The return of Rowena
- Rosalinda L. Orosa () - August 1, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - International pianist Rowena Arrieta, who formerly astonished music lovers as much as Cecile Licad did, has momentarily returned to Manila to again astonish the same music lovers. She performs in a recital on August 1 at the Fleur de Lis auditorium and in a duo concert with international pianist Raul Sunico on August 4 at the same venue in celebration of the 70th anniversary of St. Paul University College of Music and the Performing Arts.

Rowena’s return will bring back vivid memories of her as the only Filipino to have won an award – fifth prize – in the 1982 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, the judges hailing her as “the youngest and the most promising” of the 82 contestants.

She was then an 18-year-old student at the Moscow Conservatory where she later earned her Master’s degree with highest honors (summa cum laude) under Prof. Yevgeny Malinin, People’s Artist of the Russian Federation.

In 1984, at age 21, the year before Rowena’s graduation at the Conservatory, she performed in concert at the CCP with Malinin himself, the 23-age difference between pupil and professor amazing the listeners. Incidentally, the young pianist was also scheduled to perform that same week at the Soviet embassy and the Olot Beach House of Mrs. Marcos. It would have been simpler for Rowena to play the same program for the three recitals but her repertory being unusually wide even then, she chose a different one for each!

At that time, an unspoken “rivalry” between Rowena Arrieta and Cecile Licad existed; in this regard, a reliable informant told me that the then CCP President Lucrecia Kasilag preferred Rowena to Cecile!

After Rowena’s triumph in the Tchaikovsky tilt, she was besieged with offers to concertize but her mentors warned her that playing professionally would interrupt both practice and study. She heeded their warning. Malinin further enlarged Rowena’s vision and deepened her perception by teaching her to stress the inner meaning, the philosophic connotation, if any, of each piece rendered.

After rendering a piece, Rowena, being petite, was often asked: “How do you tackle the ‘big’ chords?” She would reply: “Despite my lack in height, I had a wider finger-span than my taller classmates in Moscow probably because I kept stretching my fingers.”

She illustrated further: “The Bartok Sonata has many seven-note chords and some pianists omit the note in-between but I don’t because that would be cheating the composer.”

Rowena later took professional studies at the Manhattan School of Music under Solomon Mikowsky and having obtained diplomas from the best of two worlds – Russia and the US – she was ready for a concert career. Her NY debut at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall was described by the NY Times as having ranged from a “fevered, demonic intensity” to “a gentle, sublime interpretation”. The US Daily News called her a “combination of purity and fire”. She reaped glowing praise in several cities in the US, Europe, Russia, Australia and Hong Kong.

In 1986, in Burgos, Spain, she elicited rhapsodic praise as “an extraordinary pianist who created an ambiance achieved only by great virtuosi”. It was also in Spain Rowena, then only 22, won first prize in the Jose Iturbi International Contest. Since then, she has been soloist of major orchestras in Russia, Spain, the US and of the Philippine Philharmonic.

Since 1990, Rowena has been a faculty member of the NY National Piano Teachers Guild, and has consistently been in its National Honor Roll and Hall of Fame. With her husband and two children, she resides in Long Island, NY, where she is an avid teacher to 70 students.

Here in Manila, Rowena’s excitement over her recital and concert with Raul Sunico is steadily mounting. The duo’s program consists of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz, Khatchaturian’s Suite from Gayne Ballet, Carmen Fantasy from Bizet, Benjamin’s Jamaican Rhumba and Borodin’s Polovetsian Dances.

Rowena first played with Raul in 1995 at the CCP; both had committed the entire program to memory! Raul, a piano virtuoso like Rowena, was praised by his eminent mentor in Juilliard School in NY, Sacha Gorodnitzski, for his “unusual gifts of lyricism and poetry”. Raul earned an M.A. degree from Juilliard and a Ph.D degree, Major in Piano Performance, from NYU where his dissertation featured a performance guide to Philippine Piano Concertos.

His enviable share of international awards is complemented by recitals in the US, Canada, Mexico, India, Australia, Austria, Japan, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, France, Germany, Poland and Spain. He later became a soloist of the Moscow Philharmonic, Transylvania Philharmonic (Romania), Szcecin Philharmonic (Poland), Towson Community Orchestra (Maryland, USA), among others.

Currently serving as UST Conservatory dean and CCP V-P and artistic director, Raul, in addition, teaches piano and statistics – he has a Bachelor’s Degree both in Music and Mathematics, and a Master’s degree in Statistics from the UP. Raul also gives master classes abroad, serves as judge in prestigious international competitions, and organizes local festivals; e.g. the Guitar Festival at Philamlife Theater and the Orchestra Festival at the CCP.

Involved in music education, Raul has authored a book on music and art for DepEd, and recorded more than 30 compact discs and cassettes, including 13 volumes of native folk songs and kundiman he himself arranged for classical piano.

Incredibly enough, despite his hectic schedule, Raul fulfills foreign engagements. His latest were in Germany, forthcoming concerts will be in Chicago and Las Vegas.

Admirable as these singular activities are, Raul’s unprecedented achievement is still his 2003 performance of Rachmaninoff’s four concertos in a single evening – sans score! – with the PPO assisting under Herminigildo Ranera. Thus far, Raul’s feat has not been matched by any other pianist here or abroad.

AFTER ROWENA ALICE TULLY HALL ARTIST OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION AUSTRALIA AND HONG KONG RAUL RAUL SUNICO ROWENA
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