Arts & Culture

The evolution of Filipino violinists through the years

Jeanne Marquez. To Walt Disney Concert Hall after Manila concerts.

When 18-year old Jeanne Marquez performs in Iloilo, Nueva Ecija and Manila this month and later guesting with the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, she will surely bring back cherished memories of distinguished violinists in the country.

She is performing the Mendelssohn concerto in three outreach destinations with pianist Gabriel Allan Paguirigan playing the orchestra part.

In 1948, violin icon Yehudi Menuhin performed the same concerto with the Manila Symphony Orchestra at the UST Gymnasium under the baton of Bernardino Custodio.

Violin legend Yehudi Menuhin (third from right) in Manila in 1948 with Maestra Mercedes Matias Santiago and other music teachers from UST.

Among those who watched that 1948 concert was violinist Redentor Romero.

For the record, it was Romero who brought violin greats in the country among them Gidon Kremer, Leonid Kogan and Vladimir Spivakov, among others.

A member of the class of 1950 at the UP College of Music, Romero was the first Filipino to conduct the Moscow Symphony, the London Philharmonic and the Beijing Philharmonic, among others.

Two of Romero’s violin teachers – Ernesto Vallejo (b. 1909) and Bonifacio Abdon (b. 1876) along with one Juan Asprec belonged to the first generation of Filipino violinists who enlivened Manila’s music scene at the turn of the 20th century.

Along with Vallejo and Abdon, there was Ramon Corpus (b. 1893) who premiered the Beethoven D Major concerto in the 1920s.

Of this batch, Vallejo was the virtuoso of the first order. He impressed no less than the Russian violin icon Mischa Ellman who visited Manila in 1921. Upon hearing the young Vallejo, Ellman recommended that the Filipino violin prodigy study abroad.

In New York, two of Vallejo’s teachers were Franz Keisel and Sascha Jacobsen who were also concertmasters of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Vallejo’s American education was capped by debut recital at New York’s Town Hall on March 14, 1929.

He is also the first to give command performance for then US President Calvin Coolidge at the White House and for Gen.  Douglas MacArthur with whom he stayed for two weeks in the latter’s Stotsenberg Estate in Philadelphia.

If Vallejo was able to study music in New York and Corpus attended schools in Boston and London, Luis Valencia (b. 1913) finished his post-graduate studies at the Vienna Academy of Music in the mid-30s after finishing college at the UP College of Music. He was soloist of the MSO under Alexander Lippay in Bach’s E Major Concerto, Brahms’ D Major and Paganini’s D Major Concerto.

He founded the CCP orchestra now known as the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

Valencia died in 1982 and produced two outstanding pupils, Carmencita Lozada (b. 1938) and Julian Quirit (b. 1949). Lozada from Pasig won one of the major prizes in two editions of the Paganini Competition in Italy while Quirit turned to conducting later in his musical life.

A new generation of Filipino violinists emerged in the 1940s namely Sergio Esmilla, Jr., Basilio Manalo, Redentor Romero, Gilopez Kabayao and Oscar Yatco. 

Romero recalled it was at the Manila Metropolitan Theater where he saw the film, And They Shall Have Music starring the violin legend Jascha Heifetz.

It was upon seeing the Heifetz film that his casual interest to go to America turned into an obsession. “Heifetz’s music, violin wizardry and technical perfection were enough to inspire me to a music career for the rest of my life,” Romero recalled in his autobiography, An American Affair.

In the late 40s, Yatco, Manalo and Esmilla, Jr. proceeded to the Juilliard School at which time Kabayao also debuted at the Carnegie Hall.

Joseph Esmilla performing in Zamboanga City with upright piano.

In the 80s and the 90s, a new generation of violinists emerged: Joseph Esmilla (son of Sergio Esmilla, Jr.), Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata and Hector Corpus (grandsons of Ramon Corpus), Arturo Molina, Donnie Fernandez and Rodel Flores.

Esmilla also studied at the Juilliard under Felix Galimir and at the Mannes School of Music where he won the school’s concerto competition.

Molina studied in Moscow for a year before moving to the Conservatory of Kiev where he studied under Alexander Yegorov, a protégé of David Oistrak.

Among Bolipata’s mentors abroad where Jascha Brodsky at the New School of Music in Philadelphia and Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School.

The only woman in the batch was Donnie Fernandez who also studied at Juilliard under Joseph Fuchs and at the Mannes School of Music under Galimir.

By coincidence, Marquez who will perform in Iloilo, Nueva Ecija and Manila is also Juilliard bound after finishing her pre-school at the Colburn School of Music in LA with flying colors. 

One of his teachers, Diomedes Saraza, Jr.  (concertmaster of the MSO) is also a graduate of the Juilliard School.

Another prizewinner in her batch is Emanuel John Villarin from the Philippine High School for the Arts. He recently won a scholarship at the Mozarteum University Salzburg and Academy of Music Hanns Eisler Berlin.

A phenomenon is the largely self-taught Misha Romano from Dipolog City. He won first prize in one edition of the National Music Competition for Young Artists after playing the Mendelssohn concerto.

As you can see, major violin talents abound in the Philippines at the turn of the century to the new millennium.

Their talents were shared with music lovers in the provinces in various outreach concerts organized by the author.  Joseph Esmilla has been to Zamboanga, Bacolod and Antipolo.

The late Donnie Fernandez — a former member of the Jacksonville Symphony — has played has played Saint Saens and Beethoven in Catanduanes.

Phenomenal violin talents will be shared anew as Marquez performs at the University of the Philippines Visayas in Iloilo City (July 26), Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija on August 2 and at the Manila Pianos at the Magallanes Village in Makati August 4 with pianist Gabriel Allan Paguirigan.

As violin icon Yehudi Menuhin once said, “I can only think of music as something inherent in every human being – a birthright. Music coordinates mind, body and spirit.”

(Concerts of Jeanne Marquez with pianist Gabriel Allan Paguirigan were made possible by the Office of Initiatives University of the Philippines Visayas, the Manila Pianos, Richmonde Hotel Iloilo and LGU Science City of Munoz under Vice-Mayor Nestor Alvarez.     For inquiries, text 09065104270.)