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Philippine choral composition wins in US contest

/ 05:04 AM July 09, 2018

Bruce Saylor,Nilo Alcala , Lucas Marshall Smith, James Bassi

Nilo Alcala’s choral music which placed second in a United States-wide competition got good reviews after its recent world premiere at the Baruch Performing Arts in New York as part of the Composers Collective.

Critic Jean Ballard Terepka wrote that the piece of the second-place winner conducted by Benjamin Arendsen set Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” to music of cascading, lush and generous sound. “From within the large choral music, soloists soprano Artemisz Polonyi and alto Maya Webne-Behrman offered extended, poignant individual lines of song; the wide and deep dynamics of the piece, ranging from near reverential pianissimos to huge, exultant fortissimos, provided compelling descriptions of beauty and its memory.”


Added the critic: “It’s hard to know whether the competition judges made the right choices of third, second and first—some audience members discreetly debated, perhaps first should have been second, or third first—because the three works, each so different from the other two, were equally marvelous.”

Last year, Alcala became the first Philippines-born Filipino composer to get the Aaron Copland Residency Award, which allowed him to stay in the house of the dean of American composers for five weeks.

Located in Cortlandt Manor, New York, the Copland house he considers an ideal place for composers to work. “This studio houses two grand pianos and the actual desk he worked on. His bedroom is situated perfectly that the sunrise filters through the trees and into the windows, the blinds I would intentionally leave open for the sunlight to serve as a gentle alarm clock. The bedroom slides perfectly into the studio that one can just slip into a mode of creativity from a mode of slumber.”

He noted that the house was filled with noteworthy memorabilia, including awards, contracts, vinyl covers, personal correspondences (including an autographed picture from Stravinsky), and of course manuscripts. His library was filled with biographies of notable people, especially writers/ poets.

Indeed, the residency was designed so that the composer can focus on creations. “Everything about it was just perfect. Too perfect that one has to be prepared to readjust back to one’s normal routine upon conclusion of the residency.”

From among his other works, Alcala singles out Mangá Pakalagián (Ceremonies) as special. It was commissioned and premiered by the Grammy-nominated Los Angeles Master Chorale (led by Grant Gershon) at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Recalled the composer: “Its performance, was also made special as it featured a full kulintang ensemble led by the late master kulintang artist Danongan Danny Kalanduyan. The thunderous standing ovation from Angelenos that felt like infinity was so surreal, humbling, and overwhelming. That feeling of having Philippine culture celebrated in a major world stage is what truly made that premiere remarkable.” –CONTRIBUTED

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