Arts & Culture News

Great music treats in May

The first week of the humid and infernal month of May yielded outstanding performances and great soloists involving two orchestral ensembles and an all-Bach cello recital.

Friday night (May 3) at the  Samsung Theater for Performing Arts in Circuit Makati, the University of the Philippines (UP) Symphony Orchestra under Chino Toledo showcased a unique program of  Wagner (Ride of the Valkyries from “Die Walküre”), Olivier Messiaen (Les Offrandes Oubliées) and Ramon P. Santos’s rarely performed  (Penomenon) capped by Puccini’s Messa di Gloria.

The orchestra rendered a beautiful reading of Messiaen’s Les Offrandes Oubliées and it was the first good sign the orchestra is under good hands.

Tenor Ervin Lumauag and baritone Leslie Diaz in UP Symphony Orchestra’s Messa de Gloria by Puccini. Photo from UPSO Facebook page

But the big most welcome surprise was   Ramon Santos’s Penomenon with Asian sounds blending with Western orchestral dynamics. The interpretation was riveting as it was hauntingly Asian. One supposes that is the essence of the seldom performed works of Ramon Santos who is one of our National Artists for Music.

But the piece de resistance was obviously Puccini’s Messa di Gloria with the UP Symphonic Chorus under Noemi Binag.

The choral sound was fairly good and the tenor soloist, Ervin Lumauag stood out as his voice rose above the symphonic chorus without effort. It is not a well-honed sound from baritone Leslie Diaz but he blended with the chorus beautifully.

On the whole, it was a satisfying concert with excellent programming with sampling from  Wagner, Messiaen, Santos and Puccini.

The UP Symphony Orchestra under Chinto Toledo at Samsung Theater in Circuit Makati. Photo from UPSO Facebook page

From its brochure, we learned that the orchestra was formed in 2018 after a proposal from UP College of Music Dean, Dr. LaVerne de la Peña and Toledo was approved by the UP Board of Regents. Among those who supported the idea of an official university orchestra to encompass the entire UP system is the current UP President Angelo A. Jimenez.

The weekend music treat of the week is no doubt the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Finnish guest conductor Sasha Makila.

MSO cello soloist with conductor Sasha Makila at Samsung Theater. Great rapport. Photo by Willie Aquino.

Danish composer Niels Gade’s Im Hochland (In the Highlands) was a fitting opener and for once, Manila music lovers were treated to aural scenes and moods of Danish highlands.

You get the feel and touch of conductor Sasha Makila as he led the MSO in the rendering of Sibelius’s Symphony No 3 in C Major.

The Sibelius opus is noticeably shorter than most symphonic works and it is in sonata form with three distinct movements.

Like the overture, the third Sibelius symphony evoked images of landscapes this time of Finland known for its snowy fields and lush greenery.

In all the three movements, Makila was in control and certainly knows the work inside and out.  Towards the end, you see Finland at its best symphonic portrait as conducted with vibrant nuances by the composer’s compatriot.

Since the emotionally charged audience wouldn’t let him go just like that, Maestro Makila with the MSO rendered a special encore number — Serenade No. 2 by Alexander Glazunov. The applause was deafening.

Dvorak’s cello concerto featuring soloist Damodar das Castillo came after the luscious Gade overture.

A triumphant Damodar das Castillo with MSO. Vintage Dvorak. Photo by Jeremy Caisip

You know that the concerto has a star soloist the way he dispatched the first movement with sterling details.

The second movement was a showcase of Damodar’s artistry as he limned the slow part with the maturity you seldom see from 16-year old musicians.

There is no doubt that he is a virtuoso cellist but it is in the slow parts that he shone especially in the quiet moments before the finale.

The result was an ecstatic audience rising to its feet to give him a rousing standing ovation in the first part of the concert.

After several curtain calls, Damodar had to oblige with an unknown but equally satisfying encore number: Faye Miravite’s Transcendence for solo cello and voice rendered with such quiet spiritual impetus. The audience roared with approval.

But let the audience speak for themselves.

Sculptor Julie Lluch who is Gawad CCP 2024 Awardee said “a star is born” in Damodar’s performance.        Inquirer columnist Chit Santos wrote it was quite an experience watching the young cellist perform like a super mature musician. “We also enjoyed watching the refined and handsome Finnish conductor Sacha Makila.”

“Mesmerizing!” was how piano mentor Willie Aquino described the soloist’s performance. Lawyer and once upon a time a cello aficionado Sarah Sison remarked: “The Dvorak concerto performed by cellist Damodar Das Castillo with the Manila Symphony Orchestra and Finnish conductor Sasha Makila was exceptionally beautiful and moving!”

And thus ended first week of May with superb music treat for everyone.

The good news is that after his acclaimed engagement with MSO, Damodar will have chamber music engagements at the Manila Pianos Showroom on Saturday, May 25, 2024, 7 p.m. The other featured artists are pianist Mariel Ilusorio and violinist violinist Sara Maria Gonzales.

The program consists of Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65 and Piano Trio in G Minor Op. 8.

 (Tickets prices for May 25 Manila Pianos Chamber Music: Premier Seats: Php 1,500; Senior Php 1,200; Regular: Php 1,200; Senior Php 960.  To reserve tickets, Text 09065104270 or email: (7) 576 31 32.)