An appeal to ‘Forbes’ tycoons; The amazing UST singers

Rosalinda L. Orosa

Rosalinda L. Orosa

AT least two major dailies conspicuously published the Forbes’ list of Asia’s richest tycoons—the Sy, Zobel and Aboitiz families. A million pesos from each family would be a mere drop in the bucket, yet it would go a long way toward refurbishing the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

To begin with, its carpets are so old, so dilapidated and wrinkled, they are a risk to the safety of the theater-goers who could trip over the antique furnishings.

Music and art lovers will eternally be grateful for the tycoons’ noblesse oblige and to the other wealthy, civic-minded, potential donors who will help finance the country’s premier exhibition hall and performance venue.

The UST Singers’ concert at the CCP theater was fittingly titled A Joyful Noise, the songs, particularly in Part I, sounding like a not-so-joyful “noise” to devotees of classic and romantic music.

Founded in 1992 by Fidel Calalang Jr.—pianist, choral conductor, arranger who has served as juror in international competitions, and conducted famous foreign choral groups—the UST Singers has garnered various national and international awards, and was named twice “Choir of the World” (1995 and 2010) in the oldest vocal tilt held annually in Wales, U.K.

Listening to the group, one quickly understood why it has achieved incomparable distinctions.

Under Calalang’s rigorous, unrelenting direction, the UST Singers manifested incredible discipline, cohesion, precision, the clearest articulation, and the widest range of dynamics ever expressed by a choir.

Part I consisted mostly of contemporary selections heralding an incredible and admirable variety of inflections: the second song Vi Adora (I Adore) by Manolo da Rold (b. 1976) began pianissimo, then very slowly increased in volume, and just as gradually returned to pianissimo strains.

The pieces were replete with dissonances, discords, atonalities, exclamatory staccato words and phrases, marked by arresting accents or pauses. All these offered a veritable challenge to any seasoned choir and the 31-member UST Singers amazed the audience with its impeccable fluency, and amazed even more by performing throughout without scores.

The native songs in Part II, by contrast, were lyrical and melodious, with Calalang on the piano as assisting artist. Abrupt accents and pauses were absent. Just as much as in the preceding part, the renditions were enriched by slow or brisk movements, as quirky, jerky and energetic as those in Rock and Roll, with hand-clapping—the audience joining this—foot-stamping, and swift changes of line formations. What an agile ensemble!
Auditory pleasure or surprise was enhanced by the visual: the women’s eye-catching, glittering gowns in black and later in dazzling red.

CCP President and UST Conservatory dean Dr. Raul Sunico delivered opening remarks pointing up the significance of the concert presented by the country’s oldest educational institution.

I was misinformed regarding the time of the UST Orchestra concert; thus when I arrived at the theater, the usher told me the ensemble was ending its last piece. I missed the performance of one of our country’s leading ensembles.

Chino’s loss in German tilt was a triumph of his spirit
A letter from Belinda Olivares-Cunanan, avid supporter of violin virtuoso Chino Gutierrez, bears the most incredible news I have heard in decades, namely, that Chino did not win in the recent Joachim International Violin Concert in Hannover, Germany. Over 200 “exceptionally gifted” violinists from all over the world had auditioned, and Chino was the only Filipino among 39 who had qualified to compete.

Before Chino left for Germany, I heard his private recital at the residence of the German Ambassador Thomas Ossowski. I was so overwhelmed by Chino’s performance it led me to assume that he was another Paganini-in-the-making. I was told later that Mr. Ossowski, by coincidence, had also likened Chino to the legendary violinist.

Chino’s failure to qualify among the 12 finalists was met with disbelief by various observers, including those who watched the live-stream broadcasts.
Herewith are excerpts of Chino’s email to Belinda, sent after the tilt:

“My first round on Tuesday, Sept. 29 included the Bach Chaconne, Yssaye Sonata No.6, and the compulsory Joseph Joachim Romanze. That went without a hitch. In the second round on Thursday, October 1. I did the Beethoven Sonata No.1 and the Wieniawski Variations on an Original Theme, with my pianist Rohan de Silva. I am exceedingly happy and proud of that round, the Beethoven Sonata highlighted one’s sensitivity as an artist in the context of playing chamber music, and I think Rohan and I had perfect rapport throughout. That’s perhaps why Tita Rose (Panlilio) fell in love with it and was moved to tears.

“As for the Wieniawski, I was very happy with how it turned out. This particular piece of Wieniawski has an extremely high level of difficulty, loaded with potential technical pitfalls. Playing it is much like traversing—or running through—a minefield at top speed, yet graceful and lyrical while doing it. My Mom was up in the balcony, calling on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Mary, Undoer of Knots, to grant me perfect notes. Her prayers were granted, as all my notes and grand leaps on the finger board were spot on from beginning to end. It was a performance to remember, and I’m happy I have something like that recorded for posterity.

“Still, my Mom and I kept telling ourselves not to expect anything. So when the announcement of the semifinalists came and my name was not mentioned, I did not feel devastated. I knew I had given a performance that was hard to beat. That, to me, mattered most. I was able to test my mettle alongside other fantastically gifted violinists, and discovered that I could hold my own. I felt that I was being taken very seriously, and that I was on par with all the others. But once we enter a competition, we are fully aware of the subjective nature of judging. I accept that as a given: it all boils down to the judges’ taste.

“I want to thank all who kept me in their prayers. I’m sure the Lord heard your prayers—my bow didn’t slip, my fingers landed in all the right places, I didn’t forget my notes, I didn’t make a fool of myself on stage and embarrass my country. However, the Lord, in His goodness, knows that despite all my efforts, this is not yet the time for me to win a prize. I am willing to wait and work even harder for that day to come. The journey goes on.

“God bless Ms Offie Bakker and Lyn Gamboa for coming up with the idea of raising funds for a new violin for me. I find it very exciting. One cannot stress enough the importance of a good instrument in international competitions. Iba talaga ang tunog ng fine instruments. Dagdag puntos din. I hope and pray that something comes out of their campaign, and that I can have a better violin in time for other competitions.”

To the letter, Belinda adds:

“Mabuhay ka, Chino Gutierrez, as the first Filipino to participate in this toughest of violin competitions in Germany and perhaps one of the world’s toughest. You held the flag high for your country by playing with all the tough notes ‘hitting on spot.’ Your indomitable will to prevail over a setback and seek to try again is a model and inspiration not only for our Filipino youth, but also for all of us your compatriots. God bless you—and YES, LET’S FIND WAYS TO GET YOU A SUPERIOR VIOLIN.”


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