COMPOSER Francisco F. Feliciano, the late National Artist for Music, was given a tribute concert that featured his compositions on the eve of his first death anniversary at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
One of the national artists declared in June last year, the formal conferment ceremony has yet to be held.
Feliciano died on Sept. 19, 2014, without having been bestowed the medal that goes with the conferment.
The CCP, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) together with the composer’s family, presented the concert “To the Unnamed Light,” featuring Feliciano’s works.
They were interpreted by Novo Concertante Manila; UP Singing Ambassadors (UPSA), sopranos Alegria O. Ferrer and Jade Rubis Riccio; tenor Malvin Macasaet; baritone Eudenice Palaruan; Ma. Cristina Santiago, clarinet; Morriz Wind Band; Philippine Youth Symphonic Band, conducted by Arnaldo N. Custodio, and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), conducted by Arnel Feliciano, the honoree’s nephew; and the Sandiwa Kayumanggi folk dancers.
The audience feasted on music in contemporary Neo-Romantic-expressionist style. The style uses a mixture of tonal and atonal pitches, which does not abandon the melody. Out of the opposing tonal and atonal pitches emerges a “tone cluster” that serves as pitch reference to the performers.
The composer allows it to move to create a dynamic rather than a static sound. Fresh sound is created through the skillful fusion of tonal melodies that move against a barrage of atonalities.
Feliciano had composed opera, ballet music, orchestral works, symphonic, chamber and solo works, choral works and sacred music.
He invested his works with a deep sense of Filipinism. His music exudes a unique sound that shows the subtleties, rhythmic vitality and intricate interweaving of lines culled from Philippine as well as Asian musical traditions expressed in contemporary style.
At once the audience was lulled in a meditative stance in “Silence My Soul,” a choral setting of Rabindranath Tagore’s text, rendered by the powerful fusion of Arwin Tan’s Novo Concertante and Ed Manguiat’s UPSA.
The same mood pervaded toward the end of the program, again with the composite choirs’ rendition of “To the Unnamed Light,” another setting of Tagore’s text.
The choirs then took turns in superbly rendering some of Feliciano’s best-known choral works such as “Pokpok Alimpako” and “Pamulinawen” (Novo Concertante); and “Pamugon” and “Panalangin ng Pagpasok ng Bagong Milenyum” with text by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera (UPSA), which had become favorite fare included in several choir’s repertory, both local and foreign. These choirs, and some others, too, sang these works (except “Pamulinawen”) in choral tilts abroad and won top prizes.
“Pokpok Alimpako” and “Pamugon” form part of the trio of Muslims songs, the last being “Enduken,” which has to be performed yet. The trio highlights Muslim musical culture and argues for cultural integration between Christian and Muslim Filipinos.
“Pokpok Alimpako” earned the Best Composition in Contemporary Music in Arezzo, Italy (European Grand Prix) in 1981; while “Panalangin” and “Pamugon” won top prizes for the UPSA in several choral tilts in Europe.
The rendition of Alfred Reed’s “El Camino Real,” by the Morriz Band and the Philippine Youth Symphonic Band conducted by Arnaldo N. Custodio, was a nostalgic acknowledgement of the composer’s musical roots.
In private conversations with this writer, the composer had traced his roots to his exposure to the musical environment of his hometown Morong. From the church and its para-liturgical musical endeavors such as the pasyon, he got the religious fervor. Outside of it, he got a secular orientation rooted in the romantic vein as he listened and played with the town’s band.
He was born in Morong, Rizal, and played with the Morriz (Mor: Morong; Riz:Rizal) Band conducted by his father Maximiniano, a pianist, when he was 10 years old. He played the percussion and clarinet.
Abroad, he imbibed a cosmopolitan outlook as he was exposed to the bigger musical worlds brought about by the pursuit of higher education in Berlin, Germany, and Yale University in the United States.
Conductor-composer Palaruan showed another feather in his cap as a baritone in his intelligent rendition of three Rilke poems with Ma. Cristina Santiago on the clarinet. The rendition was the Philippine premiere of the three songs culled from the original five songs premiered in the United States.
Tenor Marvin Macasaet showed quite a potential in his rendition of “Paalam ni Elias kay Salome” from “Sikhay sa Kabila ng Paalam,” though amplification sounded unfocused to achieve workable balance with the orchestra.
Moving was the excerpt from “La Loba Negra,” with libretto by Fides Cuyugan Asensio. It aptly opened with the introduction that had the two composite choirs chanting the pasyon, and the French horn blowing that howl of a wolf.
Next came the rendition of the arias that saw the vocal as well as thespian prowess of coloratura soprano Ferrer. She essayed the challenging locura aria, or the Mad Scene, “Huitzilopochtli” with stellar finesse. Riccio was moving in her elegant rendition of the death aria, “Napakahaba ng Gabi! (The Night is Long).
The combined choirs brilliantly intoned the powerful closing chorus that augured a bright tomorrow for the country in “Bukas Sisikat ang Araw!” (Tomorrow the Sun Will Shine). Feliciano conducted with gusto, leading both the PPO and the choirs to cap the concert with a bang, which so moved the audience that they gave the performance a thunderous applause!