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 on Jan. 14, 2017.

Friday, January 13, 2017

25 years gone but unforgotten

Yesterday was our Dad's 25th death anniversary. I stayed away from this space on that occasion, thinking that I might just get all weepy, senti and emo while recalling him. But at past 4 a.m. today while I write this, I am stone cold sober. Twenty and five years may have passed since he left for eternity, but I carry this man's image intact in my heart. These days whenever I find myself in a fix, the question I immediately ask myself is, "What would Dad (and now Mom who has joined him) do?" Lemme tell you, they combine forces to aid me in my struggle, no matter how minute or insignificant to the world. And when I'm sick, I call on Dad, too, and somehow I surmount the situation. So thanks, Dad. I know we will be together. In the meantime, I've still got a lotta livin' to do.

Monday, January 9, 2017

2016's Christmas card loot

The season's over, and I have to stash away my increasingly paltry collection of hard-copy Christmas cards. In my computer hard drive and Google Drive, I've saved the letters and cards sent by email.

I sent out over 20 cards and postcards by what's known as "happy mail," complete with stamps, as early as the first week of December. The addressees acknowledged my letters by email and text. I'm almost tempted to enclose a SASE, remember those? SASE stands for self-addressed stamped envelope.

Handwriting allows me to slow down. I guess it also brings down my blood pressure. It calms me. I'm able to reflect, rue, remember, regret, rejoice on paper. Not unlike keeping a journal only this time there is someone at the other end of the conversation. A friend asked me to send her a private message via her Facebook, which is faster, because she's "poor in snail mail." I assured her that sending mail by snail or donkey delights me so much so she needn't worry if my message is delayed by a week, 10 days or a month. She lives over in Western Australia and comes home twice a year at the most.

Here's the last year's mail, the last hand-delivered by the sister concerned.

Handmade's the best. This one's the handiwork of three-year-old Sophia, daughter of Liwa Araos and Archie Espanola. Made of dried leaves and shiny stickers. I like Liwa's penmanship--it indicates her lightness of being and overall cheerfulness.

Cousin Tess Lolarga Romero in Chicago is religious about her cards. They arrive as early as November. Perhaps she knows my husband is a stamp collector so she sticks assorted stamps on the envelop.

Beth Quirino Lahoz, president of the Technological Institute of the Philippines, unfailingly sends a yearly card. Sometimes, when I respond in kind, she emails quickly back upon receiving my card: "Despite the distance (not seeing each other), the connection thrives because you have also worked at it with your gracious letters."

Coming home from Baguio via Subic on New Year's Day, I found this on my desk--a card from my sister Gigi and inside were crisp 20-peso bills. She and our adopted sister Ruth Terania know my prepaid phone's limits and how I direly need the gadget for text blasts when supporting assorted causes. Thanks, baby sisters.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

‘A national opera company is a no brainer. We can sustain it’ – Arthur Espiritu

Arthur Espiritu

“We can sustain it. But it would take a village.” This was international tenor Arthur Espiritu’s response to the idea of an opera company that would accommodate the boom in young, classically trained vocal artists in this country.

While preparing for “Opera Gala with Arthur Espiritu,” one of the activities to open the first Bonifacio Global City Arts Center Festival on Jan. 15 at 5 p.m. at the GlobeTheater of the Maybank Performing Arts Center, BGC, Taguig, he said, “It is not a competition to see who can be the bida, who can do this and that better. It takes people working together and putting something together. Hindi rin yungningas kugon. It takes sustained efforts not just from the beginning. It has to be strong both by the cover and content, the quality of content. People appreciate good quality and good content. They will come back for more.”

For “Opera Gala” he will sing with friends and students with Dingdong Fiel serving as accompanying artist. Espiritu had kind words for the singers, some of whom he privately tutored while he was on sabbatical from his commitments abroad.

Of Kay Balajadia Liggayu, he said, “she has developed into a fantastic lyric soprano—great musicality, very smart, has a very beautiful voice that can be agile and powerful. Her voice has this very sweet quality that no one has.”

He said Marielle Tuason is “a fantastic young coloratura soprano. Her voice has acquired shimmer and strength. When she sings, she has a beautiful, cool and pleasant timbre to listen to. It has a soothing effect in one’s ears. She is such a great kid, one of the best coloratura voices I’ve heard (from her age group).”

Stephanie Aguilar and Tanya Corcuera

He continued, “I have just started working with Krissan Manikan-Tan and over the short period of time, she has picked up so much already. She is a fantastic lyric mezzo soprano in my book. So much power in both the dark and lighter part of her voice. A rising star indeed. She can deliver quite a good punch with her voice.”

He said of Erv Lumauag: “He has a beautiful leggero to lyric tenor voice. He reminds me of Tito Schippa and Luigi Alva. Quite soothing to listen to and such a nice guy.”

He predicted that Christian Nagano is “a Star in the making. He has such power and color in his voice that he can sound dark and pleasing at the same time. Has the looks, the height and has the voice to show for it. He has charisma and steel in his singing. Great guy.”

He praised Tanya Corcuera for being “a powerhouse. She would make a perfect Tosca. She can also sing a mean Mozart aria. She has all the essential qualities in a full lyric soprano going to dramatic, if she chooses. (She can also be a) Wagnerian soprano. It’s virtually limitless in possibilities.”

Espiritu considered Stefanie Quintin “one of the most beautiful voices I have heard here in Manila. She has all the natural abilities and the gift from God that no one else can have, and that is her amazing musicality. Some voices just have the ability to affect the listener, and Stefanie has that. She can communicate her emotions literally with her voice. She is a good listener and picks up so fast. Always a treat to listen to her.”

He said among the many talents of Lara Maigue “besides composing and her stellar career here as a solo performing artist, she finds time to keep her voice honest by going back to classical singing. Like Stefanie and Marielle, she has a very beautiful high coloratura. She’s a smart singer and multi-faceted, fantastic composer. I just love hearing her soothing sounds during our lessons. She has beautiful arches in her approach to the high notes, sweet color and timbre in the voice. I have lots of respect for this kid.”

He evaluated Nomher Nival as someone who “has improved so much, thanks to the guidance of Maestra Nelly Miricioiu. He has more power and squillo in his sound. He is on his way to becoming an international tenor. I have full confidence in him that he will continue his quest to mastering the tenor voice. He has one of the most promising sounds for tenors here in Manila.

Marielle Tuason and Krissan Manikan Tan

Espiritu spoke of the rewards of teaching: “To see the results after having taught them is reward enough. Getting a chance to see them grow and become the singer that they are destined to be—that’s just priceless. The pride in giving back and sharing what you have learned and seeing the results with your own eyes and your ears—nothing compares to that.”

Asked what it takes to conquer the international stage and the sacrifices entailed, Espiritu said, “It takes lots of patience and determination. I had to sacrifice the feeling of having a home. I live out of my suitcase and have an unstable body clock. I don’t have too much time with family and get sick from long journeys.”

He added, “Being an opera Singer is not as glamorous as one would imagine, especially now that we have so much competition. There are no guarantees in this business. Having to spend money on travel and lodging just to sing at auditions are considered ‘calculated risks.’ It takes guts and passion to do this, most of all, a lot of hard work to get to where you need to. I have always sung with a huge chip on my shoulders. I’m not one of those singers who had the luxury of good marketing. I have been cast out by many people that I have grown very thick skin. You just have to keep going and going.”

Concerning the Philippine audience and its low exposure to operatic music, he said, “We are modelled after the American system. Most of our performing arts ventures are funded primarily by private entities. Europe and some parts of Asia sustain their Art through government funding because these governments believe that art is a necessary tool for a good society. Through education and exposure to these different types of performing arts (live theater for example), the society has greater propensity for success. Country and community are much more important to them.”

Globe Auditorium at BGC

He added, “It takes continuous efforts and support to want to expose our children, the next generation, to this. It will take years and probably funding from the government. If it has to be privately funded, we need more philanthropists in the country. We need individuals who are willing to help sustain the arts. It’s a long shot since the society now here in the Philippines is not ready for it. With proper exposure and education through outreach programs and implementing music/theater/creative writing/Dance and other performing art forms in their curriculum, it can happen. It has to be a relentless effort.”

When asked about the pool of classical vocal talents in this country and the need for them to be gainfully employed through an opera company, he said, “We have the talents. It’s just sad they don’t have much platforms to practice their craft. It will take people working together to form a national arts organization. They have to be able to work together, not work separately or make it a competition. It takes a village really! Almost every major city in the world has a National Opera Company with a good budget. It is possible, but it will take people with different opinions and concepts to come together and work as one.”

He continued, “Vietnam has a National Opera House. We don’t. The Philippine GDP is higher than Vietnam’s. Why don’t have a National Opera House that can hire not just international artists but sustain our local artists by employing them more permanently? It does not make sense to me. If we educate our future performers and audiences, then we won’t have a problem shaping the future of our society for the better.”

Friday, January 6, 2017

The first time I saw Monica Feria

These remembrances were read last night at the memorial for journalist Monica S. Feria at the rock garden of the Church of the Risen Lord, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Monica died at age 62 on Dec 30 last year. Her ashes will be brought to Cabangan, Zambales, today where these will be buried.

The first time I met Monica formally was at our employer's office, Philippine Daily Express in Port Area, Manila, in 1976. I was a new reporter assigned to the Life and Leisure section. Newspaper people in those days were mainly made up of men, the unfriendly sort whose noses were close to the grindstone. Monica went out of her way to welcome me to the team.

What bound us, apart from the Express, was we were both working students at the UP Institute of Mass Communication. She enjoyed a celebrity status there because of this and because her byline appeared with some frequency on the front page.

But she wasn't a total stranger to me. She was friends first with my older cousin, Allyn Lolarga Valdellon, a broadcast communication major. Binilin ako ni Allyn kay Monica since Express was to become the first of my many journalism jobs.

In the newspaper then, we only enjoyed one day off. Mine fell on a Thursday so it would allow me to attend classes. Saturdays and Sundays were slow news days. Nonetheless, I reported for duty to close advance Leisure pages for the Monday and Tuesday issues.

One early Saturday afternoon when the slots of the all-male news desk were unoccupied, Monica sashayed by my cubicle wearing a pair of batik wraparound pants. Then her pants, held together by a fragile string and the tiniest of safety pins, fell, revealing to me her white-as-snow panty. I half hugged her from behind and helped put on her pants back with one eye cast on the rest of the newsroom.

Monica gasped, "Mabuti ikaw lang ang nakakita, Babeth!"

I suspect that the boys in the newsroom, from the copy boy to the editor in chief, were half in love in Monica. In love but not in the leery or lustful sense, more of what William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem "When You Are Old and Grey": "How many loved your moments of glad grace / And loved your beauty with love false or true / But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you / And loved the sorrows of your changing face."

Monica and Gigi on the Bob Feleo bed at the launching of the book The First Eye

I'm grateful to Monica for agreeing to read aloud my poems at the launching of my first book, The First Eye, on Oct. 15, 1990, traditionally observed as World Poetry Day, when she was big with child. She shared, along with our actor friends Dodo Crisol, may he also rest in peace, and Gigi Dueñas, a big four-poster bed, handcrafted by Bob Feleo. Monica surprised everyone gathered at Hiraya Gallery with her passionate reading of some erotica despite a belly so huge she seemed ready to pop anytime.

Monica was also my editor when I contributed to the now defunct Mirror Magazine. I was encoding and composing at the same time my profile of then senatorial candidate Haydee Yorac in one of her office's computer terminals. Monica understood the "messiness" of the writing process. By 9 p.m., which was late, I still wasn't ready with my copy. She said she needed to go home to her daughter Jasmin and her family. Not once did she lean over my shoulders to check on the progress of my work. There was that trust between professionals that yes, I would be able to deliver.

Because she didn't apply full-blown pressure on me, I was more relaxed and reached my story's end, appending a hashtag after the last period.

One last memory of Monica: In February 1997, we attended a meeting of women cultural workers called by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. After about an hour or so of grim and determined brainstorming about arts-related projects that would benefit women (there was a budget that ran into millions), Monica raised her hand from where she was seated and said, "Bakit hindi na lang natin paghati-hatian yung pera? Happy pa tayo!"

Of course, that was said in jest and Monica meant to lighten the mood.

Ngayong gabi, paghati-hatian natin ang kalungkutan sa pagpanaw ng mahal nating Monica sa pamamamagitan ng pag-alaala natin at pagtanggap na bumalik na siya sa Dakilang Kaliwanagan sa langit. Maging happy tayo.

Monica believed in and worked for the liberation of Filipino women, of the Filipino people. Let up rejoice that she is now liberated from the world of pain and suffering, from the dailiness of deadlines.

Thank you and good night.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Iconic Via Mare

Michaela Fenix. Via Mare: 40 Years of Iconic Events Through Menus, Recipes, and Memories. Mandaluyong City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 2016. 176 pp.

Via Mare and restaurateur Glenda Rosales Barretto are synonymous in having, in Felice Prudente Sta. Maria’s words in her foreword, moved “Philippine cuisine upwards onto a new and higher plane of creativity, innovation and artistry over decades.”

This book, with full-color photos by Pat Mateo, is part social history, even gossip, part legacy with the sumptuous recipes shared some of which had been served to heads of state, including Popes John Paul II and Francis.

Accounting for the restaurant’s success is, according to Barretto, its ability to “execute other kinds of cooking: Western, European and Asian. We learn from food festivals here and abroad. We exchange ideas with local and foreign chefs. We acquire knowledge from readings. And, of course, we endeavor to dine at the best restaurants to learn from them as well.”

But there is a true-life anecdote that also accounts for Via Mare’s emphasis on giving Filipino cuisine a lift. When then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos returned from the Cancun Summit in Mexico in 1981, she told Barretto what she had witnessed: how Mexican, not Western, food was served to the world’s leaders and guests. From then on, “Mrs. Marcos decided that state dinners would showcase Filipino food, but elegantly and with refined flavors,” the book stated.

Glenda Rosales Barretto, Via Mare’s moving force

To enter the catering business was not in Via Mare’s plans until it had to do the job for the silver wedding anniversary of Vicente Lim Jr. and his wife Nita Fernandez. Mrs. Marcos was present in that party. Right away she expressed her desire to have the restaurant cater a state dinner for then US President Gerald Ford. Barretto’s concern was not Via Mare’s capability but that her restaurant did not have enough silver, glassware and plates. Mrs. Marcos solved the problem, ordering her home stylist Ronnie Laing to buy what Via Mare needed.

The other international guests served through the years included Princesses Margaret and Anne of Great Britain, Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji of China, President Kim Dae Jung of Korea, economic leaders of the ASEAN Summit, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or APEC, among a lengthy list.

At one time, Via Mare was contracted by Hennessy, the cognac company, for an anniversary dinner to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2015. In the book’s narration, “the dinner menu was crafted in France, the recipes sent to the restaurant” for execution as modern haute cuisine. The menu included mussels cream soup infused with saffron, smoked salmon topped with cocoa, crab soufflé with zesty lemon, foie gras on jellied consommé, grilled wagyu with cognac and celeriac.”

The dessert was “a sorbet encased in a petal-like structure made of chocolate which opened up when hot chocolate was poured on it.” The recipe for this last masterpiece is included.

Restaurant habitués included Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo and wife Beth Day Romulo. Barretto kept his gracious thank-you letters that praised her for mastering “the art of Filipino cuisine because each item revealed your gentle touch and your keen knowledge.”

In another handwritten letter, Romulo expressed appreciation for her attention to detail, her “time and effort to help us make our parties the success that they were…It is personal interest that transcends the limits of complying with a duty to a customer.”

That attention to detail extended to “the fabled Czech amber crystals used at Via Mare’s very first catering.” The aesthete in Romulo got so impressed that “he requested that henceforth those crystals be used only for his functions.”

Barretto is convinced that more than the accolades and the national and world recognition, the backbone of Via Mare, a Latin phrase to mean “the way of the sea,” are the people. An eighth of the book is devoted to the employees. Some have been there since the restaurant’s founding in 1975. Notable is Marquez “Mother” Reyes for his “keen eye for design, observing and meticulously noting the preferences of clients and how hotels and other restaurants do their settings.”

Another is Dalia Zamora who made Via Mare’s pride—bibingka and puto bumbong. Manang Dal was said not to have used any equipment to measure the quantity of her ingredients but just relied on the lines of the palm of her hand. From there she could intuit the best variety of rice for her rice cakes.

Via Mare: 40 Years of Iconic Events Through Menus, Recipes, and Memoriesought to be in the libraries of colleges and universities that boast of hotel and restaurant management programs. But more than these, it should have pride of place in every Pinoy home.--Elizabeth Lolarga

Via Mare’s famous pairing of pancit luglug and puto bumbong

This article first appeared in the Jan. 5, 2017, issue of