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August 27, 2003

REINERIO A. ALBA

The Cultural Center of the Philippines’ tribute and advance grand birthday bash for National Artist for Dance Lucresia “King” Kasilag on Aug. 25 this year, definitely would make anyone feel like a queen especially with sterling performances from the country’s top performing artists. In attendance that night were National Artist for Dance Leonor Orosa Goquingco, National Artist for Music Andrea Veneracion and National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose.

Tita King celebrates her 85th year on Aug. 31. Although already wheelchair-bound, Tita King seemed her spritely self when she appeared at the start of the show waving a hand to the crowd or swaying her head to the beat as female dancers from the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company begun performing Alitaptap holding in both hands twigs bearing several lighted candles. Bayanihan likewise performed Maglalatik and the breathtaking Sayaw sa Bangko to which Tita King clapped along. She has been the music director of Bayanihan since its debut performance at the 1958 Brussels Universal Exposition and worked closely with colleague Lucresia Reyes-Urtula, Isabel A. Santos, Jose O. Lardizabal, and Dr. Leticia P. de Guzman who made Bayanihan the world-renowned group that it is now.

She was then ushered off the stage followed by the singing of Levi Celerio’s Dungawin Mo Hirang by the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the snappy song Ay, Ay, Ay, O Pag-ibig as wonderfully arranged by Emmanuel Laureola. The audience was delighted next by Ballet Philippines Kids’ performance of Joey Ayala’s Magkaugnay, reminiscent of the young dancers of the Quezon City Performing Arts Foundation, Inc. Then it was Chino Toledo’s turn with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of Tita King’s own Philippine Scenes. The composition was more oriental in flavor and provided a good background music when a short video on Tita King came on the video wall at the lower left side of the stage. Scenes of her various engagements were flashed including one showing her teaching a young Kuh Ledesma some facts on indigenous musical instruments. Then came Toledo’s and current CCP President Nestor Jardin’s birthday greetings/praises for Tita King along with a host of other people whose lives have been influenced by her. 

Tita King was a former president and artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. She is undoubtedly one of the leading music educators of the Philippines. For one, she pioneered researches on indigenous Philippine music and instruments focusing on indigenous tribes; and second, she fused Asian-rooted music with Western-derived techniques and incorporated indigenous Filipino instruments in orchestral productions, such as the prize-winning Toccata for Percussions and Winds, Divertissement and Concertante, and the scores of  theFiliasiana, Misang Pilipino and De Profundis.

Her orchestral music include Love Songs, Legend of the Sarimanok, Ang Pamana, Philippine Scenes, Her Son, Jose, Sisa and chamber music like Awit ng mga Awit Psalms, Fantaisie on a 4-Note Theme, and East Meets Jazz Ethnika.

Violin virtuoso Carmencita S. Lozada aptly puts it: “No Kasilag opus is easy, although at times it may be deceivingly so. The interpreter will have to summon technical mastery and to concentrate intensely to bring out its many colors and not get lost in its structural maze. The interpreter, in turn, is rewarded with a wealth of emotional and tonal discoveries as one goes deeper into her music.”

The Philippine Scenes was a perfect prelude to the succeeding PPO number that had six of the country’s sopranos singing Thanks Be To God as set to music by Kasilag. The performance of National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) winners Joy Abalon, Josephine Roces-Chaves, Mary Karlene Lizbeth Denolo, Alexis Edralin, Rachel Gerodias, and Karlyn Kimberly Kwok perfectly prepared the audience for the performance of Cecil Licad next (although for the most part, owing perhaps to bad microphones, their voices were drowned out by the orchestra). Licad’s performance heralded the second part of the three-part show. Licad was always a sight to behold in front of the piano and it is always a privilege to watch her in perfect communion with her music, her fingers masterfully coaxing brilliantly textured notes one after the other. She brilliantly performed Debussy’s “Estampes,” “Pagodes,”  and “Gardens in the Rain.” Such a “high” number would of course prove to be a tough one to follow but the next number did not disappoint– on stage came violinists and NAMCYA winners Alfonso Bolipata, Mary Grace Martinez, Divina Francisco, the child prodigies Diomedes Saraza, Jr. and Maurice Ivan Saraza who gave an outstanding performance of Kasilag’s opus Violin Concerto No.1.

The next number sort of upped the ante when ten, yes ten pianists namely Jonathan Coo, Kasilag specialist and concert pianist; Harold Galang, assistant dean of the PWU College of Music; Zenas Lozada, Kasilag specialist and PPO artistic consultant; Fr. Manuel Maramba, OSB pianist-composer; Sister Belinda Salazar, NAMCYA winner and protegé of Prof. Milagros de Ocampo;  concert pianists Raul Sunico and Najib Ismail, Joey Uriarte of the University of Minnesota, and NAMCYA winners Jed Balsamo and Beverly Sangkwan, performed Kasilag’sDivertissements with great results. Seeing them all onstage hitting the keys in unison was indeed a fantastic visual treat!

The only break in the performances was the time when all former NAMCYA choir winners took their places on stage as the rest of them rose from their seats at the upper boxes,  strategically enveloping the audience with their voices. They were joined by soloists Marvin Gayramon (alto) and Jo-Honey Romulo (bass). The choirs (UP Singing Ambassadors, Ateneo Glee Club, CEU Chorale, Coro Tomasino Chorale, HIS Sounds, Mariano Ponce Memorial High School Youth Choir, PNU Chorale, San Beda College Chorale) opened with Purihin ang Panginoon, followed by the singing of Kung Maari Sana written by this year’s National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario. The Philippine Madrigal Singers later joined them in the singing of Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas written by Rodolfo de Leon. The songs were all set to compelling music by Kasilag and when all the choirs came to the final strains of the last song, the audience could not help but give the performance a thunderous applause.  

But, of course, the loudest applause for that night was reserved rightly for Lucresia Kasilag, the one who,  with her own brand of music, made the night a truly sumptuous musical experience for the audience.