For 200 years, the people of Las Piñas have been blessed with the glorious sound of what is renowned not only as the Philippines’ but also as the world’s only bamboo organ.
Built from 1816 to 1824 by Fray Diego Cera, the first parish priest of Las Piñas, the bamboo organ tells a lot about the history of the city and heritage of its residents.
This is why over the last four decades, the Bamboo Organ Foundation Inc. (BOFI) has tirelessly staged this annual music festival to honor the truly important Filipino instrument, following its return from a successful restoration project in Bonn, Germany.
Since then, the 200-year-old bamboo organ has been sharing its unique sound to the rest of the country and people from different parts of the world who come to Las Piñas to see it and hear it in all its majesty.
This year, the 41st International Bamboo Festival (IBOF) is slated from February 18 to 24 and key persons behind the foundation have prepared an exciting line-up of performances by carefully selected guests.
Armando Salarza, the titular organist of the bamboo organ, Eudenice Palaruan, composer and resident conductor, and Fr. Leo Renier, IBOF founder and executive director, led a press conference at The Manila Hotel where they imparted what festival goers must watch out for at the weeklong celebration, and most importantly why Filipinos must appreciate the bamboo organ.
Role of the youth
Salarza, who also serves as festival director, excitedly told The Manila Times about a first for the festival this year, via the Bamboo Organ Composition Contest.
Open Filipino music students, only five finalists were selected by an Austrian panel of judges to compete for the grand prize. The winner will be announced at the festival, where his or her winning composition will also have its debut performance.
As the official bamboo organist, it is important for Salarza to engage the youth in both playing the bamboo organ, and composing music for the grand instrument, in order to pass on the torch to the next generation.
“It is my way of giving back,” said Salarza who studied at the University of Music and the Performing Arts in Graz, Austria as the first ever scholar of the foundation.
He continued, “Ever since I returned from Europe, I made it my mission to teach not only in Las Piñas but also in other colleges, parishes and workshops.”
For his part, Palaruan who had been performing and conducting for the festival since the beginning, shared the musical aspects of this year’s festival.
From February 19 to 24, bamboo pipes, and the pan flute, piccolo and violin will have solos with the bamboo organ in different settings, among them in two concertos by Vivaldi.
Choral music on these days, Palaruan added, will be old English baroque like “Magnificant” by Durante, and “Motet Jesu Meine Freude” by JS Bach. He was also excited about the popular yet liturgical music by Ariel Ramirez called the “Misa Criolla,” to be performed by the Villancico Vocal Ensemble.
As its conductor, Palaruan dubbed Villancico as an academic choir composed of seasoned choristers and conductors. It has been actively performing at the festival in the past three years.
Finally, Palaruan has also written a commemorative composition called “Cañas” for the repeat concerts.
“Caña, an old name for reed or bamboo, was what Fray Diego Cera was called by his people during his time,” he said as a trivia.
IBOF will also be infused with contemporary music with the “Concert Under the Trees” slated on February 20 at the inner courtyard of the St. Joseph Parish. During the first part of the concert, the UP Jazz Ensemble perform with foreign guests, to be followed by performances by the country’s Bossa Nova Queen Sitti, and The Voice of the Philippines season 2 semifinalist Daryl Ong.
Renier, the festival founder, proudly named the international artists set to play for the 41st IBOF. Topping his list is world-renowned pan-flutist Michael Tirabosco of Switzerland.
“Tirabosco is a person with disability, he has no arms but he became the best pan flutist in the world. It has also always been his dream to perform with the bamboo organ because its predecessor is the pan flute,” explained Renier.
Tirabosco will be featured on the night of February 21 with the accompaniment of Salarza at the bamboo organ, and another guest, Jean-Pierre Reboul of France at the piano.
Also invited are Australia-based Chinese organist Jennifer Chou, and Austrian piccolo flutist Ralph Leone.
Locally, the Mirabilia Dei Children’s Choir of Betis, Pampanga will also sing for the festival together with the Las Pinas Boys Choir, which was founded by Fr. Renier in 1969. On the other hand, Mirabilia was founded by Msgr. Greg Canlas who provided Pampanga its own Kapampangan liturgical music.
“Whenever possible, Las Piñas invites one of the country’s outstanding children’s choirs to perform during the festival. We think it is important to expose these young musicians to the sound of the Bamboo Organ at an early age,” shared Fr. Renier.
Both children’s choirs will perform together on February 23.
With plans set, Fr. Renier expressed, “Filipinos say, ‘the Bamboo Organ is ours.’ It is true. There is nothing wrong even if it was made by a Spanish priest because it is part of our history and heritage. And yet, pipe organ music in general is not yet well-known and fully-appreciated by Filipinos. That is why we are inviting Filipinos to come and hear the Bamboo Organ, for the festival is not only for the elite but for everyone.”.