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Nedy Tantoco’s last concert for Cecile Licad is still happening — as a tribute to the late art patroness | Philstar.com
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Nedy Tantoco’s last concert for Cecile Licad is still happening — as a tribute to the late art patroness

LIFE AND STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star
Nedy Tantocoâs last concert for Cecile Licad is still happening â as a tribute to the late art patroness
From Cecile Licad’s Instagram: “RIP to this great lady who I called ‘Tita Nedy’ and the Action Lady, will be missed by so many whom she has touched so deeply. Absolutely no words to describe her! I will think only of happy times with my very dear friend who inspired me in so many ways.”
Photo from a PHILIPPINE TATLER cover

When you say “last concert,” it implies a bit of sadness, nostalgia and perhaps, surrealism.

But for sure, this is one concert that will make viewers teary-eyed. It is a concert planned by Nedy Tantoco back in September of 2023. It turns out that will be the last concert dreamed of by Nedy for pianist Cecile Licad, whose concerts in Manila she had presented before. And it will become a tribute to Nedy instead, who passed away last Feb. 8. The concert is set for March 19 at the Metropolitan Theater.

How did this dream concert of Nedy become a reality?

During dinners, phone calls and text messages, Nedy talked about details with Sen. Loren Legarda for a possible partnership and support. It became a passion project for the two ladies, who have always been art and culture stalwarts.

“Of course, the idea of a Cecile Licad concert is wonderful,” Legarda says. By January this year, details had been mapped out. Gathering the support of forces in the Philippine cultural scene, Legarda worked for a close partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra Society and her office.

The concert coincides with the celebration of National Women’s Month. “As we celebrate the world-class pianist Cecile Licad, it is also a fitting time for us to honor remarkable and empowered women like Nedy who tirelessly worked to promote Philippine culture and the arts, and provided opportunities for livelihood and growth,” Legarda emphasizes.

Nedy Tantoco was known in the Philippine retail industry as the pioneering leader in luxe retailing, having been chairperson and CEO of Rustan’s and Stores Specialists Inc. Group, where her visionary and astute professionalism was renowned.

But Nedy also was a patroness of the arts, a passion she manifested as trustee of the CCP and president of the Philippine Italian Association for years. Every time Licad came home to Manila for a concert, Nedy took care of everything, from airline travel to concert details. And always, Manila's culturati filled the CCP Main Theater.

Legarda is well known for her projects and advocacies in Philippine art and culture. She made possible the Philippine participation at the Biennale in Venice, Italy, elevating the Philippines in the global sphere of culture.

Two women who have been friends for 40 years, with a shared passion: Nedy Tantoco and Loren Legarda.
Photo from a PHILIPPINE TATLER cover

“Nedy and I have been friends for 40 years,” Loren explains. More like soul sisters with similar passions. “Our conversations were always a source of inspiration for me. She was a kind, thoughtful and generous friend who was loved, admired and respected.”

So generous was Nedy, indeed, that she kindly shared with me opportunities for a deeper appreciation of concerts and operas, and meeting cultural stars up close. The concerts featuring Cecile Licad were precious moments. Most precious was the special concert with only five people in attendance, including former First Lady Imelda Marcos (Licad’s early patroness) and former Ambassador Benny Tantoco, who requested that the nine-foot Hamburg Steinway piano kept in his residence be used by Licad before it would be moved to the CCP for her concert.  Licad played Gottschalk’s Souvenirs d’ Andalousie. This requested concert, Licad explained, “was a favor but also my privilege.”

In an interview in 2017 made possible by Nedy at the Peninsula Manila after a press lunch with Licad, I saw the powerful mystique in Licad.

“Something in music possesses me,” she said. “I become transformed into a crazy bitch. I have been a slave to music since I was a kid.”

Licad said she started playing at age 5 and had her first public concert with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra when she was seven. Her father was a disciplinarian who would wake her up at 4 a.m. to start practicing.

“The piano was my friend. I just grew up with no friends. I had no social life,” sighed Licad then.

Under the patronage of Mrs. Marcos, Licad studied at the Curtis Institute of Music. She has played in countless concerts worldwide and has chalked up many recordings. She was one of the youngest musicians and the first Asian to receive the prestigious Leventritt Competition Gold Medal in 1981.

Cecile Licad and author Millet Mananquil goofing for a photo after a press lunch at Peninsula Manila in 2017, by doing Licad’s habitual manner of scratching her head with both hands to express frustration.

Licad bewails that people think musicians of her caliber lead such wealthy, glamorous lives. “What’s so glamorous about playing the piano early in the morning in your pajamas?”

Memorable concerts she has had plenty of. Including one or two with mishaps the audience may not even have noticed. “Once, I was wearing a Pitoy Moreno gown and I was heavy then. Suddenly a button popped out of my gown, and the maestro was able to catch it.”

Another time, a zipper was going down, and Licad had to skillfully play with her shoulders subtly concealing the wardrobe malfunction.

What did these teach her? That she should perhaps practice playing with the gown she would be wearing for the concert? “Clearly to wear more comfortable clothes for performing.”

Licad said a pianist must also be some sort of athlete. “Your bones must be strong; at the same time, your fingers must look agile, with tenderness and grace.”

This is especially true when playing Chopin, which are difficult pieces. “Why did you play two Chopin concertos with only a 15-minute interval?” Nedy once asked Licad. “Because I was challenged by the conductor Olivier Ochanine,” was her reply.

Of course, she prefers challenging pieces.  I remember I requested Nedy to let Licad play my favorite Chopin pieces from where modern songs like No Other Love and Till the End of Time were derived, but perhaps these were too easy for her, obviously not concert-level. I also look forward to a repeat of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2, which he composed while he was deeply depressed. But I find the 30-plus-minute piece soothing with two modern pop songs inspired by it — All By Myself and Full Moon and Empty Arms.

Soothing is the mood we want to be in when we remember and honor the gentle Nedy Tantoco in the March concert dedicated to her. It will ease our sadness and pain of losing her.

* * *

Follow the author on Instagram and Facebook @milletmartinezmananquil. Email her at mmmananquil@philstarmedia.com and milletman88@gmail.com.

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