Nena Del Rosario Villanueva: Pla y it again, Nena
CITIZEN OF THE WORLD - CITIZEN OF THE WORLD By Edu Jarque () - March 17, 2002 - 12:00am
Nena del Rosario Villanueva is a phenomenon. At the young age of 10, she had her first solo piano recital at the old Assumption Convent on Herran Street with the Manila Symphony Orchestra. By the time she turned 15, she had performed at every performing artist’s dream venue, Carnegie Hall in New York. Earlier on, she was declared as the winner in the competition sponsored by WQXR, the popular radio station of The New York Times , and participated by talented musicians, with music professors and media critics serving as judges.

"Though I had played at Carnegie when I was 12, it was for a benefit show. This time I earned it," she whispers.

The concert pianist, who has entertained foreign and home-based dignitaries at Malacañang Palace from the days of Sergio Osmeña, claims, "I perform everywhere – both here and abroad – from gymnasiums to auditoriums, from music halls to cultural centers."

Considering all these years of concertizing in several continents, we asked the genteel, gracious lady, if there was a never-performed at venue where she still wished to play. She simply smiled. Pursuing the inquiry, I asked for the name of a fellow musician she would most like to have a musical duet with. All I got was another sincere smile. Without uttering a word, I understood. She had realized all what her heart ever desired.

Nena, widow of lawyer-businessman Generoso Villanueva, is the mother of three sons and two daughters (one predeceased her) and grandmother of nine.

She considers Amadeus Mozart and Albert Einstein to be a genius and admits she can demolish all of five pounds of See’s Butterscoth squares in less than three days.

Excerpts from our conversation.

Philippine STAR: What do you remember most of your first trip abroad?

Nena Villanueva:
I was 11 years old and my first trip abroad was on the General Gordon – a troop ship, which then had not yet been converted back into a regular passenger vessel. The men slept on one side, while the women on another. It had triple-deck beds and I recall the beautiful Susan Magalona occupying the top space. Our final destination was America. You may not believe this, but the ship had a piano where I played my piezas. Oh yes, fellow traveler Dr. Jose Maceda, the illustrious pianist, sat down with me and thanks to him I learned the Triana by Albeniz totalmente by ear. I also remember that at all ports of call, my mom somehow always found a piano and made me practice some more.

What won’t you leave home without?

My Solingen nail clipper, a tiny Swiss knife, and my very own set of hair rollers. Whenever I travel, I seldom drop by beauty salons.

How do you pass time at airports?

I find airport lounges among the ideal places to attend to my correspondence. I must admit, I am rather delinquent, only because I have so much to say. So it takes me awhile to catch up. But I eventually do. It is only at airport lounges that I read magazines such as People and Hollywood tabloids such as The Inquirer – all junk publications which I never purchase.

Name your favorite city abroad.

Paris. I feel very at home in Paris. I just love the way it’s laid out. The accessibility of museums. The availability of information on events such as concerts. The magnificent monuments. The splendor of the parks. The style of dress. The variety of food. The interesting walks. Paris in itself is one big, beautiful museum.

What is your favorite spot in the Philippines?

The city of Bacolod, my late husband’s hometown, where we have many close relatives and several dear friends, where we are always warmly welcomed and forever loved.

What is the best travel advice you can share?

Take leisurely and aimless walk and get lost. Capture the very essence of the destination and build memories of the place – it will make you come back for more.

Describe your most memorable trip.

Some two years ago, together with friends, we visited four fascinating countries – Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. What a trip! We were exposed to remnants of civilizations of the past, such as pagan, and the enchanting monuments such as the Angkor Wat. We marveled at what we saw and we were enlightened by what we learned. It was simply amazing – almost beyond comprehension – what the early inhabitants were able to achieve and accomplish, at the time using what was only then available. The entire scenario made you realize you are nothing but a speck – a mere spot in this wide, wide universe.

Favorite musicale?

Little Night Music
which my daughter and I watched in London.

Who would you like to "bump into" during your travels?

Friends – I’d go out of my way to bump into them. In addition, I would say the honorable Nelson Mandela and the admirable Vaclav Havel.

Who is your ideal traveling companion?

My late husband – quiet but very supportive. The ladies of my walking group – they love to travel, we share the same interests and concerns and are so much fun to be with.

Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to be a part of?

Is there a summer camp for senior citizens who adore and cherish to play chamber music? If you hear of one, kindly let me know.

What are your pasalubongs – inbound and outbound?

Inbound – As a general rule, I don’t usually bring any pasalubongs home. Outbound – CDs or tapes of Filipino movie soundtracks. Purely instrumental. I also bring with me placemats with illustrations of old churches and scenes from the past. Floating pearls from tiangge s, pastillas de leche, dulong in olive oil, garlic, calamansi and tabasco and the exquisite bagoong guisado from Cris Ozamiz.

What is the worst souvenir you have ever brought back from a trip?

) I bought a metal sculpture in Carmel, California that weighed a ton. Believe or not, I honestly don’t know where it is. It just shows you what a disaster it was.

If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from the Philippines, where would it be?

Paris, naturalmente!

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