Cultural relations between France and the Philippines had been staunchly conducted in the past as it is vigorously pursued now. This is particularly true in the field of music.
Two outstanding names in the performing arts, the late baritone Aurelio Estanislao and international pianist Reynaldo Reyes, who were both schooled in Paris Conservatory at Sorbonne, come to mind.
This French connection was recently celebrated in “Songs and Symphony” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, featuring collaborative efforts between French and Filipino music artists.
The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), under the baton of a French conductor, and Filipino voice students, who participated in a week-long voice master-class conducted by French vocal experts, were the main performers.
Michael Cousteau, who had previously conducted the PPO, indisputably the country’s premier orchestra, returned to Manila to conduct it once more.
The main symphonic fare was the appealing but rarely heard Symphony in D Minor by Cesar Franck, a Belgian composer who taught in France. The work was of course dedicated to his student, the French composer Henri Duparc.
Cousteau was joined by two voice experts, Florence Guignolet and Stephane Werchowski.
It was refreshing to hear Franck’s opus, the only symphony he wrote. A handsome work, it is a shining example of the cyclic thematic style that binds the entire work from the first movement, passing to the second up to the final third movement.
The orchestra sounded great under the articulate baton of Cousteau, who definitely knew his metier. He generously shared the audience’s admiration for the musicians of the PPO, whom he acknowledged at the end.
Music and voice
There was more to admire of his expertise on the podium on the second part. This time the PPO was assisted by Filipino singers, who performed ensemble works culled from a bouquet of operatic works such as Offenbach’s “La Vie Parisienne”; Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and “Cosi Fan Tutte”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
This was not an exhibit of vocal prowess. The singers were not accomplished but still in their formative years as students. What was admirable was the synergy of talents that they afforded everyone.
The expertise of Guignolet as artistic director was relished to the full. She refused to treat the pieces as works that had to end individually but as a dynamic whole that had an upbeat beginning and end. The opening number “Nous Venons, Arrivons de Tous les Pays du Monde,” from Offenbach’s opera bouffe “La Vie Parisienne,” which celebrates contemporary life in gay Paris, segues into “Libiamo” from Verdi’s immortal “La Traviata,” which has Paris, too, as setting.
The singers obviously enjoyed their singing, never mind some vocal inadequacies. The important thing was, the singers had articulated intelligent singing learned from the master-class. They all sang with a dynamism that underscored the essence of the works, acting and emoting with professional realism, deeply connecting with the works they rendered.
The singers were sopranos Maria Krissan Manikan, Myramae Meneses, Jade Riccio, Elainne Marie Vibal; tenors Ivan Niccolo Nery, Emmanuel de la Rosa; and baritone Jillbert Chua. Mary Anne Espina lent her expertise as collaborative pianist.
Here’s hoping this master-class will open opportunities to our local singers to study under scholarship grants from the government of France, a veritable world-class venue for musical training.
Regarding my article on the PPO last week, the year 1912 should read 1913, the year Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was premiered, as disclosed by Maestro Olivier Ochanine in his brief remark. The maestro’s stint with the PPO is just on the second year, not third as stated in the article. PPO’s opening season in September this year will mark the start of his third year as conductor of the PPO.