A night to remember

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – After the crowd had filed in and settled into their seats, as the first strains of the Philippine National Anthem began to fill the storied amphitheater that is Carnegie Hall, the members of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) cried as they played their instruments. It was the first sign that this night, June 18, was going to be different. The evening would mark the first time ever the PPO played at Carnegie Hall.

The process had taken almost three years with PPO’s French music director and principal conductor Olivier Ochanine bringing the idea to Nedy Tantoco of Rustan’s and Manuel V. Pangilinan of PLDT/Smart and Metro Pacific with PAL, Ayala Corp., Ayala Land, Metrobank Card, Federal Land, Smart Infinity, PLDT Smart Foundation, One Meralco Foundation all coming in as sponsors. Any money raised would go to the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation for housing for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.

There were multiple obstacles including funding, delays in securing visas for the 90 orchestra members and Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) staff. The US Embassy, led by Ambassador Philip Goldberg, Public Affairs Officer Carol Glassman and Chargé d’Affaires Michael Klecheski, pulled out all the stops to get the visas approved just days before the orchestra’s scheduled departure.

CCP executives, from chairperson Emily Abrera, president Raul Sunico, vice president and artistic director Chris Millado, tour manager Ariel Yonzon and sponsorship manager Becca Jose, worked hard to make the performance happen.

The historic evening started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando massacre, which had occurred just days before. The auditorium was packed and among the audience were members of New York City’s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community to whom the organizers had decided to give tickets in sympathy.

The program itself had four parts — Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich, Violin Concerto in D minor by Jean Sibelius and featuring violinist and Juilliard graduate Diomedes Saraza Jr.; and after a brief intermission, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 featuring celebrated pianist Cecile Licad, and ending with Philippine Portraits by Filipino composer Redentor Romero.

The show began when Ochanine walked onto the stage with a huge smile on his face. This was to be his final performance with the PPO and it had been his unwillingness to give up that had made this night a reality.  So there was a great deal at stake for him. He did not disappoint. In the words of Loida Lewis, a Fil-Am leader and one of the sponsors, “Everything started with the conductor, his body movements, the authoritative, confident and yet poetic way he waved his baton and controlled the orchestra.”

Violinist Saraza held the audience in rapt attention as he played.  Just before intermission, Ochanine acknowledged the presence of the widow of composer Romero, old and hunched but stylishly dressed in a terno as she reached out to him from below the stage.

During the break, former New York City mayor David Dinkins gamely posed for photos along with sponsors Henry Howard, president and CEO of US Education Finance, a large student loan company; and John Howley, who has his own law firm in New York. Roy Evalle, president of the First Pacific Leadership Academy who’d introduced Ochanine to Manuel Pangilinan and had flown in 11 of his relatives from around the world for the special night, mixed happily with the crowd.

When the performance resumed, Cecile Licad poured her heart out into the Rachmaninoff, a piece that was more familiar to people, many of whom had never before been to Carnegie Hall. All through the evening, there seemed to be a current of electricity running between the orchestra and the audience. Standing ovations and cheers greeted each performance. One had to look back several times just to see the whole mass of concert-goers in every tier, applauding and cheering. You could feel the happiness and the immense pride in being a Filipino in everyone present.

Then, Ochanine walked onto the stage one last time. He said in as loud a voice as he could muster and in a French accent, “To show you how much we love you, we’d like to play, ‘Gaano Kita Kamahal’.” The crowd went wild.  As the lovely and romantic airs of the Filipino song rang through the hall, one felt like falling in love again.  Immediately after, the crowd stood as one and yelled and clapped. No one wanted the evening to end. Finally Ochanine said, “If you want to hear more, you’ll have to come to Manila.” Just like that, it was over.  But the memories continue to fill our hearts to this day.

“At last, for the first time in the cultural center of the world, New York City’s Carnegie Hall, the world-class Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra with pianist Cecile Licad and violinist Diomedes Saraza Jr. stunned the audience with their artistry,” Lewis said.

For his part, Ochanine said, “I am proud of the Philippine Philharmonic.  It was a defining moment in Filipino music history and I know the Filipino artist deserves a place on the international stage and that day will come.”

“I am pleased to have been part of a process that brought the PPO to Carnegie Hall. It’s about time that Filipino musical talent is brought on to such a prestigious stage as Carnegie, to be exposed and appreciated. May there be more of this in the coming years,” said Pangilinan. Certain photos by HAPPY DAVID





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