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A poem for Cecile Licad from National Artist for Literature

Even as the good reviews are pouring in from both audience and cultural cognoscenti, National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario did a unique tribute to Cecile Licad with a poem after the pianist’s landmark performance at the Manila Metropolitan Theater March 19.

Mar 30, 2024

Pablo A. Tariman


6-minute read

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Cecile Licad with PPO music director Grzegorz Nowak. Perfect partnership between soloist and conductor in a long, long time.

Even as the good reviews are pouring in from both audience and cultural cognoscenti, National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario did a unique tribute to Cecile Licad with a poem after the pianist’s landmark performance at the Manila Metropolitan Theater March 19.

Poet Almario compared Licad to a high priestess of music (babaylan) capable of communicating with both the spirit of the living and the dead.

Intoned Almario in the initial first few lines:

“Pagdapò ng mga daliri mo

Sa garing na mga teklado

Para kang babaylan, maharlika at nakaluksa,

Nang sapìan ng mga mahal na diwata

Sa gitna ng sambulwagang pananabik

Kay Tchaikovsky at sa paligid

Ng katutubòng prutas ni Arellano.

At nanginginig, kumikisay ang buong katawan,

Pinasambulat mo ang dibdib ng piyano

Upang maging instrumento

Ng iyong sinapìang kalooban.


Nabubuksan ang bawat teklado, tíla talulot

Na bumubukad at humahandog

Sa biyaya ng iyong mga kamay…

National Artist Virgilio Almario with CCP board of trustees head Jaime C. Laya, Deanna Ongpin-Recto and Mav Rufino.

Almario’s poem was shared by music loving netizens and elicited revealing comments. “Poetry (in praise of musician) when written in Filipino is really beautiful,” said piano student Laarni Dawn Ilan who has seen all Licad performances in Metro Manila in the last ten years.

Pianist Harold Galang said the Almario poem was great with its equally good content.    Theater actor and director Alexlander Cortez commented in Pilipino: “Papuring walang kahalintulad at kapantay! Maraming salamat sa  iyong panulat ng pagpaparangal!”

Netizen Hurlan R. Remo said the Almario poem was “an ode to Licad’s shamanic playing” and added: “The poem is very melodic. Ang sumulat ay isang tunay na makata!”

From Reubel R. Uy: “Tunay kang Diwata sa aming musikero Cecile Licad!”

Licad said she was moved by Almario’s tribute poem: “I am deeply honored for this great appreciation for my performance especially that it was written in real Tagalog that I grew up with. I love this language when it’s spoken and written in its great tradition. I want to meet this wonderful artist who I know is an icon in Philippine literature.”

Cecile Licad with Rustan’s CEO and President Anton Tantico Huang. Concert was fitting tribute to his mother, Nedy Tantoco who is past president of the PPO Society Inc

Meanwhile concertgoers are wondering why Licad has not been proclaimed National Artist for Music whose achievements in the national and international music scene is almost legendary.

Feminist and political activist Princess Nemenzo raved over the live performance and became ecstatic when she received a video copy of the entire Met performance.

She told an equally entranced music lover: “I listened rapturously once again to Cecile Licad’s powerful performance! She should be a National Artist! She has represented Filipino artistry and excellence over decades on the world stage, until the present, and manifested as well Filipino women’s capacity for achieving their best.”

Dulce Natividad, a teacher and feminist activist and medical anthropologist and post-doctoral fellow at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, looked up to Nemenzo as both mentor, friend and colleague.

She came to know Nemenzo when she worked for WomanHealth as a staff for the 6th International Women and Health Meeting (IWHM).

She recalled in an article: “For almost 10 years, Princess (Nemenzo) shared with me, in detail and lengthily, what she knew, and I listened and wrote things down. She has a strong historical sense and can say how things happened the way they did and why things are the way they are now. She has a long memory – and that helps in giving people she works with a perspective on things.”

“Although Princess is political, she never allowed the ideological to determine her behavior. One of the things I learned from her is to be open to everyone, regardless of their political orientation. That openness also spilled into other aspects of her life. She is open to learning new things and is honest about the things she knows little about. This attitude allows her to get excited about the smallest discoveries,” added Natividad.

Meanwhile, Almario’s poem also elicited feedback from Licad fans overseas.

Visual artist Remigio David, who is based in Europe, said:” I am a big fan. She dares the most difficult pieces with her superb training and confident musical maturity. I love her harmoniously balanced approach to Chopin and Schumann concerti. I am privileged to have witnessed her outstanding performances in Europe and the USA. Her keyboard playing is recognizable by her stark dynamic contrasts that do not sacrifice tonal quality.”

Licad was instant national celebrity as piano prodigy when she made her orchestral debut at the Philamlife Theater at age 7 in 1969.

Licad who turns 63 on May 11 recalled she has been playing the piano for 60 years. “I must have absorbed music since age three listening to the piano lessons of my mother while I was playing under the piano. After that, I was guest in school programs and played for my relatives’ birthday parties before my Philamlife debut at age 7.”

After that 1969 orchestral debut, National Artist for Music Antonino Buenaventura said. “Prodigies like Cecile Licad come only once in 100 years.”

Licad who won the historic Grand Prix Du Disque (orchestra category) for her Chopin No. 2 recording with Andre Previn and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985 is recipient of the Presidential Medal of Merit under President Corazon C. Aquino in 1991 and the Presidential Award Pamana ng Pilipino citation from President Benigno Aquino III in 2014.

The pianist is the first Filipino to receive the Leventritt Gold Medal in New York, the same award that went to piano icons Van Cliburn and Gary Graffman

The ultimate tribute for Licad came from the new music director of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

Maestro Grzegorz Nowak: “She’s a brilliant pianist with perfect technique and command of the instrument, as well as a passionate musician whose interpretations move the orchestra and the audience. Our orchestra eagerly and enthusiastically joined her deeply profound interpretation of this masterwork. We look forward to performing with her and to participate in her musical creations as often as possible.”

The  Women’s Month Invitational Concert last March 19 was spearheaded by Sen. Loren Legarda, the NCCA, CCP and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra Society Inc.

We are reproducing the poem of National Artist for LiteratureVirgilio Almario in full:

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