• Vintage orchestra finds a new home

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    Ma. Isabel Ongpin

    THE Manila Symphony Orchestra announced a few weeks ago before performing a mostly Brahms concert and the world premiere of a Philippine composition (“Suite for Simoun” by Jay Baldemor) at the Maybank Auditorium, in Bonifacio Global City, that it had found a new home.

    The MSO is Manila’s oldest existing orchestra, founded in 1926 by the Viennese conductor, Alexander Lippay and supported by all segments of Manila society. It is also considered to be one of the first professional orchestras in Asia. It has developed over the years (this is its 91st year) an audience of many longtime Manila families and institutions like schools and businesses, who have supported it one way or another through the years. Prominent among these families are the Legardas. Trinidad Fernandez Legarda was its president for 25 years. Before that and until today, the Legardas have been leading supporters and members of the clan a permanent audience. The Manila Symphony Orchestra has also never received a subsidy from government. It has had the experience of playing for distinguished foreign artists like Montserrat Caballe, Eugene Istomin and conductors like Andre Kostelanetz, Arthur Fiedler and Helen Quach and of course the whole spectrum of home-grown, talented and accomplished Philippine artists, past and present. In one way or another they have passed through the Manila Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra has also gone everywhere, including provincial towns, hospitals, malls, museums, restaurants, private homes and public buildings bringing music to the nation.

    The orchestra may now have a new and formally appointed home at the Maybank Auditorium, but that is not to say that it was homeless (except during World War 2 where it deliberately disbanded as an act of protest against the Japanese invasion). After the war its permanent home was eventually the Philamlife Auditorium on United Nations Avenue, Ermita, Manila. Before that, it was a welcome visitor or regular user of many of the existing concert halls or public venues of Manila. But with the demolition of the Philamlife Building about three years ago where it had been for decades, it felt like the MSO lost a home. It does have its regular appearances at the Ayala Museum Rush Hour Concerts, its regular season of concerts in disparate places like the Circuit Makati, the CCP Little Theater, the Meralco Theater, St. Scholatica’s Auditorium and various other venues.

    The Manila Symphony Orchestra really came into its own distinctive standing and secured a place in the hearts of Manila’s music lovers with the compelling personality of its conductor of many years (in the postwar decades and after), Herbert Zipper. A survivor of German concentration camps, he came to this country and built up the fame of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, gathering artists, philanthropists, institutions and regular patrons to support it.

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    It has always had an outreach program. Many schools regularly hosted the orchestra, giving their students a musical experience that bore fruit in that many of them developed an interest in classical music or in learning to play a musical instrument.

    This 60-member orchestra has performed with many local and foreign artists. It also runs an academy of music that trains musicians and music students to raise the level of their artistry. Its current conductor, Professor Arturo Molina, a veteran musicologist, has followed tradition. At the recent Brahms concert, it had a guest conductor, Christoph Poppen, also a veteran conductor and teacher who has visited here many times, conducting master classes.

    Last year at the Meralco Theater, the Manila Symphony Orchestra performed a Mahler concert with a hundred-voice chorale that included choral groups from Japan.

    All in all, the Manila Symphony Orchestra is a classical music entity, that always has room for something new to try for the first time or to bring into its performances aside from its classical repertoire.

    The Maybank Auditorium at Bonifacio Global City, now its designated permanent home, is a compact theater with good acoustics and designed to foster a close interaction between the audience and the stage. It is new, well-designed and felicitously located in a dynamic part of Metro Manila.

    At its most recent performance, where mostly Brahms works were played, the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with soloist, Ingrid Santamaria, was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Benito Legarda, Jr.’s (the son of Trinidad Fernandez Legarda) late wife, Dr. Angelita Ganzon Legarda, a well-known pediatrician with years of practice, a beads hobbyist, art aficionado, and a leading campaigner for Benigno Aquino 3rd’s presidential run. Margarita Juico, her good friend, gave a touching eulogy extolling the warmth and generosity of her friend, her leadership qualities and humanitarian virtues.

    Indeed, the Manila Symphony Orchestra is so much a part of Manila, partaking and paralleling the lives of its residents. On May 9, 1945, after a hiatus of four years during the Japanese Occupation—when it effectively disbanded in protest despite requests and even orders to come together—it played Manila’s first postwar concert in the open air among the ruins of Sta. Cruz Church in Manila. Its audience consisted of Filipino and American soldiers who had just taken part in the Battle for Manila, surviving residents of Manila, music lovers, passersby and in effect the whole country as it awoke to freedom and music again.

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