Cecile Licad received three standing ovations and bouquets of flowers after her all-Chopin program at the sala of Nelly Garden in Jaro, Iloilo.
Magical music and wondrous magic in Iloilo
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - December 10, 2018 - 12:00am

Being a dedade older than the ever-youthful impresario Pablo Tariman, my memories have a much wider span than his, in a curious sort of way. Certainly not quite an octave more — as I can only recall as far back as 1986 when I first enjoyed the magic of Cecile Licad playing live, at the CCP main theater.

I had impressed my date with a ticket — complimentary, of course, but not yet courtesy of Don Pablo. Why, I even treated her to red wine at Silangan during the intermission. Becoming too immersed in our conversation, we realized only too late that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the theater any more, until perhaps too long a wait.

So that’s how we missed the second half of a Licad concert — a philistinism that had he known about, Don Pablo would not have guffawed, for a change, but struck me out of his list of fellow Pasigeños he’d invite for a second chance at enjoying Licad’s mastery for a full evening.

As twists and turns of fate would have it, I first wound up having an official honeymoon with that lady a year after, in Paris, where… Well, I’m not sure of this now, but was it also the time, or on a second trip, when I found the occasion to wander about Père Lachaise and take pictures of tombstones and gravesites, from boxy to elegant, such as those for Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Frederic Chopin…? I recall the last as among the more graphically memorable.

Two or three decades later, thanks to Señor Tariman’s generous innocence, I would notch another significant memory: watching and listening to Cecile Licad up close, playing a full evening of Chopin, at a distinctively hallowed venue, too.      

Our great pianist had a series of six concerts over the past two weeks, starting at the Manila Polo Club on Nov. 27, and ending at the Gerry Roxas Foundation Auditorium in Roxas City on December 8. Between those, Cecile also played at Nelly Garden in Jaro, the Molo Church and the SM Iloilo City Cinema 6, and the CAP Auditorium in Baquio City.

I had the good fortune of experiencing Licad’s much-vaunted Chopin interpretations at Nelly Garden, billed as the Queen of Iloilo’s Heritage Houses. Formerly known as the Lopez Mansion, it was built in 1928 by Vicente and Elena Lopez, with the lady designing her own dream house. The sala had a 1929 Steinway that Pablo found to still be in good condition, although an expert tuner still had to make sure it would meet Cecile’s standards. The venue had about 150 seats, ensuring intimacy.

So what goes on in a spectator’s heart and head during a Licad concert, especially when she is performing no more than a few meters away? For the 90 minutes that she engaged her instrument of magic, I felt that I underwent spiritual phases: a meditation, a benediction, a communion, and ultimately, virtual hypnosis.

One takes turns in aassigning parameters of delight, first appreciating the visually arresting force and fluidity of her arms, hands and fingers, then closing one’s eyes to confine the sacramemt to purely auditory exultation.

Yet one’s visual memory retains all the attendant vestments of a sacred ritual: her black gown and stilettos with glittering  silver studs, the red pillow on her seat, the large vase stuffed with white lilies and crysanthemums behind her shoulder, the background of a gold and black Chinese lacquer painting with its six vertical panels framing the piano, the wooden columns rising on the edges of walls, and above, the chandelier with six fluted holders of a dozen bulbs — gilding the incandescence of Chopin’s music, Licad’s music, magical music. 

The rest of the evening, and our two-day stay in Iloilo, was a continuing nightcap. Dinner was offered to a score of guests at the fabulous dining room behind the music sala, where red blooms plucked from Nelly Garden highlighted the spaces along the curving, longitudinal table for 20. Red wine and excellent appetizers led to a fine repast.

Had a catch-up session with old buddy Rock Drilon over beers at Mamusa, a new coffeeshop and art gallery at one of the impressive new buildings around a grand rotunda at the center of the Megaworld development adding to Iloilo City’s booming status.

The next morning, it was off with Rock to a beach an hour away for a dose of Vitamin Sea. But we could only last an hour after lunch at a cottage with a small private pool, since we had to lament that it’ll probably take half a century before legislators pass a law banning any kind of sound system at a public beach.

Just as well, as it gave us time for a tour of the city’s heritage highlights as well as fresh atttactions, such as the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, all of three floors with an impressive collection — the ground-floor gallery featuring Nune Alvarado’s works as the initial changing exhibit, and the upper galleries showcasing the marvelous collection of of NY-based banker Edwin Valencia, on loan to the Megaworld art venue. 

Last stop was at the former Prison of Iloilo (circa 1911) that is being turned into the Iloilo and Western Visayas Regional Museum, another commendable effort owing to collaboration between local oficials and officers of the National Museum.

As we stepped out of the second floor that’s been topped by an exquisite glass dome, onto a balcony deck with a view of the Iloilo River, a full rainbow slowly formed right in time for magic hour, framing the river and the half of the city beyond it for yet another classic graphic memory.

However delayed, it must have been the fourth rising ovation to reward Cecile Licad’s Chopin mastery.

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