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The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra ‘deserves a full hearing’ as it turns 50

MANILA, Philippines — It has been 50 years since the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) debuted. But if there’s something that time hasn’t changed, it is the orchestra’s enduring passion to bring music to every Filipino.

Three years after the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) opened its theaters, a music ensemble was organized to accompany artists performing at what was then the CCP Theater.

That music ensemble was named CCP Orchestra and debuted on May 15, 1973, performing Alfredo S. Buenaventura’s Bathaluman, National Artist Lucrecia Kasilag’s Divertissement for Piano and Orchestra, and other classic pieces.

Pianist Benjamin Tupas, one of our most distinguished pianists, performed with the orchestra under the baton of Prof. Luis Valencia, the first music director, and with Julian Quirit as its first concertmaster. National Artist Kasilag, the then president and artistic director of the center, directed the concert.

On its 1973 souvenir program, former First Lady Imelda R. Marcos enthused that the concert “deserves a full hearing. I highly expect the concert, for it features a varied repertoire that speaks of our cultural heritage from Spain and America and illuminates our rich lode of indigenous music.”

Six years later, they thought a reorganization was needed and asked Maestro Oscar C. Yatco to restructure the orchestra. So, in 1979, the orchestra was reborn with a vision to be among the world’s best and was renamed the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO).

Reminiscing on the orchestra’s performances through its early years, music critic Antonio “Tony” Hila affirmed that the PPO was undeniably at its finest under the baton of Maestro Oscar Yatco, Dr. Francisco Feliciano, and Maestro Billy Manalo.

“Almost all performances were absorbing. It was exciting how the three conductors shared their expertise in honing a dynamic symphonic sound,” said Hila, a PPO orchestra manager in the 1980s.

Looking back at his time as the orchestra manager after the EDSA Revolution in 1986, Hila recalls that the PPO has grown into an ensemble that Filipinos can be truly proud of as it became our icon to the international community.

After the reorganization, the PPO started to translate its vision into reality, journeying through various political and social climates and becoming the nation’s leading orchestra that we know today.

“Having watched it for more than five decades now, it is gratifying to note that the PPO has survived different political climates. The PPO has evolved into a world-class symphony conducted no less by our local conductors but also by leading foreign conductors who had nothing but accolades for the sterling collective capability of our musicians,” shared Hila.

Hila remembered doing outreach programs with the PPO and bringing world-class performances to the grassroots, such as the Sunday performances at the Concert of the Park, after the Friday gala performance at the CCP. In addition, through the CCP outreach programs, the PPO could perform in nearby schools such as the University of the East in Recto and the De La Salle University in Taft, among others.

Fifty years has never been without challenges – the need for new musical instruments, the financial constraints, the political landscape, and inner turmoil. But as they say, with challenges come possibilities.

“The challenge, of course, was more musical. As a result, the PPO became a versatile orchestra whose expertise was not only limited to symphonic music, but widened its repertoire to opera and ballet music. In addition, it has honed its ability to collaborate with leading solo instrumentalists and singers,” said Hila.

The PPO celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gala concert last May 12 at the Metropolitan Theater, its temporary home, recreating its very first concert.

Under the baton of Maestro Rodel Colmenar, the PPO performed the Buenaventura and Kasilag masterpieces, with young pianist and CCP scholar Aidan Ezra Baracol as a guest performer. In addition, critically-acclaimed Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu performed Salut! Demeure e Chaste et Pure! from Faust (Charles Gounod), Che gelida manina from La Boheme (Giacomo Puccini), and Kundiman ng Langit (Augusto Espino).

The anniversary concert culminated with renowned pianist Dr. Raul Sunico playing G. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue under PPO resident conductor Herminigildo Ranera.

Coinciding with the gala concert, the CCP and PPO partnered with Widescope Entertainment to launch “Serenata,” the seven-track album consisting of well-loved Philippine folk songs and melodies from various regions the country, on Spotify.

Initially released in 2014, the album includes Atin Cu Pung Singsing (Kapampangan), Sarung Banggi (Bicolano), Ti Ayat Ti Maysa Nga Ubing (Ilocano), Sampaguita (Original Spanish “La Flor de Manila”), Malinac lay labi (Pangasinense), No Te Vayas De Zamboanga (Chavacano), and Walay Angay (Ilonggo).

National Artist Ryan Cayabyab brought a fresh interpretation to the seven well-loved folk songs without compromising their traditional musical characteristics and making them multi-layered compositions.

The decision to release “Serenata” on Spotify is in line with the CCP’s continuous efforts to awaken the consciousness of Filipinos to Philippine cultural heritage and encourage the development and enhance public interest and appreciation of arts in various fields.

Today, the PPO continues to thrive amid the challenges of time and remains relevant to the cultural life of the Filipino people. “A couple of years before the pandemic, I noted the widening audience, including the students and young adults who came to watch its concert seasons. It was only later that the PPO would be giving encores to an audience that adores its performance. The PPO has gone a long way in its mission of providing world-class performance to our local audience. With the certainty that it had and continues to become an active part of the country’s musical-cultural life, it is a strong component for economic development,” said Hila.

With its expanding platforms, more comprehensive audience range, and sustained passion for music, PPO will undoubtedly achieve all the heights it sets and will have more and more years beyond 50 – marking another legacy.

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Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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