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St. Cecilia’s Concert 2014: “An American Affair”

January 27,2015

One sunny morning after I said my morning prayers, I looked up at the blue sky and sang the song: “Oh, what a beautiful morning!  Oh what a wonderful day! I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.” And this was fulfilled when that evening (Nov. 30, 2014) I went to St. Scholastica’s College to witness the annual Saint Cecilia’s Concert entitled “An American Affair” presented by the St. Scholastica’s School of Music in cooperation with the St. Scholastica’s Music Alumnae Association at the St. Cecilia’s Hall at 6:00 p.m.

The concert joyfully started with the Italian-American Mario Braggiotti’s “Variations on the theme “Yankee Doodle” in “the manner of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy and Gerswhin” (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, impressionism and American 20th century all rolled into one) interpreted on two pianos by two very gifted pianists, internationally trained Rica Mana-delos Angeles and Mariel Ilusorio, who just joined SSC as faculty this year. I have already written reviews of their inspiring solo concerts in the Manila Times “Music to My Ears”. We really enjoyed listening to their delightful virtuosic rendition for it brought us back to the “Scenes of our Childhood” with “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, Jack feel down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after”. Mario Braggiotti was trained by famous pedagogues, the pianists Alfred Cortot and Isidor Philippe, the composer Nadia Boulanger and later the American George Gershwin.

The very shy but talented guitarist Ramoncito Carpio enchanted us with his sonorous virtuosic interpretations of Andrew York’s “Waiting for Dawn” and “Sunburst” tinged with vibrating rock and jazz rhythms. There was a returning of the top and bottom strings of “Sunburst” with the Es tubes down to Ds which created this sonorous sound with open strings vibrating causing the mesmerized audience’ equally sonorous ovation.

The dramatic baritone Raymond Leslie Diaz with his expressive countenance and body movements highly entertained us when he soulfully and sadly interpreted Stephen Foster’s “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” composed by Foster after separating with his wife, “wishing for days gone by”. “Come Back to Me” with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner is take from Burton’s musical “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” based on the book “Berkely Square” by John L. Balderston. The psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner has been treating a woman with ESP using her as a “Subject for his study in reincarnation”. When the woman found out about this and that the doctor is also in love with her Alterego, she is disgusted and disappears. As Dr. Mark, Leslie Diaz’ heart breaking cries “Come back to me” was so realistically of a forsaken lover who wants the love one to return. We felt his pain whenever he uttered “Come Back” but were so delighted with his acting that we clapped for him unendingly.

 Was it the pianist Chopin interpreting so soulfully on the violin John Williams “theme from Schindler’s List” and Niccolo Paganini, Lizst’s idol, whose wild virtuosity some people thought the devil himself performing, interpreting William Kroll’s “Banjo and Fiddle”? No, it was the very gifted violinist Denise Santos-Huang performing so heartbreakingly the “Theme from “Schindler’s List”, then shocked us with her fast and lively interpretation of “Banjo and Fiddle” starting with plucked strings dialoguing with Mr. Chopin – Liszt himself, the pianist Josue Greg Zuniega, both showcasing virtuosity at its utmost at the start and a contrasting “Andante” section before the outburst of the beginning theme. 

Rica Nepomuceno and Camille Lopez Molina, two stalwarts of Philippine vocal music, gave a realistic interpretation of “A Boy Like That” from “Westside Story” (music by Leonard Berstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) with Grace Quioyo-Garcia accompanying them at the piano. They pictured vividly their emotion when in Act II, they learned that Anita’s boyfriend Bernardo in killed in a gang fight by Tony, boyfriend of Bernardo’s sister Maria a heart broken Anita goes to Maria’s apartment and scolds Maria for loving the alleged killer Tony in the song “A Boy Like That”.

Alumna Caisa Borromeo, one of our country’s leading music theater artists, brightened the hall when she joined this evening’s concerts interpreting Leonard Berstein’s “Somewhere” from “West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) and Jason Howland “Astonishing”  from “Little Women” (lyrics by Mindi Dickstein). As Maria in “Somewhere” she refuses to believe that her boyfriend killed her brother, but when Tony confesses to her that it is true, she still loves her and dreams of a world where there is love, peace and forgiveness. “Astonishing” tells the story of the four sisters Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy, their mother and their father away at was in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. Caisa Borromeo as Jo turns town the marriage proposal from Laurie, the boy next door and thinks of her future in a changing world. Caisa acted this role in the 2010 Repertory Philippines presentation of “Little Women”.

Gershwin hoped to bridge the gulf between popular and classical music when he composed “Rhapsody in Blue” combining jazz and Lisztian Romantiasm. When clarinetist Felicito Sacdalan, with Greg Zuniega at the piano, performed Gershwin’s “Three Preludes”, Prelude I “Allegro” entertained us with a five note blues motif. Prelude II “Andante” almost lulled us to sleep with a blues lullaby and the jazz rhythms and syncopations in the lively Prelude II tempted us to dance merrily while Felicito and Greg happily enjoyed playing these conducive jazz and blues rhythmic theme.

The finale of this most enchanting evening concert was Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” so beautifully performed by the St. Scholatica’s College School of Music Chorus Class, St. Scholastica’s College School of Music Percussion Ensemble and the SSC’s School of Music Chamber Orchestra conducted by Prof. Maria Lourdes Hermo with the 14 year old Troy Omar Bisenio, boy soprano as soloist. Movement I uses Psalms 100 to 108, Movement II Psalms 23 and 2, and Movement III Psalms 131 and 133. This work was premiered in New York July 15, 1965.

Loud percussive sounds rose us to full attention at the start of Movement I abounding in dissonant 7ths calling everyone to awaken and praise the Lord. A leitmotif of a descending perfect 4th, ascending minor 7th and descending perfect 5th dominates the movement, the percussion stole the show in this movement, which are not heard anymore in the 2nd and 3rd movements.

The boy soprano soloist, Troy Omar Bisenio, so tall for his age, good a moving lyrical interpretation of the tranquil melody in the second movement which is repeated by the sopranos, and abruptly interrupted by the orchestra and rumbling men’s voices singing Psalms 2 raging against kings and rulers who conspire against the Lord.

The third movement begins with an instrumental prelude leading to the final movement without interruption which pictures God’s children bonding together to live peacefully and harmoniously loving one another.

By Maria-Celine Veloso Pil
Music Critic & Former SSC Faculty