The Pianist’s Pianist: A World-Class Performance

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When the country’s most celebrated pianist, Cecile Licad, teams up with the very talented conductor, Gerard Salonga, you know you’re up for something grand. The event calls for a performance that would satiate and at a bigger scale, invigorate the audience’s appetite for classical music. In the evening of the 29th of June, the spectators of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Nicanor Abelardo Hall got exactly that and more.

The Pianist’s Pianist was a one-night performance highlighting the renowned Filipina pianist Cecile Licad in collaboration with the steadily rising ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Gerard Salonga. Cecile Licad is the Philippines’ gem in classical music. A prodigy from the beginning, she made her debut at the age of 7 as she performed with the University of the East Student Orchestra. She then studied in the Curtis Institute of Music under the tutelage of Rudolf Serkin, Seymour Lipkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowsk. When she was 20, she won the grand prize in the much coveted Leventritt Competition which eventually launched her career as a soloist with the most prestigious orchestras around the world. Now 52 years old, she continues to inspire people all across the world with her sweeping and breathtaking piano techniques that leave every soul enthralled.

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Gerard Salonga, a multi-talented and multi-awarded conductor, graduated summa cum laude in Berklee College of Music in 1998. As an orchestrator, he had worked in major projects of Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. Television Animation before. In the Philippines, he had also won the Aliw Awards for Best Musical Director several times in since 2000. Eventually, this led to his induction to the Aliw Hall of Fame in 2010. He also currently produces and composes for film and television, The Kitchen Musical being part of his recent works. With the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra which was formed on August of last year, he is progressively placing classical/symphonic music in the minds and hearts of Filipinos.

With the combination of these two immutable forces, the entire hall was filled with expectant and exuberant patrons. Despite the gusts and rains caused by the typhoon, people still flocked the witness the concert. As early as 6:00pm, the lobby appeared to be the venue of a majestic social gathering. The place was buzzing with a host of elegantly garbed ladies and gentlemen who eagerly awaited the beginning of the evening’s spectacle.

Starting the evening off was the orchestra’s interpretation of Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont, Op. 84” and Liszt’s “Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo”, masterfully capturing the suspense and shifts, the turbulent upsurge and the creeping sadness in the pieces.

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When Cecile Licad graced the stage to play Liszt’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major S. 124”, a clatter of cheers and applause rang across the hall. As she played the piece, her fingers rampaged and lifted – with grace and vigor passing through in certain intervals. Her stance was similar to that of a possessed woman. Madly brushing through the piano, she made the notes dance, tremble and flow like water, all done with utmost refinement and precision.

Accompanied by the orchestra, Cecile also played Camille Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” and Liszt’s “Totentanz”, two lively pieces playing around the idea of ‘dancing with death’. Addressing the crowd, she expressed her appreciation for the audience. She also specially acknowledged the presence of Former First Lady Imelda Marcos and daughter, Irene Marcos-Araneta, who lent her the piano she used for the evening. The audience gave the performance a lengthy standing ovation and called for an encore (which ultimately happened thrice). A most moving performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Piano Concerto No. 1” (Second Movement) was rendered along with two pieces by Gottschalk that she performed solo.

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The Pianist’s Pianist was a world-class musical experience to relish and devour completely. It is rare for two of our country’s leading forces in classical music to come together to stage a performance of this scale. Being part of it was both a blessing and an honor for me. The pieces played during the evening, although once unfamiliar, had now taken a place in my mind and become a sort of a lurking shadow. The beauty and intensity of the music had imprinted itself in my memory, that until now, even if I close my eyes, I still get glimpses of how the music was played at that time. Even in our country, symphonic/classical music deserves to be explored not just by those who are “cultured” or old. Even the younger generations should get to experience the magic of this kind of music. It is for us to know that we have artists and musicians of this caliber, and we owe it to them to at least open our minds and listen.

Watch out for another thrilling event by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra The Magical Music of Disney on September 28, 2013.

By Sandra Mae Laureano

Photos by Carla Barretto



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