On the same day the monstrous rains of Typhoon “Mario” submerged Metro Manila, conductor-composer and National Artist for Music Francisco Feliciano quietly passed away after a long battle with cancer, which has reached stage 4. He was 73.
Earlier, the UP College of Music paid tribute to Feliciano (along with coartist Ramon Santos) with a concert showcasing his works.
Like most pioneering artists, Feliciano was in search of an audience exposed mostly to conventional music. He discovered his own brand of music after reflecting on his Filipino roots.
In the mid-’80s, Feliciano’s grand entrance in Manila’s music world was his opera “La Loba Negra,” with libretto by soprano Fides Cuyugan Asensio. Directed by film icon Peque Gallaga, the Feliciano opera was one of the few times when contemporary music ruled Manila’s opera scene inundated by the works of Verdi and Puccini. One got a chance to hear his other music dramas, namely, “Ashen Wings,” “Sikhay Sa Kabila ng Paalam (Beyond the Farewell),” and the life of wartime Filipino hero, “Jose Abad Santos.”
Balm to weary spirit
One remembers him showing the score of his large works, “The Transfiguration and Missa Mysterium” for orchestra and large chorus. As usual, he complained about the cost of hiring an orchestra and soloists to interpret his works and wondered why in his own country, composers have to beg for a chance for his music to be heard.
The National Artist Award was a balm to his weary spirit. He wasn’t known in wider music audiences but perceptive listeners singled him out as one of the few composers whose creativity was tribute to the Filipino ability to merge Eastern sound with Western influences.
He was, of course, visible as one of the former resident conductors of the Philippine Philharmonic. He conducted a CCP run of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” with pianists Cecile Licad and cellist Antonio Meneses as among his distinguished soloists. Tchaikovsky laureate Rowena Arrieta was his soloist when he debuted with the Chicago Symphony also in the mid-’80s.
The most fitting tribute to Feliciano is summed up by baritone and choral conductor Joel Navarro, now based in Singapore.
Navarro said Feliciano’s contribution to the development of Asian congregational song is incalculable. “His choral and orchestral compositions always bore the hallmark of a restive spirit which found peace in searching for the Unnamed God. He reveled in the poetry of Rumi, Tagore and Rilke, and fought for the contextualization of Asian hymnody, devoting the best years of his life in establishing the Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music (Sambalikhaan), a few of us have been privileged to teach in and learn from,” he said.
The choral conductor said Feliciano’s mind was always questioning. “He was always looking for the Asian sound, defining Asian spirituality, at times pushing the edge of orthodoxy to its limits. He was the son of a restless age—he studied with Heinz Werner Zimmerman at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule, then later with Krysztof Penderecki at Yale. His thoughts were his own, often an inscrutable personality with a Beethovenesque scowl who could put on the charm if he wanted to sell the idea of a great vision percolating in his brain. He was often misunderstood. But few will question his indelible mark as a composer of genius, fire, restlessness and depth of spirituality,” he said.
Navarro recalled their share of disagreements. “But I have always admired how God gave him a unique and impregnable mind which stayed its course, an uncanny perception and skill in unlocking the mysteries of teaching pedagogies and systems, and pushed us to think, feel and wonder about the possibilities that lay plus ultra (more beyond) outside the box. Go with the Infinite, Dr. Francisco Feliciano. We will miss your singular voice and captivating mind,” he said.
Doctorate from Yale
Feliciano enrolled at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule and obtained a diploma in music composition at the Hochchule der Kunste in Berlin and received his Doctor in Musical Arts from Yale.
Among his prize-winning compositions are “Pokpok Alimpako,” which has become favorite piece of choirs in international choral competitions and “Salimbayan. Umiinog, Walang Tinag (Perpetuum Immobile),” which was premiered in New York City at the ISCM Festival. His latest choral works, “Pamugun” and “Restless,” have been performed by Filipino choirs in various choral festivals in Europe.
Feliciano is survived by wife Rebecca Feliciano and children Julette and J.J.
His remains will be at the Holy Angels Memorial in Morong, Rizal, until early Sunday and will be moved to Loyola Commonwealth Sunday until Tuesday.
Necrological service follows at the CCP on Sept. 24, after which burial follows at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.