Aima Shares Her Music
- Jojo G. Silvestre () - July 30, 2006 - 12:00am
As a young girl, Aima Maria Labra Makk played the piano for fun. "With my grandfather, I played four hands," she recalls in an online interview.

For sure her grandfather considered her special, since she could pick up a tune when children of the same age could barely differentiate between two succeeding notes. Still, it was too early to even imagine Aima would turn out to be the world-class pianist she has become today.

Aima performances in Europe and the USA have been described by a European critic as "peerless marked by high musical intelligence, colorful expression with physical robustness (to sound), with elegant ease of touch but never for the sake of display". She takes center stage with the Metro Manila Community Orchestra (MMCO) tonight at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines for the opening of the MMCO Season for 2006-2007.

This is not the first time this multi-awarded, world-renowned Filipina artist is playing at the CCP. In 2003, she played to a full house and several standing ovations in the Filipino Artists Series. Interpreting the works of Bach-Busoni, Beethoven, Augusto Espino, Lizst and Bartok as "a tour-de-force, a showstopper that sprang from her belligerent spiritual self," as pronounced by a local critic, Aima took to the stage as though it were home.

The CCP stage, moreover, was the setting for a dream-come-true performance in 1985 when she won the top prize in the National Music Competition for Young Artists in piano category C. She was so good that the judges, impressed by her technique and performance, decided not to award a second prize.

Aima’s first brush with fame, if only among music enthusiasts, was well-deserved. It was a result of years of training that started with lessons taken with her mother who operated a piano school right in their home. During her elementary years at St. Theresa’s College in Cebu, she was already considered the class pianist. "I could easily pick up a classical tune, or a jazz solo by Bob James or Lyle Mays, as well as pop tunes," she recalls.      

When she was nine years old, her elder sister started her music course at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. When she came home for the sem break, she practiced her piano pieces that fascinated Aima. Added to these were recordings of symphonies that opened up a wider world of musical possibilities that Aima never encountered in Cebu.

By the time she was getting ready for college, she was sure about taking up music, with piano as her major. But equally good at mathematics, she had to contend with family members who thought that more than two musicians in the family was too much.

College was a turning point. She met her mentor Prof. Perla Suaco. "She was very strict, but having been under my mother’s tutelage, I was not exactly a stranger to her disciplinarian ways," she says. Her stay at UP Diliman also widened her interests. Her Humanities subject, for example, introduced her to the art world, foreshadowing a life replete with galleries, museums and performances. Europe, not unexpectedly, was beckoning.

Having earned her bachelor’s degree at the State University, she applied for scholarship abroad to further her musical studies. In 1986 she was admitted to the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, Austria. While studying under Eugen Jakab, she also received other grants such as the Bosendorf Scholarship, Martha Debelli Stipend, and the Alban Berg Foundation Scholarship.

"Of course, I also went around, making sure I personally saw all those art works that I learned about in my humanities class. Austria, specifically, expanded my horizon because it is the center of classical music. Anyway, the cultural diversity in Europe is so wide that you live in the middle of it all," she explains.

Aima won the third prize at the First International Competition Franz Schubert and 20th Century Music in Graz. She also went around the continent for recitals, concert tours, recordings and radio and television performances.

In 1990 she received the highest honors in Concert Diplomate from the University of Music, as well as a recognition award from the Ministry of Education of Autria.

The years after graduation pushed her into the professional world of musicians. Earning her share of accolades and critical acclaim, she has, in her own way, given the Philippines a name in the music world, although her triumphs are less publicized as she prefers the quiet life in between concerts and competitions.

Aima today works as a teacher at the University of Music in Graz, where she trains musically gifted children from around the world, taken in after rigorous auditions. Her students, not surprisingly, have won awards through the years in various competitions. Very much in demand, Aima travels all over to conduct Master classes in music institutions.       

Ever conscious of her provincial roots in Cebu, she plays in the rural areas of Europe so "I could share the kind of music that only people in the cities could hear in concerts," she shares, adding that "it’s my way of reaching out and bringing classical music to people from all walks of life."

Aima’s US debut in 2001 in Washington DC was followed by vigorously applauded concerts in Chicago, Los Angeles, Tennessee and Dallas.

 She is a member of the chamber group, Trio Douze (with oboe and bassoon) and the Esterhazy (violin and piano). On the other hand, as part of the chamber ensemble Tonstrom, she plays with clarinetist Peter Forcher and her husband Nikolaus Makk, an accomplished cellist.

If both husband and wife are not busy with their musical commitments, they prefer to stay home where they naturally continue to practice. She relates that "there is really nothing special. There are chores to do, but I leave the cooking to my husband because cooking has always been his hobby."

They own two cats that they consider "our surrogate children. One is invalid so we take him on a leash for a walk in the garden."

 Aima declares she has no favorite among composers, "because my preferences change from time to time. It also depends a lot on what pieces I am working on now."

 She clarifies that "as an interpreter of a piece of music, you have to put your all in it. This requires a lot of research about the piece, including the period when the composer did this, both from the historical and personal perspectives. Musical compositions are like a mirror, sometimes a personal mirror of a particular composer or a sociological mirror of the times," she elucidates.

Truly a source of pride to her countrymen, she has made sure to come home not only to touch base but also to share the music that she has learned from her European exposure. In 2005 she performed to a full house during the 5th Concert Season of the MMCO.

Aima’s return this year should once again allow her to display what critic Rosalinda Orosa described as "brilliant virtuosity" that her admirers are, without a doubt, looking forward to when she joins the MMCO tonight to open its 6th season with a performance of what many critics dub as the most beautiful of Beethoven’s piano concertos, the "Emperor".

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