MANILA, September 14
, 2004  (STAR) By Lynette Lee Corporal - They say that one canít teach an old dog new tricks and it looks like this is true for classical music proponents who have tried all sorts of gimmicks to lure the public into watching Ė and appreciating Ė a symphonic performance.

Classical musicians in the country have always complained that majority of Filipinos havenít much room for the classics in their pop music-filled life. This isnít at all unfounded for, indeed, a lot of Filipinos hooked on TV primetime shows would rather prefer an Otso Otso-Bulaklak-Di Ako Bakla medley over the best-loved opera arias of all time, such as "La donna ť mobile" or "Nessun dorma." This is not to make judgments for, as can be gleaned from the sentiments of musicians during the launch of the Manila Philharmonic Orchestraís 2004-2005 concert Series, itís all a matter of exposure and education.

"One of our biggest problems is educating the public on classical music. We have two kinds of musicians: One plays the metronome and the other with a cash register on the side," wails MPO music director Rodel Colmenar. He adds the only thing that keeps him and his fellow musicians in the concert scene is their passion for classical music.

Colmenar says itís no joke getting Filipinos to watch the MPOís concert series. Last yearís series, he says, was a success artistically speaking, but it didnít really attract the general public (at least to their utmost satisfaction). Musical conductor and choral specialist Jonathan Velasco put it aptly when he commented, "Classical music is like dessert. A lot of people can have a meal without taking dessert. But some have a sweet tooth and they just have to get their sweet treat on a regular basis." Itís this loyal classical music followers who give our local orchestras a much-needed boost, the raison díÍtre at times for these dedicated musicians.

The chances of getting classical music converts is quite high though, as long as they have enough support from all sides. "May pag-asa but you really have to work hard," says Colmenar.

These days, the three philharmonic orchestras in the country, including the MPO, have taken to playing some popular pieces if only to attract a much bigger and younger crowd. In the MPOís case, for instance, they once traded their formal black outfits with hip denims and played familiar, easy listening, hummable music. Theyíve also performed in malls Ė a strategy that translated into increased subscription sales Ė and shared the spotlight with TV stars via RPN 9ís anniversary concert where orchestral music and comedy made beautiful music together.

Donít be surprised if, one of these days, you see Colmenar playing on weddings as part of a string quartet. He admits that musicians do have to take on odd jobs to earn and to pay for the orchestraís needs, especially when it comes to mounting a concert series. Also, seeing the importance of education, the MPO is supporting four college level scholars. At P27,000 per student per semester, the MPO needs to work double-time and needs all the support it could get.

Armed with big dreams and wearing suits of passion as their armor, the MPO officials are also planning to put up its own school and a foundation for musically gifted kids from disadvantaged communities. They even bought 30 violins for this purpose. The MPO, in fact, has been actively helping charitable institutions, like Cerebral Palsy, Gawad Kalinga, Bantay Bata and Centex.

Colmenar and company will be doing a series of concerts in October to about 4,000 school children to propagate the curiosity and love for the classics. "We designed a very short program including a short introduction to the orchestra and the music," says Colmenar, who is currently in Germany for the Kurt Masur Conducting Workshop.

He reveals that playing for Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli was a rare opportunity as it gave the orchestra prestige and exposure to international audiences, apart from boosting the morale of its musicians. Apart from the artistic merits, being asked to accompany him on the Hong Kong and Singapore leg of his Asian tour enabled them to earn a bit, for a change.

For this seasonís concerts, the MPO is featuring a variety of local artists, including pianist Ingrid Santamaria, conductor Jonathan Velasco, soprano Rachelle Gerodias, tenor Nolyn Cabahug and balladeer Rico J. Puno. Foreign talents invited for the season include American cellist Stephen Framil, Russian violinist Anastacia Cheotareva, Russian conductor Mark Kadin and Korean flutist Hae Won Shin.

Its lineup of concerts, to be held at 8 p.m. at the Philamlife Theater, along United Nations Ave., Manila, include Journey to Classics (Sept. 24), Beauty and Virtuosity (Oct. 22), Respectfully Yours (Nov. 12), The Magnificent Russia (Dec. 3), Experience Paris (Jan. 28, 2005) and Operassisimo (March 11, 2005).

"We tried to find pieces that fit the Filipino audience and came up with some very romantic melodies that Iím sure they will love," he says.

No, Rico J. Puno will not be singing any opera arias but he will do what he does best Ė sing standards a la Frank Sinatra and, yes, his signature songs.

Colmenarís ultimate dream? "For our orchestra to tour abroad. We have the material and talent to do this," he enthuses. Barring creative differences, politics and factions pervading the local arts and culture scene, all these dreams may just come true, he adds. All they need really is the support of the government, the private sector, and the public.

Again, Velasco put it aptly when he said that our local musicians have been winning gold almost yearly in international competitions. Rightly so, he observes that "this is where we win, where weíre good at and are known for."

* * * For inquiries, visit the Manila Philharmonic Office at Rm. 307, The Main Place Bldg., 190 N. Domingo St. corner Pinaglabanan St., San Juan, Manila, call 705-1728, 722-4274 and telefax 722-7137, or e-mail

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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