MANILA, Philippines–The oldest surviving member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) that mounted the historic 1945 concert to amid the ruins of the Second World War will attend the reenactment of the historic production at the Meralco Theater on March 13, 2015.
She is Pilar Benavides Estrada, who turns 85 this year. The Inquirer Arts and Books section located her in Diliman, Quezon City.
The May 9, 1945, concert of the MSO, under conductor Dr. Herbert Zipper, heralded the country’s liberation from the Japanese Occupation. The event was known as MSO’s first post-liberation concert; it was held in the ruins of Santa Cruz Church in Manila.
To mark the 70th anniversary of Philippine Liberation, MSO will reenact the 1945 concert, playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and Dvorak’s New World Symphony.
Benavides Estrada is the only known living local survivor from the 1945 concert. One other Filipino member, Juan “Johnny” Turla Jr., has not been heard from for a long time, she said.
The oldest living foreign survivor is Earl Smith, who played the clarinet. He wrote about his memoirs of the MSO in an Inquirer Arts and Books article on March 9, 2015.
Estrada, who was only 15 at the time, was the youngest member of the group. She was assigned as one of the second violins.
Coming back from Laguna after the liberation, Estrada said she had missed the audition. Fortunately, her mother’s cousin referred her to Zipper, who asked her to play a piece for him. She played Habanera Filipina No. 2 by Ernesto Vallejo because that was the only piece she knew how to play.
“[Habanera Filipina No. 2] was the only piece I knew how to play because I was just a beginner then,” she said. “I didn’t know if he (Zipper) liked it or not. After that, he asked me to play a piece that would be played for the concert. I did not know how to play spicatto, but fortunately I had sharp ears. I just started playing it. Right there and then, he accepted me to the orchestra. This was the first time I became a part of the orchestra.”