The Night When These Symphonies Have Talked: Reflections and Reactions

While looking for a film I could watch in a cold and dreary night, I tried to avert from the usual genre of films that I am watching since my holiday break. I have always been a fan of horror movies and suspense thrillers; but during that night, I veered away from that fascination. In turn, I stumbled upon this 2008 American film, “My Sassy Girl”, which is a remake of the 2001 Korean romantic-comedy film of the same name. I will not delve to the storyline much longer. I have mentioned the film because a particular scene is noteworthy in this paper. This scene shows Jordan Roark (played by Elisha Cuthbert) giving a piano recital in front of a class. At first, I could not recognize what she is playing. It was some kind of a melodramatic piece, I thought. But as the melody proceeds, I was a bit shocked when I found out that it was Johann Strauss Sr’s “Radetsky March”. This discovery invoked a feeling of shock because, as I have been told, marches ought to be lively and fast. Later, I recovered from this state of mind when I gave myself some “benefits of the doubt”. Maybe, they just fixed the arrangement that way so it could add up to the melancholy which the film wants to bring into play.

The “Radetsky March” rang a bell to me when I went to the Paco Park last Friday night to witness a choral performance. As it turned out, a choral performance was nowhere to be found. Utterly confused and disappointed, I went to the management to ask what would be happening that night. A copy of the program was given to me by the guard. I read this with haste and found out that a dual piano recital will be rendered by Mary Anne Espina and Najib Ismail of the UST Conservatory of Music. I have been informed later that Espina and Ismail are known for their excellence in both chamber and opera music. The former has been one of the most sought-after collaborating artists in the country today while the latter has been featured soloist under distinguished conductors and has performed solo and in chamber music recitals.  The program provided a list of the repertoire to be played that night and the “Radetsky March” happened to be one of them.

The serene atmosphere was so perfect for that magical evening. The lights (which have not been removed yet since the Christmas season) and the breeze of a cold evening just added to serenity all the more. The program commenced with the Philippine national anthem and welcoming remarks. After that, the musicians were summoned up the stage. I have not seen their faces that clearly because I was seated right at the back part of the audience seat.

The Repertoire

The repertoire was divided into three sets: the “German Part”, the “French Part” and the “Austrian Part”. The first piece in the repertoire was by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was his Two Preludes and Fugues (in A Flat Minor and F Minor) from WTC Volumes 1 and 2 arranged by a certain H. Bertini. The second one was by the more popular and renowned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was his Sonata in D Major KV 381 which was played in three modes: allegro, andante and allegro molto. Enter the second part of the repertoire which started off with Gabriel Faure’s Pavane and then followed by Claude Debussy’s Petite Suite (En Bateau, Cortage, Menuet and Ballet). The final part of the repertoire was the Austrian one which commenced with Johann Strauss Jr’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314. The recital was concluded by the upbeat and lively Radetsky March by Strauss Jr’s father, Johann Strauss Sr. I am not really a fan of classical music or music for that matter, though I am fond of listening to songs. Still, I will try my very best to give sound reactions and reviews basing from what I have seen, heard and felt during that night of ingenious musicality.

The Pianists

First of all, I would like to commend the two pianists who graced that night. Their excellence in playing the classical pieces are far beyond what words could express. Their remarkable teamwork and synchronization made them appear as one. In that so critical a juncture, unison and unity are two among the important factors which both pianists must bear in mind when dealing with dual renditions. This seemed not so farfetched to Espina and Ismail. Their rapport to one another proved that they have more to offer aside from unison and unity.

Their mastery to these complex pieces is unquestionable. Most of the pieces played have a lot of “extremely-slow-then-incredibly-fast” moments which even my ears could not catch up with. But Espina and Ismail jumped onto the hurdles high and ended up with a flawless finish. Every performance has been met by a deafening applause which, after all, must only be accorded to such impeccable renditions.

As their performance carried on, there is this one observable movement which has been present all throughout the night. I find this funny at times. I am talking to the head movement which pianists are prone to do. While there is the so-called “head bang” for rock-and-roll singers, there might be a “classical head bang” for pianists who play classical music. As for Espina and Ismail, I find it fascinating when they moved their heads as if invisible wires connect them to each other. As one of my church mates who does play piano later corrected me, these head movements are a way of expression. A pianist must be engrossed to the music which he or she is playing. He or she should be one with the piano in order for the “genuine musicality to emerge”. Though this might not be a requisite for some pianists, head movements are oftentimes a natural activity rather than a manifestation of style and elegance. Whether or not a pianist is absorbed by the music which he or she is playing, head gestures will be inevitable.

The Music: Some Favorites

As for the classical music pieces which were rendered by these two outstanding musicians, I could not say more but praises for these stunning gems of a work. I could not comment about how the crescendo and decrescendo of the pieces were emphasized or how Mozart’s sonata was played well. As I have confessed, I do not really have a background about classical music. But that is not an excuse though from having not liked even one musical piece among the ones which were played that night. With words inexplicable, Faure’s Pavane is just a cut above the rest. While this piece was being played, I somehow felt a prick in the innerness of my soul. Though Pavane has been patterned to a slow Spanish processional dance in 17th century, I could not think more but ineffable grief and sadness. The ebbs and flows of the melody are striking as Faure himself described it as “elegant, but not otherwise important.”

The music of the Strausses has also become my favorite. One could just blame it for the popularity of these pieces in popular culture. For instance, Strauss Jr’s On the Beautiful Blue Danube is the melody behind the waltz music and dance being recurrently played and performed, respectively, in some Western movies and television series. Strauss Sr’s Radetsky March has also garnered that level of fame, exemplified by the movie which I have mentioned at the introduction. You might find it interesting or not but the Radetsky March is not new to my auditory nerves anymore. This piece of music is being played until now in our town’s fiesta and school demonstrations in my province. To be honest, it was just last Friday when I knew that the man behind that march is none other than the great Johann Strauss Sr.

That Friday night in Paco Park has really brought me home a bucketful of realizations and “firsts” in my life. Next Friday, 11 January, the Manila Wind Ensemble will be performing. I cannot wait but witness another breakthrough performance from our very own musicians. When the recital went to a close, we just cannot help ourselves but clamor for more. The performance was over, indeed, but not for me. In that cold and dreary night, the symphonies have talked to me. Minutes later, I went on in realizing that I just found a worthwhile habit which will make my Friday nights more fun-filled and enjoyable. 


One thought on “The Night When These Symphonies Have Talked: Reflections and Reactions

  1. Hi john raymond!
    I came across your review purely by accident, and i ( and mary anne for sure ) am delighted that we didn’t ( and hope ) disappoint you too much for having totally different fare instead of choral music 🙂

    Thank you very much and we both hope that through our efforts, we somehow gained another person’s appreciation for classical music 🙂

    Again, thank you very much!

    Najib ismail

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