She said, I want to share and preserve the culture of Benguet and the whole Cordillera.”

She wanted the place to be somewhere her writer and artist friends could hang out, even if there was a typhoon raging. The gallery once faced the road, then she moved it to their adjacent family proper and now it’s facing three mountains on a clear day: Mt. Pulag’s tip, Mt. Purgatory and Mt. Ugo on the Itogon side. The sunrise and full moon can be viewed from the balcony.

The gallery-café grew to a three-room bread and breakfast place that is five storeys high, including an attic for the book collection, and still expanding sideways. It has come a long way from being originally the ranch and kamote plot of Sabado’s father Arca. She says he had no surname—Jonson, Dianson, Djanson were appended after his first name. Before World War II, Arca supplied Camp John Hay and the hotels of Baguio with fresh milk.

Ninj Sabado is a good storyteller about the old Baguio.

Today Sabado’s customers not only go up for the pie but also for the enlanrged menu that includes lamb chops, pasta, lechon kawali, arroz a la cubana and anything that she calls “easy and quick to cook. I didn’t realize all this would be successful.”

Arca’s popularity grew through word of mouth and social media. Visitors are always fighting over seats that have panoramic views whether it’s sunny, rainy or foggy.

Lovers' Locks

Another feature is gate inspired by a bridge in Paris. Sabado calls it Lovers’ Lock. She sells the padlocks for a minimal fee and lovers can make their vows by that gate barring a cliff.

When the restaurant is packed, service slows down. Sabado soothes her waiting customers, telling them, “We’re new, we’re feeling our way and trying to improve the service.” –Elizabeth Lolarga

View from the balcony

This article and some photos were first published in the Aug. 3, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northern Luzon Supplement.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Teacher, student show what they’ve got in #galingNAMCYA

The piece for two pianos selected for July 16’s "#galingNAMCYA" concert is appropriate for this collaborating pair of teacher and student. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” gained fame in Disney’s classic animated movie “Fantasia.”

Gabriel Allan Paguirigan, who is finishing his piano degree at the University of the Philippines College of Music under Prof. Luci Magalit, quipped, “I chose this because of Mickey Mouse. I’ve always been a Disney kid who owned copies of the old movies, including ‘Fantasia.’ This piece is one of the first classical pieces I’ve heard. This transcription of (composer) Dukas is a delight to play and fits the hands nicely. Plus it’s not too long or too short.”

Luci Magalit

Magalit, prize-winner of the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA) Piano Category, said the concert isn’t her first collaboration with Gabby on two pianos. She had played orchestra reductions to piano in his undergrad recitals, his NAMCYA participation and in a Mozart concerto competition.

For the Cultural Center Little Theater performance, she recommended “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” because “the length is right, the music is easy listening, interesting, not serious or gloomy, and it is neither too easy for a NAMCYA show nor too difficult, given our busy schedules,” she said.

She described him, a two-time NAMCYA winner, as “very hardworking and very teachable. He never lets his amazing talent get to his head. He is always open to learning, whether from me or from other pianists and piano teachers. When he doesn't readily grasp an idea or he finds it difficult to replace a habit with a new one, he does his best to learn it. Aside from this receptivity, the other thing that I love about Gabby is his sincerity as an artist which, at the end of the day, is what defines a musician, no matter what his teacher is able to give him.”

Magalit recalled her experience in competing. “I joined at an age when it was my last chance. Since I had not joined NAMCYA before, I took it all in with openness, no expectations. I remember the decrepit upright piano we used in the first stage of the competition in a crowded and noisy gym in Manila. I remember the MRT and LRT rides to the semis where I thought I would be eliminated because I struggled with the Prokofiev Sonata I was performing for the first time, then to the finals at the CCP where I was to perform Bartok’s Third Concerto, which I was also playing for the first time.”

She continued, “It was a new experience playing a concerto at 8 a.m. but the best of it was playing on that stage. The bigness of the auditorium and the lights twinkling in the ceiling gave me a sense of magic and made me forget how difficult my concerto was. I am immensely grateful for the entire experience. The prize money was not very substantial. I bought my first cellphone with it.”

Gabriel Allan Paguirigan

Both pianists agree on the role of award-giving bodies in the flowering of talents. Paguirigan said, “The contests expose musicians to more opportunities. It feels amazing to discover and appreciate the talents rising in our country.”

Magalit said, “NAMCYA is important. It is the only award-giving body that is national in scope. Award-giving bodies as competitions are essential to the discovery and development of talent and skill. It is not enough that a piano student does well in his/her academic piano requirements or gives good recitals or gets performance opportunities outside school. A competition offers a venue to stretch one’s abilities to a level that he/she has not yet discovered, which he/she will not discover otherwise. It provides a certain pressure not present in other performance situations, given that the jury is known to be top-caliber and trustworthy.”

She added. “This pressure tests a musician’s character: both teacher and student experience the pressure and it will show what kind of people they are in the way they handle it. Apart from whatever title or prize the young musician obtains from the competition, the whole experience of stretching, discovery, testing of mettle is essential to preparing him/her for the bigger world. It would be in the best interest of our country's cultural and artistic life that there be more competitions.”

They’re both passionate about sustaining the lives of classical musicians in this country. Magalit said, “We in the classical music industry must do something to create a bigger demand for high quality live performance of classical music in our country, if we want to continue. This is what I always tell my students: Always do your best, and share your music.”

Paguirigan nodded, “One can’t live on just performing. Most performers I adore here are also teachers. Performing and teaching demand much time though. Music is an extremely difficult track. We never stop learning, face countless hours of practicing and a spectrum of difficult situations and people as musicians. As long as you love what you're doing, play on.”-- Elizabeth Lolarga

Friday, July 8, 2016

The power of flowers

"Daisy" by Kelly Ramos

BAGUIO CITY—Merci Javier Dulawan and Kelly Ramos, writers and painters both, had always talked about someday doing a joint project that would involve words and paint. It was a thought they put out there for the universe to pick up.

What happened instead was they found themselves for much of this summer working on unfurled sheets of watercolor paper to meet their target of 10 paintings for their current “The Watercolor Flower Show” at Café by the Ruins Dua, Upper Session Road, Baguio. The exhibit runs until July 10.

Although Ramos is the more formally trained one in fine arts at the University of the Philippines between the two painters, the self-taught Dulawan has had watercolor as her preferred medium of expression since the mid- to late 2000s. Ramos recalled doing just one watercolor plate as a school requirement and hadn’t touched the medium for more than 20 years.

Still they managed to work separately and confidently meet their deadline, even as the younger Ramos practiced on small scraps of paper.

Detail from Merci Dulawan's "Red Gumamela"

Choosing flowers as their subject was the easy part. Dulawan said, “Baguio means flowers, and ever since they’ve been my subject. New learning says that the edible protein found in flowers helps humans reflect, meditate, ruminate about our connection with the Divine. I feel connected. In this series, I honor the contribution of flowers to human.”

Uncannily enough, when it was time for the two to bring their finished works to the framers, they saw that they painted a variety of common flowers and not once did they have duplicates of a certain species of flora.

"Fifi's Pitcher Plant" by Dulawan

The experience revived Ramos’ interest in watercolor and the surprising effects that could be achieved with a medium that she once forsook for oil on canvas. She found the images right outside her home in Tawang, La Trinidad. And when the wildflowers weren’t enough for her, she went around the parks in Baguio and visited the ICM House of Prayer which has a sprawling garden enjoyed by those taking their spiritual retreats.

Dulawan quoted the children’s book author Hans Christian Andersen who wrote, “Just living is not enough... one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” -- Elizabeth Lolarga

This story earlier appeared in the July 6, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northen Luzon Supplement.

"Prickly Pear Cactus" by Ramos