Starweek Magazine

Play it again, PPo

- Michele T. Logarta -
AFTER THREE DECADES and 20 full concert seasons, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (ppo)–the country’s national orchestra–is undertaking a major, P30 million project: to acquire new instruments for the 62-member orchestra, the first such acquisitions program in its history. And about time too, for most of the instruments are in less than optimum shape–many of them desperate and pitiful–it’s a wonder the orchestra can still make beautiful music.

These days, there’s a special buzz in the air around the office and rehearsal hall of the ppo in the basement of the Cultural Center. There’s a call for the musicians to submit their wish lists of instruments to Mrs. Zenas Lozada, consultant and mother hen of the orchestra. This is big news indeed, for finally, after about three decades, the players will be getting new instruments. "It won’t happen all at once," cautions Ruggero Barbieri, Music Director of the ppo, "but at least we’re getting started."

Thumbing through the wish lists presented by each section of the orchestra, there are about a hundred instruments the musicians are hankering for. In addition to these are accessories such as mutes, strings and reeds. "Thirty million pesos is our conservative estimate of how much we will need to buy these instruments," Lozada reveals.

"We need to keep up with the other professional orchestras of the world," says Fredeline Parin, principal trumpet of the ppo who plays a King trumpet that is more than 20 years old. Additional instruments are needed too, Parin explains, citing one concert early this year when a cornet was required for Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Because the orchestra didn’t have a cornet, Parin stuffed a felt cloth in his trumpet to approximate the sound. "It almost killed me. Imagine blowing into a bottle…."

The son of a trumpeteer who is one of the ppo originals, Parin says that the new generation of trumpets provide for easy blowing and quick response. A principal trumpet should have about seven trumpets of different keys, an assistant principal should have a minimum of five while the third and fourth trumpets should have at least four. Each trumpet can cost up to US$2,500.

"It’s very important to have a very good trumpet sound," Parin insists. "Trumpets are the soprano of the orchestra and have the most penetrating sound."

A few chairs away sits Alejandro Fernandez, acting assistant principal trombone. "Ito na ang pinakamalaking pupuntahan ng isang musican," Fernandez says about being part of the ppo. He started playing trombone as a gradeschooler in Nueva Ecija, in the marching band of his hometown of San Leonardo. He would be a good trombone player, his teachers said, because he was tall for his age.

To buy him a trombone, Fernandez’ father sold some land. That same trombone, a Conn, is still with him, literally green in some parts because of age. Reflectorized tape is what Fernandez uses to cover up those patches of green. For the ppo, Fernandez plays a Yamaha. It’s a bit outdated, he admits, but it still plays well. "Ten years ago modelo pa yan," he reveals, adding that today, it is no longer even listed in the catalog.

Vicente Galang, principal horn, plays an American-made Holton french horn which still has a wonderful sound, but it obviously has seen better days. Galang has had to improvise with plumber’s teflon tape to seal off air leaks in the bore of the instrument. He’s also found a nifty substitute for the parts he needs to make the pistons of the horn’s keys bounce. "Pumupunta ako sa automotive supply at bumibili ng brake repair kit. There’s a part there used for the brakes and I just cut it down to size."

The most desperate case for new instruments, says Lozada, is the tuba that Benedicto de la Peret Jr. plays. It is battle-scarred, heavily dented and minus its gold lustre in many places. De la Peret goes all the way to Bulacan to have his tuba repaired. One of its pistons won’t bounce and the valves are out of alignment, and it takes great effort, says dela Peret, just to play this tuba. "Nakakapagod!" he exclaims.

De la Peret has two tubas in his wish list–one in double C, which is the standard in orchestras today, and a tuba in F. The first costs about US$8,000 and the latter about US$5,000 .

Gomer Giron, assistant principal for percussion, says he’ll be happy if the heads of the drums can be changed. "We should get professional models because not all our instruments are professional models. Our tympani is a student model and it’s going out of tune." Tympani are tuned? Yes, says Giron: there are two kinds of percussion instruments, the tuned and atonal. Percussion, says Giron, is important to the orchestra because these provide color and rhythmic pattern. "Nasa amin yung effects," he points out–percussion provides the thunder claps, lightning bolts and bells and whistles.

The ppo began life as the ccp Philharmonic Orchestra in 1973, under the patronage of Imelda Marcos who would bring the orchestra wherever and whenever she wanted to. The former first lady, recalls Nemesio Ibero Jr., concertmaster of the ppo, was going to buy the orchestra Italian violins. But the 1986 revolution happened and put an end to the planned Stravarii and Amatis.

Ibero is one of the originals of the ppo, starting out playing second violin at the very rear. He has since played before countless vips, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, King Hassan II of Morocco and other dignitaries. As concertmaster of the ppo, it is Ibero’s job to be the right hand of the conductor. Like all concertmasters, Ibero sits to the left of the conductor and is the lucky man who gets to shake the conductor’s hand, as well as the soloist’s, if there is one. Through the years, Ibero has shaken hands with the likes of tenor Jose Carreras, pianist Cecile Licad, conductors Piero Gamba, Mendi Rodan, Enrique Batiz, Yaacov Bergman.

Ibero, who studied violin with his grandfather Prof. Felix Altura and later with the late Prof. Luis Valencia, owns a half original Amati violin that’s about three hundred years old. (The back is original while the front is not). Ibero’s Amati was the violin of the late Valencia and was also used by Julian Quirit when he was studying in Julliard. Ibero also owns a Roth circa 1923, a German violin that he inherited from his father. Like him, the other ppo violinists use their personal violins. " I don’t think the ccp will be able to buy a Stradivarius!" Ibero chuckles. "A Stradivarius can cost a million dollars!"

Provenance is important when it comes to buying violins. Older violins are better, says Lozada, "because the wood is riper and longer. It’s like wine."

Twenty-five-year old Angelica A. Regalario plays an antique (about a hundred years old) violin made in the Czech Republic. Seated off center in front of the clarinets and the french horns, Regalario is second violin and is one of the youngest members of the ppo. She is one of three siblings playing with the ppo. Brother Joseph Frederick plays first violin while sister Victoria, who is concertmaster of the ust Symphony Orchestra, is a casual ppo player. Her parents are musicians; her mother is sister to pianist Rowena Arrieta and was Rowena’s first piano teacher.

Regalario has taken her Czech- made violin all over the country in outreach performances as well as abroad when the ppo played on tour in Europe and at the Asian Orchestra Week in Tokyo. "This is the best job," she gushes. "You get to play music you love, you make people happy and you get paid for it too. Being a musician is the greatest of all privileges."

As the orchestra goes shopping for instruments, it may not have to go very far. Maestro Barbieri says wonderful violins, violas and cellos are being made here in the Philippines by Amado Tamayo, a violin maker who trained in Germany. Already, the maestro reveals, some of the ppo violinists hold a Tamayo violin in their hand. Philippine-made violins for the national orchestra? Why not?

The need to upgrade the instruments of the ppo was emphasized when it participated in the Asian Orchestra Week held in Tokyo last October. "We were playing with older instruments and yet we had the best sound," one ppo player recounts. "What if we had better instruments? Can you imagine how good we would sound?" Baltazar Endriga, former ccp chairman who was with the ppo on that trip, agreed with that sentiment and instructed Lozada to come up with a list of what was needed. "Let’see what we can do to raise the money," Endriga promised.

Reveals ccp president Nestor Jardin: "We have begun to lay out development plans for the orchestra that would increase its regular membership from the present 62 to 90 musicians, which is the minimum membership for a philharmonic orchestra, pursue further training for its members, equip the artists with professional musical instruments and new uniforms, organize local and international tours and lay the groundwork for exciting season concerts. The funding requirement for all these, outside of the regular P26 million budget of the ppo, is simply beyond the means of the ccpat present. Our natural recourse is to look at the private and business sectors for support."

Fortunately for the ccp and the ppo, there are those ready and willing to help. Zenaida "Nedy" R. Tantoco, president of Rustan’s Marketing Corp. and a member of the ccp Board of Trustees, is spearheading the effort to raise funds for the musical instruments. She is one of the angels in the firmanent, says Jardin, who have come to the rescue of the ppo. To start off the fundraising effort, jazz pianist and "smooth jazz" pioneer David Benoit will play in a benefit concert tomorrow evening at the ccp. Sponsored by Marks & Spencer, Philippine Airlines and Westin Phil. Plaza in cooperation with Café Puro, Ralph’s Wines and Tio Pepe, the concert, billed Take a Look...David Benoit Live in Manila, will bring together Benoit and the ppo under the baton of Barbieri, with the participation of singer Luke Mejares of South Border. The concert will be a career retrospective of the Grammy-nominated and multi-awarded artist’s popular hits (Linus and Lucy, Hymn for Aquino, Take a Look Inside My Heart and many others) and will also feature the Asian premiere of Benoit’s seven-part fable/piano concerto The Centaur and the Sphinx.

"We are very grateful to Mr. Benoit for doing this concert for the orchestra," says Jardin, "and to Ms. Tantoco for her generous and continued support. We promise everyone an evening of good music for a good cause–to enable our orchestra to have the proper instruments needed to continue to play good music."

The David Benoit concert will be held tomorrow, Sept. 22 at 8 pm, at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo. For tickets, call the CCP Box Office at tel. 832-3704.

vuukle comment











  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with