By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – It was a perfect moonlit night to remember. Pianist Cecile Licad, violinist Diomedes Saraza, and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) under the baton of Maestro Olivier Ochanine were a class act at the Carnegie Hall on June 18. They filled the hearts of spectators in the enormous Isaac Stern Auditorium with joy and pride with their classic and folk symphony.
The PPO, the leading professional orchestra in the Philippines, debuted at the Carnegie in celebration of the 118th anniversary of Philippine Independence. The full ensemble, all 90 professional musicians, flew in from the Philippines through PAL, the official carrier for the event put together by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
World-renowned pianist Licad had four standing ovations that night. Her fuchsia silk gown added to her vibrance as she astounded the audience with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. She was a sight to behold each time she swayed in grace for a sweet, soft tune. And she could suspend an audience’s breath when her fingers rage on the keys for a stormy tempo. She and the PPO created perfect music.
Licad, coming from a family of musicians, is the first Asian to have been awarded the coveted Leventritt Gold Medal as a consummate pianist. Her mother, Rosario Buencamino Licad, had said that she already shown love for the piano at a young age. Her genius melded with precision with the masterful direction of Maestro Ochanine.
Paris-born Ochanine, the youngest musical director of the PPO since 2010, was in full and graceful command of his orchestra. He welcomed the crowd, mostly Filipinos who filled up the auditorium to the topmost tier, “Thank you for sharing with us a night of history.”
The rendition of Lupang Hinirang to begin the evening was the first to send in goosebumps – because it was innately splendid and the acoustics was exquisite that one perfectly hears every chord that is struck. The PPO rendered a Dmitri Shostakovich masterpiece, Festive Overture, Op. 96 to promptly open the repertory – fast-paced, fun, and triumphant.
The entire performance honored Redentor Romero, the first international conductor of the Philippines, through ‘Philippine Portraits’ which portrayed various ethnic cultures. Folk songs Dandasoy and Pamulinawen played by a full orchestra were magnificent and brought smiles to nostalgic Filipinos.
Violinist Diomedes Saraza wowed the audience with his performance of Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. This multi-awarded virtuoso started his violin lessons at the age of 5 at the St. Scholastica’s School of Music in Manila. He is currently based in New York to pursue his studies in violin at the Mannes The New School Preparatory Division.
Broadway actor and director Miguel Braganza was all praises for the concert, “wonderful, magnificent,” he remarked. Businesswoman and political leader Loida Nicolas Lewis said she was happy with the presence of so many people that night. “It is impressive. We filled the Carnegie.”
The love song Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal (Ernani Cuenco – composer, Levi Celerio – lyricist) closed the concert, performed so sweetly on string and wind. The audience applauded in glee and appreciation, in a manner that they never wanted the music to stop. (Photos by Emil Jun Rapada and Olivier Ochanine)