Following Maestro Oscar Yatco’s recent demise is the death of Lorin Maazel. Together with the New York Philharmonic, conductor Maazel visited the Philippines in 2002, the two-night concerts at the Cultural Center of the Philippines ending always to thunderous applause and ovations.
But the classical music world has a long tradition of maintaining a wide bench of talents, even geniuses. They’re already way beyond and above understudy stage, more than ready to replace what seem like irreplaceable losses. Maestro Darrell Ang, who led the Manila Symphony Orchestr (MSO) in Friday night’s “Mostly Mozart 2014 Festival,” is one such man.
Cutting an elegant figure in his tux and tails, he possessed graceful arms and hands that also had an authority in them, allowing him to bring out the heroism, even manliness (feminists may quarrel with this), innate in Beethoven’s Eroica (Symphony No. 3 in F-Major, Op. 93). It’s a misunderstood work in the context of the composer’s time—was he really pro- or anti-Bonaparte?
Gina Medina-Perez, first violinist -concertmaster, recalled how the MSO members, within weeks of each other, learned from two guest conductors (Ang and Thanos Adamopulous previously).
She praised the two for their musical expertise and intensity. “Both demanded professionalism and commitment, but they don’t tell that to you. During rehearsals they don’t give sermons or throw tantrums if the music doesn’t work the way they want it. You want to be excellent because they’re excellent. You try your best so you can keep up. It’s interesting how good musicians just focus on music making and being faithful to the score. Thanos and Darrell are the easiest to work with. They know what to do and focus on achieving that.”
She added that like Adamopulous, Ang “knows the music very well and interprets it according to what he thinks the composer wants. Their interpretation of Eroica is very different, but both fulfill the composer’s intention. It’s pure magic to experience this kind of music making.”
Since the program mainly focused on Mozart’s works that are rarely, if never, heard played or sung live, Perez-Medina remarked on the challenge she and the MSO faced: “We only had four rehearsals with Ang. He focused on bringing us to the level nearest to what he wanted. We gave our best. Preparing for that concert required teamwork. It wasn’t a one-man job.”
What the orchestra members did was place their trust on Ang and on one another, including tenor Arthur Espiritu and pianist Cristine Coyiuto, whose niche could now be said to be Mozart concertos.
Medina-Perez said, “That was the only way we could have a solid performance. During the performance, we let each other shine. Ultimately, the one who should shine is not the MSO, the conductor or the soloists but the music itself. We are mere instruments, conduits of a greater work—music.”
Singaporean Ang helped the cash-strapped Manila Chamber Orchestra (MCO) Foundation in marketing the concert. The auditorium of the Philippine Stock Exchange, renamed Juan Antonio Lanuza Hall after a music critic-patron, was standing room only, with some early ticket buyers held up in the Friday night rain and traffic.
Ang, who donated his fee to the foundation and to Habitat for Humanity’s building of new houses for supertyphoon Yolanda suvivors, posted short notes in his Facebook page alongside photos of himself, with the soloists and with the MSO. Of the MSO he predicted it was “set to regain its footing as the nation’s top orchestra!”
He described Espiritu as “a superb Filipino tenor whose beautiful take on two Mozart arias is definitely worth the price of the ticket alone!” Espiritu is back in the country after his latest triumph in the role of Fernando in the Donizetti opera La Favorita at the St. Gallen Festival in Switzerland. At the technical rehearsal at Ortigas Center venue, he noted how the supra-cold air-conditioning dried up the air to a point where he couldn’t hear his own voice.
Nonetheless, his interpretation of the arias “Misero, O Sogno, o son desto?” in the first part of the changed program and “Se vuoi che te racccolgano,” the last Mozart aria for the evening, showed his capability to transcend physical obstacles and emerge more triumphant than an Everest climber.
After the concert, he said, “I tried to be as positive as I can be. It was a dry hall, filled with carpet, even the stage is carpeted. Knowing that Lanuza Hall can have the potential for a great concert hall, it should be easy to revitalize it. I was happy to perform. Knowing that I am contributing to the foundation is a good enough feeling.”
It’s almost SOP for a Filipino audience to expect an encore, especially from Espiritu. He said, “We discussed the possibility after the last aria, but alas my vocal condition made it hard to sing one more. I had a cold, was having dry coughs at the time. I didn’t want to risk losing my voice.”
He must surely be within the radar of a local recording company or a body like the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. He wants to record Filipino composers’, especially kundiman writers’, works.
He said, “I am hoping to collaborate with recording labels and maybe do a recording. I have never been approached so I’m open to it.” Someone heed him quick because European opera houses are already grabbing him and about to spirit him away.
Angel Reyes-Nacino, MCO Foundation executive director, was gladdened by the audience turnout and response. “We hope we still have funds and have a change in the mindset of sponsors for the classical arts. We don’t recover from our concerts.”
Concerning the auditorium’s renovation to make it more concert-worthy, she said, “We haven’t sat down with the Lanuza family to find out their plans. I’m sure we’ll get help from above. Mr. Lanuza is guiding, praying for us from up there.”
Medina-Perez agreed, “It is a good-sized hall. The carpets need to go. That will make a big difference. A proper dressing room would be nice.” - Elizabeth Lolarga