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KUDOS TO FILHARMONIKA, the symphony orchestra that its resident conductor, Gerard Salonga, founded barely five years ago, for the successful recent staging of its second concert for the current season this year at Philamlife Theater.

The concert featured Richard Bamping as soloist in Dvorak Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, B.191. Nicolay Rimsky-Korsakov?s symphonic suite ?Scheherazade,? completed the evening?s meaty program.

Seeing Salonga conduct serious classical works was such a revelation. It erased previous impression that he was just cut for popular music. With him competently wielding the baton, FILharmoniKA?s journey to symphonic music was an astounding success. It simply was arresting, great!

Undoubtedly, this tour de force the conductor had undertaken is bound to enrich the local symphonic stage, a much-welcome development for the musical performing art.

Salonga showed solid competence and thorough understanding of the works he conducted. He cut a natural stance in wielding the baton, and produced a brilliant symphonic web of sound.

Vivid symphonic colors

In ?Scheherazade,? he delineated its symphonic idea as it developed from the soloists to sections of the orchestra in a clear, brilliant and grand manner. Vivid symphonic colors with well-nuanced dynamics were etched.

His tight rapport with the musicians ensured a high order of ensemble playing that yielded well-blended tones. This could not have been expressed without that burning sense of musicality Salonga had, as it obviously oozed from his reading of the scores.

His baton wielded dynamic flair and youthful exuberance. It was such a delight seeing him weave velvety texture of symphonic sound that never failed to allure, completely holding the audience captive by his magic wand.

?Scheherazade? was a stunning aural feat. Imaginatively, the orchestra portrayed the epic story of the ?Arabian Nights.? All four sections were essayed with such brilliance. The Sultan?s motif was boldly expressed in the first section, followed by Scheherazade?s intoned by the solo violin done captivatingly by concert master Rachelle Alcances.

More solo passages that typified Scheherazade?s nocturnal telling of the story were expressed in the third section. Like the second, they were etched in simple ternary form.

Mesmerized, the Sultan gave up his cruel plan as evoked by the piece?s quiet resolution. And when the last note had faded out, one had basked in symphonic glory, unmindful of the fact that almost an hour had elapsed.

Thorough celebration

Almost all the musicians were young, easy yet to mold, and the symphonic texture that they had collectively woven was homogenous and brilliantly projected.

Apart from the concert master, all the musicians who essayed solo parts splendidly did their part. The thunderous applause at the end, punctuated with crisp shouts of bravos, easily made Gerard and the orchestra the darling of Manila?s music-lovers.

Cellist Bamping?s engagement marked his Manila debut. It was a glorious first, the cellist having shown outstanding performance.

Playing on a 1674 Guarneri instrument, he showed stirring competence in essaying Dvorak?s concerto. His tones were solid, singing, legate and mellow. He showed tremendous confidence and struck thorough collaboration with the conductor.

From the majestic first movement, to the elegant second and festive finale, he showed sterling technical command and biting expressiveness, surging through challenging passages with ease and abandon.

The audience he held captive in his hand afforded him several calls. He truly deserved the standing ovation that followed. The audience roared for encore, which he obliged with. He told the audience he was playing (reading) Josefino Cenizal?s ditty ?Hindi Kita Malimot,? arranged, of course, by Salonga for cello and orchestra.

Manila?s new sensation

Here, Salonga?s musical genius was all the more appreciated, this time as an arranger. The arrangement let the cello sing in the first part with the minimal collaboration from the orchestra?s scanty brasses and the cello.

In the reprise, the orchestra sang, with the cello making embellishments until it once more took the lead.

One imagined a rich, expressive baritone voice typified by the cello singing the song in such an elegant manner. The arrangement had a contemporary flavor, and completely departed from the predictable Hollywoodish style.

The cellist had made another encore, and it was unfortunate I was already out of the hall, breaking protocol by rushing backstage to congratulate Manila?s new symphonic-conductor sensation, Maestro Gerard Salonga. He is for keeps.

Catch the remaining three concerts of FILharmoniKA that make up its modest five-concert series of the current season.

Call 8074433 or visit