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Symphony in the mall

/ 12:09 AM October 05, 2016

LAST SUNDAY I was in the Solenad mall in Nuvali, Laguna, when I stopped dead on my track. Was that a symphonic orchestra I was hearing?

Was I hallucinating, I thought? The piece was a popular love song, but I was sure it was a symphonic orchestra, a live one at that and not canned music.

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The music became louder as I approached a large tent and, lo and behold, there was the symphonic orchestra.

I was alone, rushing to pick up my kids in another section of the mall but I paused to listen, enjoying myself for a few minutes before running off to get the kids and bring them back. They stood there enraptured, as was the rest of the audience. There must have been at least a hundred people, of all ages, watching.

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I have friends who are pop singers, and they tell me Filipinos are madamot (stingy) when it comes to applause. But this audience was very appreciative. Not only that, they were attentive, staying seated—it was full house, with the chairs provided, so others milled around but did not leave. They were quiet, too, at least more quiet than during mall Masses.

Something’s going on here, I observed with elation.

For years now, I’ve wondered if classical music performing groups had any chance in the Philippines. There have been encouraging signs that there’s a fighting chance, what with the work of the Bolipatas brothers in Zambales, getting low-income kids to learn classical musical instruments and to perform as part of an orchestra. I can also brag about UP Diliman’s College of Music with dozens of public performances each year.

‘Urbanidad’

Then there’s the Manila Symphonic Orchestra (MSO), who has this super-energetic manager, Carlos Garchitorena, working to raise funds… and getting MSO to perform everywhere.  There is an Ayala connection here with MSO having performed in Ayala Museum and now the Solenad mall in Nuvali, which is an Ayala development.

I moved my kids to Nuvali some years back because several good schools had been set up there. On one hand, I’m happy the kids are growing up in a greener environment with bike trails and nature reserves. But I also feel ambivalent at seeing the entire Sta. Rosa area growing to become too much like Metro Manila, now with traffic jams and subdivisions with terrible street names. Sorry, Ayala, but those names are really the pits (e.g., Vicksburg, which residents call “Big Bird”).

So, yes, an MSO performance is redeeming.  There’s hope for “urbanidad” or cosmopolitanism, an appreciation of the less tangible aspects of a good life.

It’s not a matter of classical music alone; in fact, that Sunday performance was of popular music, and there are snobs who will raise their eyebrows and complain. I’m all in favor of a wide repertoire, to expose people to the wonders of live music—and performed by a large group.

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A symphonic orchestra is a wonder in itself, with dozens of women and men—up to 120 for the large Western orchestras—performing on classical music instruments. There is a conductor to make sure the people play together (although in the Soviet Union, there was a time when they had conductorless symphonic orchestras, part of the Marxist tenet of equality).

The orchestra has a hierarchy, each group of instruments or section having a lead performer. The first violins’ lead is the concertmaster, second in rank after the conductor. There are all kinds of symphonic pieces, all grand, composed to bring out the best of instruments, and performers.

The symphonic orchestras have had difficulties surviving with increasing costs, particularly of the salaries of the members.  There was an amusing American made-for-TV series called “Mozart in the Jungle” capturing the dynamics within symphonic orchestras and between them, their donors and the public.

Heritage

The MSO is part of our heritage, with a genealogy that I can brag about. When Alexander Lippay, an Austrian who loved the Philippines, joined the faculty of the UP College of Music (which was in UP Manila then), he realized there was no symphonic orchestra. So he put up one by inviting the Philippine Constabulary (PC) Band to provide the winds instruments and join forces with the UP Conservatory of Music’s string orchestra. Their first performance was on Jan. 22, 1926, a benefit concert to raise funds for the library of the PC Band.

The PC Band was much older, established in 1902; it has an international reputation, having performed in several international expositions in the United States, and at the inaugural of President William Howard Taft.

The Asociacion Musical de Filipinas, funded by three old Filipino families—Tuason, Valdes and Roces— supported subsequent performances of this hybrid group, and in 1932, they were officially named the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

Last February, the MSO performed in UP Diliman where the College of Music is now housed, and set to celebrate its centenary. In that concert, the MSO performed symphonic pieces composed by Rodolfo Cornejo and Col. Antonino Buenaventura who headed the PC Band for several years after he graduated from UP.

So the MSO is not just the unlikely child of the PC and UP; it came about during an era of urbanidad, of cosmopolitanism.  How much more cosmopolitan can you get than with raising funds for the PC Band—for a library at that, presumably of musical scores.

A public performance of a group like MSO will whet the public’s appetite for more of such performances.  As a parent, I’m hoping this exposure will get younger people interested not just in the music but also in the instruments. With several schools now in the area, especially with St. Scholastica’s strong music programs, I suspect we will have more young people taking up classical instruments.

Might we dare dream of community-based symphonic orchestras, or at least smaller versions like chamber groups?  We’ve seen how chorale groups proliferated in the Philippines, so why not orchestras? There’s even a Filipino American Symphony Orchestra now—based in California.

UP has its own smaller symphonic orchestra, and so does University of Sto. Tomas (UST) and there have been joint performances of the two schools—one was called “No Match.”  Incidentally, UST is now the host for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines or UAAP, taking over from UP in a grand ceremony last month.  Reading about our joint symphonic performances got me thinking, why not a joint athletic team some time?

The MSO returns to Solenad on Nov. 13.  Check the MSO site for schedules of other performances, and how you can help support them.

And to my friends in Ayala, I’m not letting you off the hook yet.  It’s more cosmopolitan, more urbanidad, to have streets named after Filipino composers and musicians, painters, sculptors and other artists rather than after Big Bird.

And might we see MSO in the Ayala shopping centers rented from UP?  (Our music auditorium, Abelardo, is being renovated so we can’t host MSO for now.)

***

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TAGS: classical, Music, opinion, orchestra, symphonic orchestra, symphony
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