Arts & Culture

When will Mr C’s rousing violin concerto be played again?




CONSIDER yourself lucky if you were one of those who enjoyed The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s 40th anniversary concert last month because it may take some time before you will have the opportunity to listen to Ryan Cayabyab’s violin concerto that premiered that night.

It has something to do with the sad state of classical music in the country. While the young flock to pop and rock concerts and mature audiences favor MOR shows of once popular foreign acts—and there is a busy concert scene in the country—there is very little support for performances of classical music in the country.

For it’s 40th  anniversary, PPO commissioned Cayabyab, arguably the country’s most popular composer, to do a violin and orchestra piece. Mr C, as Cayabyab is more popularly known in local show business, lived up to occasion and crafted a work that was worthy of hearing.

Ryan CayabyabThis was Cayabyab’s first full-fledged classical composition. He admitted that he was stepping out of his comfort zone in writing this piece. He was bringing to the composition all his knowledge from working with orchestras in popular concerts to create a work that was unique. It might not sound like one of his hit tunes—and many in the orchestra were surprised by the ideas that he set forth in the work—but then this is not a three-minute OPM ditty.

The concerto also marked the composer’s coming-of-age as a classical composer. While Mr C is a veteran of stage musicals, he has not written a truly serious piece for orchestra. After more than 40 years of music making, he has finally come full circle, writing a concerto that would secure his place among his peers in the academe. In fact, he acknowledges the influence of all his professors at the UP College of Music, and what a lengthy list it was: Eliseo Pajaro, Lucio San Pedro, Ramon Santos, and Francisco Feliciano.

But what is the piece like? The PPO souvenir program was mum about this; there was not even a little note from the composer. On the night of the concert, all Mr C said was that he wanted the work to speak for itself.

The concerto is in three movements. What melody each movement has is propelled by frenetic writing that literally has violinist Dino Decena playing non-stop for 25 minutes. It is a tour de force performance for any violinist, and not because Decena was challenged by difficult music, but by his continuous playing. The orchestration highlights the violinist’s abilities; often the instrument is exposed, playing solo with barely a whisper of accompaniment from the orchestra. In fact, the piece opens with the violinist playing a capella for a couple of minutes, only to be followed by forceful sounds from the orchestra.

Dino DecenaCayabyab declared that has not been listening to music for a long time now, and for this commission he was not influenced by any of the great concertos in the violin repertoire. But you hear his influences right at the opening, and they are all modern, even European to be exact. There is the night music of Bartók in the first movement with a hint of Killmayer in the ostinato taps on the timpani and Ligeti in the screeching strings and horns. By the second movement, Shostakovich looms greatly in the score, and the counterpoint in the third movement is worthy of the Soviet composer’s frenetic scores. There is a primal sense of energy in the score, a sense of occasion in Filipino indigenous music, the kind of presence Stravinsky aimed for in his “Rites of Spring.”

In the end, it was not so much the similarities to the sound of other composers that mattered in this piece, but the genius that the composer displayed in synthesizing all these disparate elements in a unified work. For that, Mr C receives warm praises from us.

But the fate of this concerto is uncertain. As most commissions go, the performing rights of the piece belong to the PPO and not the composer. If the country’s other orchestras intend to have a go with it, they cannot.

Which brings us to the question: when will we hear this piece played again? Unless the PPO programs it for its next concert season or decides to bring the piece in its scheduled concert tour of the United States, we will not hear it again.

Which is a pity since Cayabyab’s composition deserves another hearing. The work is an important addition to the canon of Filipino compositions for the violin. It will not receive its due by being kept in the PPO’s archives. For music students and violinists alike, hearing and performing the work improves the work’s viability, which is the only tribute any composer expects from having written a work.

Alas! That is the sorry state of classical music in the country.