September 22, 2009
Tuesday and Wednesday last week, the weather miraculously cleared on the nights Cecile Licad and cellist Alban Gerhardt appeared for the first time together in a recital (September 15) and the much-waited joint concert with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (September 16) under the baton of Oscar Yatco.
In a recital that could be the chamber music event of the year (or any decade for that matter), Licad and Gerhardt showed what musical rapport was all about in an evening of Janacek (Fairy Tales , 1923 version), Beethoven (A Major Sonata Op. 69) and the Shostakovich warhorse which ended in deafening cheers and applause.
Moreover, they also rendered solo pieces which highlighted their individual artistry. Seamless and truly divine was Licad’s interpretation of Chopin’s Scherzo No. 3 while Gerhardt uncovered the least known musical qualities of the cello in Ligetti’s solo sonata.
The night’s crowning glory was no doubt Beethoven’s A Major sonata which showed how superior artists can make something noble and indescribably profound with music-making on an equally superior level. The concluding Shostakovich sonata revealed how technique and musicianship can merge and explode into something really mind-blowing.
In spite of what many noted as a “heavy program,” the audiences took to the two-night repertoire with as much enthusiasm. To show that that they are not just serious musicians, the duo ended their several encores with the cellist abandoning his cello and joining Licad on the piano in a gleeful version of Hungarian Rhapsody which wasn’t note-perfect for Gerhardt but which elicited cheering reminiscent of rock concerts.
Now who says chamber music can’t rock?
The following evening, Gerhardt was ravishingly brilliant in Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto while Licad rendered the Prokofiev’s Third Concerto with such depth of interpretative power seldom seen on the CCP concert stage.
For Gerhardt, the pressure to make something of the Shostakovich concerto was heavy. I told him that – except in the inner circle of musicians — nobody has heard of this cello concerto. But my pessimism soon gave way to excitement when I caught up with the last rehearsals. The cellist not only has focus but a quality of musicianship that dazzled even those who aren’t certified cello lovers. “I thought the cello was such a depressing instrument until I heard Gerhardt,” said Charito Esquela Buban from Tabaco, Albay.
As for the Prokofiev concerto, Licad showed not just power and precision but also gave the piece such varied coloring unknown in previous Manila performances of this concerto. For the audiences who was initially wary of this unpopular concerto, Licad’s rendering turned into musical re-discovery of the first order. (After all, you can’t live your life on Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concertos without getting an overdose of them).
Oscar Yatco and the Philippine Philharmonic managed to be at par with the celebrated soloists. There were nervous moments in the first movements of the Shostakovich and Prokofiev concertos but the extraordinary soloists probably brought out the best in the conductor and the orchestra.
The last Chopin encore ( a Chopin etude popularly known as No Other Love) summed up what Licad wanted to convey to her audiences: that music can reach out to everyone and can provide the much-needed balm to the spirit in a country embroiled in endless political wrangling.
The Licad audiences didn’t only come from Manila. An entire entourage from Holy Angel University in Angeles City came when they found out CCP cannot be asked to share Licad with provincial audiences. The mother of Rochit Tanedo came all the way from Pampanga to watch the concert when she found out the planned Pampanga concert would never happen. One Dr.Ferdinand Pacuribot flew all the way from Palawan to watch Licad. An entire officialdom from Nueva Ecija lead by Mayor Nestor Alvarez came when their fond wish of seeing Licad in their hometown never happened. A few came in wheelchairs among them concert organizer Alfredo Mendoza who was in tears throughout Licad’s performances.
On the whole, the Licad-Gerhardt concerts were welcome respite from the controversies that hounded CCP in the past two months. The concerts clearly showed that music when interpreted by superior artists are beyond politics. I have high hopes that two members of the board who caught up with the concluding part of the recital shall get the message – that CCP is just slabs of cement without the artists who gave it a human face.
Quite a sight was CCP’s vice-president and artistic director Raul Sunico greeting Licad with a buss after the recital. I am not sure if the newly appointed CCP president – one Antonio S. Yap – made it to the concert.