Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gabby, the piano guy

Pianist Gabriel Allan Paguirigan (left) looks like he's considering whether or not to belt out "The Sound of Music" somewhere in Austria where he performed at the Liesing chamber music festival earlier this year. He is the featured soloist in the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation Young Artists Series concert on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Ayala Museum. Photos of Liesing, Austria, courtesy of Gabby

With chamber musicians at the Liesing music fest. The program included Dvorak's Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, First Movement and Bartok's Contrasts for Piano, Violin and Clarinet. Dr. Victor Asuncion, in whose master class Gabby had studied, recommended him for that all-expenses paid trip to Europe. Gabby says of his first overseas experience as performer: "I was exposed to higher standards, and I saw how classical music is deeply a part of their lives and culture there. The audience saw that someone from the Philippines could be part of a festival like that. I hope I've helped pave the way for our other musicians to be invited."

"To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable." - Beethoven

One can truly learn from Gabby's relaxed attitude towards committing mistakes during either a rehearsal or a performance. He says, "My approach is to just move on. Don't get stuck in it. Yung pagkakamali, palatandaan na tao ka pa rin."

He is on his fifth year as a piano major at the University of the Philippines College of Music with just a few general education units to finish so he can graduate next year.

He may be called an accidental pianist. At age four or five, he liked to tinker with a battery-operated toy piano while his grandmother watched over him. His mother was out working as a nurse and his father was employed in a private firm. Lola Ester noticed that he could seek out with his fingers the melodies of a pop song like "Love Is All that Matters" or "Do Re Mi" from The Sound of Music.

One time he told his folks that he wanted to take piano lessons. They discouraged him, saying, "Baka paluin ng teacher ang kamay mo pag nagkamali ka." Like any concerned parent, his mother's dream for him was to become a nurse or to join an allied medical profession to assure him of a stable future.

His elders acceded to his wish when the family moved from Makati to Pasig where they found him a piano teacher, Hannah Valdez-Sariego. She would submit his name for piano competitions. Gabby recalls, "I wasn't serious yet with my playing--bara-bara lang kung tumugtog."

On Bach: "I can listen to him continuously for a week, he and no other composer. Masarap, nakaka-high!" When he was studying Bach's Chaconne with legendary piano teacher Nita Abrogar-Quinto, he told her, "Ma'am, ang ganda kahit anong piyesa ni Bach." She told him, "Basta si Bach, maganda. Akala mo yon na yon, tapos meron pang mangyayari alongside it." Photos by Babeth Lolarga

By the time he was at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling, Laguna, he was playing "because I liked it, but I still couldn't see if I could live on it, if it would be my life. Eventually, I became serious about it because of the competitive spirit among the music majors there. When I joined and started winning competitions, I realized okey, kaya ko pala. Parte na ito ng buhay ko."

His parents came around to seeing that their Gabby could really make it as a professional musician when he performed as a soloist during the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra's season finale last year. He saw his dream taking off and unfolding when he became part of a concert season, his name prominent on the posters and tarps of the Cultural Center. They told him, "Kung saan ka masaya." More than that, Gabby says, they've realized that he has something important to contribute to the Philippine music scene.

From the most recent masterclass he attended under Cecile Licad, he and the other young pianists were encouraged to experiment more in their playing. She told them that it wasn't just a matter of mastery of notes; interpretation was just or more important.

He remembers Ms. Abrogar-Quinto stressing the same thing. The late teacher once advised him that when he's joining competitions wherein he has to play the same piece as the others, he must come across as "super convincing as if I owned the piece."- Elizabeth Lolarga

For his Sept. 17 performance, Gabby's program includes: Bach-Petri's "Sheep May Safely Graze from Hut"; Haydn's Sonata in D major, Hob 16:24; Brahms' Vier Klavierstucke Op 119; Chopin's Berceuse in D-flat Major; Custodio's Pauli-uli ; and Liszt's Piano Sonata in b minor.

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