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The New York-based Filipino pianist is a ?teleserye? fan who watches the marathon airing of ?Magkaribal? on TFC
AFTER OVER two decades of wowing audiences worldwide and winning awards for the country, Rowena Arrieta remains modest.

?There are so many brilliant artists in Asia,? she says. ?I wonder why they included my name.?

As described by a New York Times critic, Arrieta plays with ?fevered demonic intensity and gentle sublime introspection.? Every time she strikes those ivory keys, she brings with her the virtuosity from her Moscow training.

She became the first Filipino scholar at the Moscow Conservatory of Music in 1979, and was the first Filipino laureate in the 1982 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow.

At only 18, she made history by winning fifth place and special prize for being the ?youngest and most promising contestant? among 82 pianists from all over the world.

She obtained her Master?s from the Moscow Conservatory, where she graduated summa cum laude. She did her professional studies at the Manhattan School of Music, where she was also a full scholar.

After 14 years of not performing in Manila, Arrieta was in town early August upon the invitation of her mentor and professor, Carmencita Guanzon-Arambulo, to perform in a concert-tribute in celebration of the latter?s golden year of teaching music.

Arrieta was featured in two concerts at St. Paul?s College Manila, which also celebrated its diamond jubilee. In ?Mrs. A?s Opus,? she rendered the world premiere of three original works especially written for the occasion. She studied and memorized the original pieces before coming to Manila.

Arrieta rendered ?Ondoy-Ondoy? by Ryan Cayabyab; ?Hallelujah Concerto? by Ariel Arambulo and ?Poem,? an original instrumental composition by Arambulo, who wrote the piece when she was only 17.

In the second suite, pianists Therese Gemora, Jonathan Coo and a string orchestra joined Arrieta onstage.

Second show

The second show, ?R and R,? saw Arrieta in a piano-duo concert with Raul Sunico, with whom she last shared the stage in 1996. That year also marked her last performance in Manila at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Arambulo owns the Greenhills Music Studio (GMS) where Arrieta honed her piano-playing since she was 13.

Undoubtedly a child prodigy, she was only two when she started playing the piano by ear. At four, she learned how to read notes, and at five, she could compose her own piano pieces.

Under Arambulo?s tutelage, Arrieta first gained recognition by winning First Place in Piano in the 1976 National Music Competition for Young Artists (Namcya). She later became a scholar at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling, Laguna.

Arrieta flew halfway across the globe to participate in the concert-tribute to Arambulo. ?I couldn?t say no to Mrs. A,? she says of her teacher.

A few days after her Manila performances, she was given a welcome dinner by Arambulo at GMS, where she got a chance to meet again with long-time friends. Among the attendees were Louie Ocampo, Rica Arambulo and siblings Maritess and Michael Salientes.

Arrieta came with hubby Jonathan Policarpio, with whom she has been married for 21 years, as well as their two children Josheb, 20, and Isabel, 9. The pianist?s 81-year-old mom, Luz, was also in the dinner.

Collaboration on Apo hit

It was in the same four corners of GMS where Arrieta and Ocampo collaborated on the Apo Hiking Society hit, ?Ewan,? which won runner-up in the 1979 Metro Manila Popular Music Festival.

Arrieta wrote the lyrics while Ocampo created the music. Interestingly, the two had been romantically involved but have remained good friends to this day. It is said Ocampo composed ?Ewan? as his song for Arrieta.

That night of the dinner, Ocampo was teased by their common friends that he used to bring watermelon for Arrieta. He humored everyone by grabbing a bowl of rambutan to offer her. ?Iba na ngayon,? he jests. Arrieta?s hubby, Jonathan, gamely took the jesting in stride.

Since she did her New York debut recital in Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in 1989, Arrieta has called the Big Apple her second home. She resides with her family on Long Island, where she also owns a music studio named after her.

That mainly keeps her busy with over 70 students. She has been a faculty member of the National Piano Teachers Guild (USA) since 1990.

She says she still remains ?very much Filipino.? She boasts of her dual citizenship, which also applies to her two children.

?Nothing has really changed even if I?m in New York,? she says. ?My kids understand Tagalog. They are raised with Filipino values. At home, they eat Filipino food like sinigang and adobo, which I cook for them.?

She is a hands-on mom and is used to multi-tasking at home. ?You are first and foremost a parent,? she insists. ?But my kids are very disciplined. Whatever they do, they do it with passion. They are not pressured to also venture into a professional music career.?

Soap-opera fan

The world-renowned pianist is also an avid teleserye fan. Her favorite fare on The Filipino Channel is ?Magkaribal,? starring Gretchen Barretto, Bea Alonzo and Derek Ramsey. She also watches the drama anthology ?Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK).?

?On Sundays, they have this marathon airing of ?Magkaribal,? where they show all the episodes from Monday to Friday,? Arrieta says. ?I also like ?MMK? because it dramatizes true stories.?

Since they also subscribe to GMA 7?s Pinoy TV, Arrieta?s husband follows ?Jessica Soho Reports.?

?That?s why even if we live in New York, we are updated with everything that has been happening in the Philippines,? Arrieta says. ?I remember being terrified when I saw the video footage of [typhoon] ?Ondoy? and how devastating it was. Up to this day, the images are still very vivid on my mind.?

Though she has performed all over the world?Russia, Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, The Netherlands, Mexico, India, Austria, Japan, Canada, Romania, Australia, Hong Kong, the US?Arrieta confesses she misses performing in Manila. ?Hopefully, I?ll be here more often to do more shows after this year. That is not an impossibility.?