A celebratory evening was enjoyed by a large audience when the Ortigas Foundation Library sponsored a reenactment of the first post-Liberation concert by the Manila Symphony Orchestra at Meralco Theater on March 13.
The original performance had been at the Santa Cruz Church ruins on May 9, 1945, under Dr. Herbert Zipper.
John Silva, director of the Ortigas Foundation Library, acknowledged those in the audience who had been present at the original performance in 1945, such as the Paterno sisters, Isabel Oriol (who had been an usherette), radio announcer Gabino Tabuñar and Benito Legarda Jr. (also an usher in 1945)
Above all, he acknowledged the sole surviving local orchestra member from 1945, the then 14-year-old violinist Pilar Benavides, now a grandmother carrying her late husband’s family name of Estrada. She rose from her seat to great applause and received a bouquet of flowers and a parchment copy of the 1945 program.
The concert was the culmination of a series of lectures on the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Manila sponsored by the Ortigas Foundation Library.
The program featured the original selections played in 1945: Beethoven’s monumental Third Symphony (“Eroica”) in honor of the Allied war dead, and Dvorak’s New World symphony, as a salute to the American liberating forces.
It conveyed all the emotions of the events attending the Liberation of Manila.
It was revealed that Zipper had gone around Manila and outlying provinces looking for surviving orchestra members and found 78 out of 120. With two American GI’s and a European, they formed the 81-person orchestra at Santa Cruz Church.
The March 13 replication was conducted by MSO conductor Arturo Molina. The “Eroica” was played with almost immaculate cleanliness, with the conductor giving the cues accurately.
Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony was given an exciting reading, with Molina able to delineate the necessary dynamics, from very soft pianissimo to a good forte.
The different instruments, soloists and groupings answered one another very clearly without losing the melodic line. Molina has developed from a restrained and diffident conductor to a very confident one who knows his music.
The MSO itself was well rehearsed, particularly the strings led by the lovely and talented Gina Medina Perez. The orchestra is made up mostly of young players trained almost from scratch.
Traditionally, musicians are auditioned and the best are selected, but now all of them were trained from the beginning. The strings, especially, were composed of what looked like teenagers, but thy represented the hope and the future of the orchestra.
Law professor Katrina Legarda, at intermission, movingly delivered her grandmother Trinidad F. Legarda’s 1945 speech.
It must have touched the audience deeply, taking into account that the war was still on and gunfire could still be heard in the distant mountains.
The Manila Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1926 and is probably the oldest existing orchestra in East Asia.
We salute all those who never gave up on the name of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. As my cousin Marinela Katigbak Fabella remarked: “There should be more concerts like this.”
The author is a pianist, choral conductor and music graduate from the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music.