Cheers to Women!

I meant to write this three weeks ago after watching a concert to celebrate International Women’s Day. I kept postponing and now, the last day of the Women’s Month is staring me at the face. I put it off one more time and it’s going to be an April Fools’ Day blog post. Clearly, that’s no way to honor all women out there.

Last March 8th, Paco Park Presents,  a joint cultural project of the Department of Tourism, the National Parks Development Committee, and PTV4, featured baritone Noel Azcona and pianist Farley Asuncion in an evening of special songs dedicated to the women of Manila and the rest of the world. It was aptly titled “Cheers to Women.” Concert venue was the historic Paco Park at San Marcelino, Manila.

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The flier handed us at the park introduced Noel Azcona as the assistant music director of the UST Singers. He has performed major roles including his operatic debut in Japan in a supporting role and later the title role in Manila of Fr. Maramba’s Lord Takayama. He took on the part of Escamillo in Carmen last October 2012. As assistant  conductor and soloist of the UST Singers, he has taken part in 10 world concert tours covering major cities of Europe, USA,  Mexico, Canada and Asia.

For that evening, Azcona was set to sing OMBRA MAI FU (G.F. Handel); CHANSON DE DON QUICHOTTE (Jacques Ibert); PETRARCH SONNETS (F. Liszt); operatic arias NI SNA, NI OTDYKHA IZMUCHEN NOI DUSHE (Borodin); JA VAS LYUB LYU (P. Tchaikovsky); VOTRE TOAST! (G. Bizet); and MAGBALIK KA HIRANG (Nicanor Abelardo).

A little overwhelming for someone like me who’s not an opera buff. My exposure to classical music has been quite limited to Tchaikovsky’s more popular works Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker. I didn’t even realize that all the while I’d been listening to Chopin’s Etude in E Op. 10 No.3 and Impromptu No. 4 in C Sharp Minor Op. 66. Before that, I only knew them as the love songs “No Other Love” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”  Looking at Azcona’s unfamiliar repertoire, I thought the thing to do was sit tight and enjoy the evening.

And despite the language divide—the songs were rendered in French, Russian and Italian (except for Abelardo’s piece) — it was an evening to remember! Music indeed has no boundaries and Azcona is a fluent and powerful medium of his art. As he was singing the last notes of “Magbalik ka Hirang,” a sweet scent coming from some flowering plants in the park wafted through the air. I have no explanation for this dramatic happenstance.

I made a mental note to do some internet sleuthing in the following days to learn a few things about the featured composers and their pieces. Among the new things I’ve learned:

  • Aside from being a composer, Alexander Borodin was a respected doctor and chemist. He was a notable advocate for women’s rights and education in Tsarist Russia and was a founder of the School of Medicine for Women in St. Petersburg.
  • Ja vas lyub lyu, Tchaikovsky’s operatic aria, means “I love you” in Russian.
  • At age 8, Nicanor Abelardo made his first composition, a waltz that was dedicated to his grandmother. As a tribute to this great Filipino composer, the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the building housing the  College of Music at UP Diliman were named after him.

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Noel Azcona will be performing in a concert with flutist John Raymund Sarreal and pianist Najib Ismail in Virac, Catanduanes on April 27th.  The concert is presented by Music News and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) in association with the Manila Chamber Orchestra Foundation and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

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