Musical tribute to violinist Buenaventura, our national treasure

The young may not have heard of former violin prodigy Rizalina Exconde Buenavenura, now 85, but those conversant with Philippine music history are aware of the significant roles she has assumed through the years as outstanding performer, dedicated mentor and avid promoter of chamber music in the country.

Her uncle Aurelio Montes began teaching her the violin when she was seven; after two years, she studied under C. Jacobe, R. Tapales and virtuoso Ernesto Vallejo. At 12, Rizalina made her first public appearance; at 14, she was pressed into service by Manila Symphony Orchestra Conductor Alexander Lip-pay as member of the MSO without an audition, he having heard her play at her debut. At 15, she became violist of the UP Ladies String Quartet. After joining the MSO as its youngest member, she served it as assistant concert master for 20 years.

Earlier, upon the suggestion of Jovita Fuentes, she gained the distinction of accompanying First Lady Aurora Quezon who loved to sing. It was a measure of her talent and skill, as also of her stature as an artist that she was chosen to perform Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins with Vallejo who, by then, was being regarded not only as the country’s leading violinist but also as a towering virtuoso.

At 18, Rizalina graduated from the UP Conservatory, giving the premiere of Saïnt-Saen’s Violin Concerto No. 3 under the baton of Francisco Santiago. She was still in her teens when she received high praise from critics Jesus Balmori, Francisco Icasiano, among others. At 20, she married violinist Antonino Buenaventura, the would-be colonel and later, National Artist.

Countless aspiring violinists have trained under Rizalina, and some of these, along with relatives and friends, participated in a richly deserved musical tribute they paid her last Sunday at the F. Santiago Hall. MCO Director Armando Baltazar, in his opening remarks (following the prayer of Bert Robledo), noted how aptly the program was being held at the F. Santiago Hall named after the conductor-composer who had wielded the baton at Rizalina’s graduation.

A striking highlight was the opening piece, Mozart’s Divertimento No. 1, rendered by the Imperial-Noble-Molina families under the baton of Sergio Esmilla, Jr., Rizalina’s eminent peer who himself was the object of a recent tribute initiated by Mr. Baltazar, which tribute was held at the same venue.

It was a first-rate chamber orchestra – indeed, a "dream" ensemble! – that played the Divertimento (first movement). Remarkable polish, refinement, sensitive expression and a wide gamut of dynamics were discernible. And not the least, tight cohesion.

(Why can’t such an ensemble be quickly integrated into any orchestra, thus fortifying it overnight as a tremendous addition?)

Col. Buenaventura’s Children’s String Quartet, originally meant for children, was a delight; interpreters were Kimberly Tan (violin), Ariel Arevalo (violin), Jasmine Balbutin (viola) and Michael Buenaventura (cello).

In Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Kreisler’s Liebesfreud, Reginald Pineda conveyed polished, refined tones likewise while smoothly and eloquently underscoring the flowing melodic lines. However, he and, surprisingly enough, even assisting artist Jonathan Coo seemed wanting in spirit and passion; in a word, temperament.

In Col. Buenaventura’s exquisitely lyrical Love’s Embrace, Regina and Michael Buenaventura, with Lourdes B. Salipsip on the piano, conveyed deep feeling.

Another lyrical piece, Meditation also by Buenaventura, again demonstrated Regina’s sensitivity, but it was in Sarasate’s Zigeurnerweisen that the young violinist left her listeners awestruck by her brilliance – her virtuosity, no less – her fingers nimble, her notes clear and incisive, her musicianship acute, her spirit fiery and intense. The presence of Regina’s grandmother must have served as a supreme inspiration, and the standing ovation she got must have made the illustrious older woman truly proud of her.

In the finale, Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins with Orchestra, this consisting of 31 members, the quality of performance did not quite match that in the opening Divertimento. (Incidentally, pianist Coo, shifting roles, was in the second violin section.)

With Mr. Esmilla was on the podium, what made the Concerto particularly appealing and heart-warming was the sight of the grand lady, a national treasure, seated in front of the orchestra, demonstrating her still admirably strong, precise bowing and keen musicianship. How overwhelming was audience response!

In sum, the highly gratifying tribute harked back to Rizalina’s edifying, fruitful and astonishingly fulfilled career.












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