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Bea Zobel tells a story that begins in Bohol |

Sunday Lifestyle

Bea Zobel tells a story that begins in Bohol


It’s going to be a very beautiful affair!” Mrs. Bea Zobel assured us while having refreshments with daughters Sofia Zobel Elizalde and Bea Zobel Jr. at their lovely home. Beauty and refinement, no doubt, permeate their daily lives with well-chosen antiques and paintings set against silk wallpaper in taupe and celadon, billowing banana fiber curtains and slate floors, all seamlessly put together in the most serene interiors. Their love of the arts is matched by their advocacy and patronage of art and culture, something the family, headed by Ayala Corporation’s chair emeritus Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala, has been passionate about all these years. 

“It’s Bravo España, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s Christmas concert on December 5, presented and organized by the Cultural Center of the Philippines with the cooperation of the Spanish Embassy.”   The celebrated Spanish conductor and composer Maestro Cristóbal Halffter will fly in to lead the country’s premier orchestra in playing a carefully chosen repertoire of works by Spanish composers, to be highlighted by performances of the world-renowned Philippine Madrigal Singers and Juilliard-trained pianist Rudolf Golez.

The coming performance is particularly meaningful because Maestro Halffter is the father-in-law of Patsy Zobel Halffter, another daughter of Doña Bea. “This is really all Patsy’s idea, I’m just filling in for her till she gets back from Monaco where she has work as Philippine consul. But I want this to be successful,” says the doting mother. “And Maestro Cristobal is a fantastic person and a wonderful human being! He takes a lot of time to teach people, to teach groups and the humility of that man is something.”

Maestro Halffter is considered one of the most important Spanish composers of the 20th century, renewing his country’s musical scene with the introduction of avant-garde innovations in classical music. Covering a wide spectrum from choral music to chamber and electronic music, to composing for the grand symphony, his work as a composer landed him many key commissions like the United Nations’ 20th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights for which he wrote the cantata “Yes, Speak Out, Yes” for soloists, narrators, chorus and orchestra.    Born in Madrid in 1930, he studied music under Conrado del Campo at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid with the highest marks and winning numerous prizes. He became professor for composition and musical forms and later, director of the same conservatory, after which he dedicated his professional activity to the creation and direction of an orchestra. Aside from his work as a composer, he is also in demand as a conductor, working regularly with the world’s eminent orchestras: the Berlin Philharmonic, the National Orchestra of France, the National Orchestra of Spain, the London Symphony, the Swiss Roman, Radio Orchestra of Baden-Baden, the Tonhalle of Zurich, the Festival of Lucerne. 

Coming from a musically talented family (his uncles, Ernesto and Rodolfo Halffter, were also prominent composers), Maestro Cristobal always sought to make music the center of his life ever since he was a child. Mrs. Zobel attests to the maestro’s focus and industry: “At his age, he doesn’t stop. He has this room in their castle in Villafranca del Bierzo where he has a piano and composes all day. He loves composing. He just finished an opera this year — Lazarus. We went to the inauguration. Beautiful!” 

So what finally convinced the Maestro to come to Manila? The story actually begins in Bohol where Bea Jr. spends half the time to attend to her heritage and livelihood projects: “Patsy wanted to see what I was doing so I brought her and her husband Alonso around to see my projects. When we were in Baclayon Church (one of the oldest stone churches in the Philippines built in 1727 by the Jesuits), they saw the Baroque pipe organ from Spanish times (originally installed in 1824) which fell into disrepair and had not been used for several decades. Being lovers of the arts, they immediately offered to take care of the restoration. So the organ was sent to Las Piñas.”

Of course, when they went back to Spain, they told the maestro about the organ which got him all excited: “Why is it that you never invited me to go there?” He was so intrigued by this organ as well as the country in general so he made plans for a visit.   Conducting the country’s leading orchestra in a concert, of course, had to be part of the maestro’s plan:

“This first contact with the PPO in December is very important for me, as I have very close ties to the Philippines, from a strictly familiar point of view and because of my interest in a country with such a long Spanish tradition. Its capacity to co-exist with such different traditions, which with persistent effort are still alive today, after so much time, makes me think that the Philippine spirit of regarding the past, for its roots, promises an encouraging future for culture in general.” 

The repertoire for Cristóbal Halffter’s Christmas concert with the PPO is a personal selection of works by Spanish composers from the early 1800s to the present:   Los Esclavos Felices by Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga, the “Spanish Mozart” who died at the age of 19; El sombrero de tres picos (segunda suite) and Noches en Los Jardines de España (piano and orchestra) by Manuel De Falla, whose disciple was Ernesto Halffter, the uncle of Cristóbal; Preludio de la Revoltosa by Ruperto Chapí, the teacher of De Falla, known for zarzuelas; and Preludio para Madrid 92 (choir and orchestra), one of the best examples of Spanish contemporary music composed by Maestro Halffter himself.   

The De Falla piece for piano and orchestra will feature Rudolf Golez, a Juilliard-trained pianist who was an awardee of the First ASEAN Chopin International competition held in Kuala Lumpur in 2004. The Halffter piece will have the internationally multi-awarded 60-voice-strong Philippine Madrigal Singers.

“Aside from being very musical the evening will be a very nice cultural affair,” according to Doña Bea. “Pitoy Moreno sent his collection of mantones de Manila. Nedy Tantoco — Rustan’s president and member of the CCP Chairman’s Council who has been very outstanding, is taking care of floral arrangements and will organize to have them hanging from the boxes, very Spanish in a way, very beautiful. There will be wine from the castle of the Halffters in Villafranca. (Patsy Zobel Halffter and family make their own wine)   We really want this to be a nice welcome for the maestro and to give importance to our PPO who have persevered and excelled despite all the hardships.”

One of the hardships of the orchestra is actually very basic: Many of the instruments are old and due for retirement. At the last PPO concert, the Italian guest conductor, Luciano Bellini, noticed this and commented that the instruments have to be changed. This makes support of the PPO even more crucial. The PPO is a national treasure, after all, regarded as one of the top musical ensembles in the Asia-Pacific region. They have provided us wonderful music since 1973. It is imperative that we save it by watching their concerts and giving donations for the PPO Instruments Maintenance Program. 

The arts have traditionally been given a low priority rating in the scale of things, from government budgets to private subsidies.   “But if you give it importance, it can be an industry and a source of income,” says Bea Zobel Jr. She cites the Baclayon Pipe Organ which was restored in Las Piñas by skilled craftsmen who were trained in Europe for the restoration of the Las Piñas bamboo organ. “They came back and they’re the ones now who are skilled in organ maintenance. They now created an industry for organ restoration catering to churches and private individuals from all over the country. Again to demonstrate that the arts create jobs if only people put more interest in it.”

As far as the Baclayon Pipe Organ is concerned, the interest is definitely there. When the organ came home after almost a year of restoration, the streets of Baclayon were lined with everyone waving flags and crying, welcoming the organ back. “It was amazing. It was an amazing day!” Joel Uichico, who works together with Bea Jr. and the Ayala Foundation on sustainable community projects and preservation of natural and heritage sites, was overwhelmed with the response. People were telling him that “if they at the Foundation were happy with the restoration, the Baclayonons felt 10 times more!” 

So you can imagine the buzz being created by Maestro Halffter’s scheduled trip to Baclayon. Here’s a world-renowned composer and conductor, a busy one at that, flying halfway round the world to visit their town and give a concert. A special repertoire which includes pieces by Handel, Cabezon, Velez and Cabanilles was selected specially for the event on Dec. 6 (the day after the PPO concert in Manila) to inaugurate the newly restored organ. Joining him in the concert are his son, Alonso on trumpet and his wife, Maria Manuela Caro, an accomplished pianist who gained fame as an artist for her brilliant performances as a soloist in numerous concerts for contemporary music in Europe.  

“We really welcome this concert in Bohol because we want to bring more culture, more music to the provinces,” said Doña Bea.   Sofia concurred, saying that this is their same thrust at Ballet Philippines where she is board member. Aside from the provincial tours, they have ballet performances at the Ayala malls to bring dance closer to the community. Sneak previews of Coppelia are scheduled at Greenbelt 5 on Dec. 4 to entice people to see the full length version with a live orchestra on Dec. 11-14 at the CCP.

When a community is exposed to culture and embraces it, it becomes a living thing, a part of people’s lives.   In Bohol, the elation over the restoration of the organ and the excitement for the concert just shows how much the church and music are very much part of their lives. It is a source of pride, and the fact that an acclaimed musical great from Spain is flying all the way to their island because of a treasured heritage piece makes it even more precious. Bea Jr. is overjoyed: “They intend to go on and keep it alive. They have many plans. It’s fantastic!”

Maestro Halffter, deeply interested in the Baclayon organ which has roots in his native land, will definitely meet kindred spiritS who share a passion for music as well as for heritage.   With the whole town attending the affair, the concert will prove what Maestro Halffter has always believed in: “that the world of orchestral music is still alive, because we are part of a society which asks for harmony and beauty and today in this world, in this global world in which we can’t find peace, music is a light, a guide which leads us to a place of feeling and emotion.”

* * *

“Bravo España” is on Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. at the CCP Main Theatre. For tickets:   Tel. 832-3704 (CCP Box Office) or 832-1125 local 1806 (CCP Marketing) or 891-9999 (Ticketworld)

Concert at Baclayon Church, Bohol is on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. Concert is free to the public.

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