Historic 1945 Manila Symphony Orchestra concert to be reenacted | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022



The first post-liberation concert of the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) under conductor Dr. Herbert Zipper was given in the ruins of Santa Cruz Church on May 9, 1945. It was described in the Sunday Times Magazine in May 1970 as the most unusual concert ever given in Manila.


The concert will be reenacted by today’s MSO as the culmination of the 70th anniversary of Philippine Liberation on March 13 at the Meralco Theater. The performance is under the auspices of the Ortigas Foundation.


The 1945 concert was rich in symbolism. The ruined Church represented the physical state of the country after the destruction wrought by the Japanese military.


The first number, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), gathered the multiple meanings of the period. The funeral march in the second movement mourned the war dead. The bold dissonances mirrored the difficulties the Filipinos faced. The sweeping climaxes and thundering chords asserted the country’s determination to move forward to a greater future.


The second number, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, was a salute to America that had liberated us from the nightmare of Japanese oppression and brutality. If one listened carefully, one might detect the melody of “Yankee Doodle” in the fourth movement.


MacArthur, Doherty


Gracing the Santa Cruz Church concert were Jean MacArthur, wife of Douglas MacArthur, Philippine Chief of Staff General Basilio Valdes and his wife, and His Grace Manila Archbishop Michael O’ Doherty, whom I personally ushered to his seat. Also present was prewar Manila editor Frederic S. Marquardt, author of “Before Bataan and After” (1943).


After the concert, my mother received a letter from a Dutch officer praising the concert, and singling out for special mention the flute passage in the last movement of the Eroica. This must have been played by veteran MSO flutist Remigio de Guzman.


A certain Captain White of the Boston Symphony enthused about the orchestra to my mother.


All the MSO members at the time were Filipinos, except two. One was a young violinist, Manuel “Imo” Wilheim, a Jewish refugee. The other was lead clarinetist Earl J. Smith, of the 37th Division Band. (The regular MSO first clarinetist had been lured away by the easy money to be made playing in bars and night clubs.) Smith is now 96 and lives with his wife in Modesto, California.


It is not known how many of the 1945 MSO players are still alive. Some of them were my classmates in the prewar Academy of Music of Manila, but it has been several years since I last saw one of them, Juan “Johnny” Turla Jr.


Of those who attended the 1945 concert, I know for sure that the Paterno sisters Pansy and Linda are still with us. So are the daughters of patriot and Kempeitai torture victim Ramon Oriol, Isabel and Carmen, who were usherettes at the concert. Also at the concert was veteran radio newscaster Gabino “Gabby” Tabuñar, who was with his fiancée and later his wife, Maitoni Eguaras.


Concert critics


Gabby told me that, at the time, there were people who were critical of presenting a musical program in that difficult period.


Perhaps their concept of music was a rather shallow one—of music as entertainment. At her intermission speech, my mother, MSO president Trinidad Fernandez Legarda, met this view head-on.


She said: “… In this country and elsewhere, men are still risking their lives on land, sea and in the air, and unhappily, many will give up their precious lives before the war is over.


“We cannot yet celebrate victory. Why, then, some may ask, music?


“Because music is not merely sweet sound suited to the tranquil times of peace, because music is not merely a form of entertainment to relieve boredom, because it is not merely a pleasant tickling of the eardrums.


“Music is the wordless language of the emotions, transcending human speech, capable of expressing the unutterable, of communicating all those feelings for which there is no adequate expression.


“Of all the arts music is at once the most primitive and the most advanced means of expression, and, therefore, the most elemental, profound and massive in its universal appeal.


“In music life explains its very self in all its pitiful passion, its melancholy pride, its despairing hopelessness. In music we hear most clearly the questioning, challenging persevering, aspiring human soul. In music we feel and are strengthened by a sense of the fundamental sanity and might of the human race.”


I have just received a request for a copy of this speech by a docent of the American Beethoven Society of San Jose, California.


It will be read at the March 13 reenactment by my mother’s eldest granddaughter, my niece, lawyer Katrina Legarda.