Music-making around volcano country

by Pablo A. Tariman

As one writes this, it is Alert Level 4 for Taal Volcano and the worst – as ground fissures in Talisay town reveal – is yet to come.

One’s 36 years of music-making as impresario include concerts in places where there are active volcanos.

For the record, I met Cecile Licad for the first time in Cagsawa Church Ruins in 1975, the same house of worship buried by Mayon Volcano’s 1814 tragic eruption.

A few months earlier, I got married in the same tourist spot with a recording of Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations playing in the background.

When Licad returned to Albay in 1987, she played Francisco Buencamino’s Mayon Fantasy for an encore. The agitato passage replicating Mayon eruption was hair-raising she got a standing ovation at the end.

Cecile Licad playing Buencamino’s Mayon Fantasy in Albay in 1987. In 1995, she (along with cellist Antonio Meneses) played in a venue overlooking Taal Volcano.

Buencamino’s work was way older than two other works inspired by volcanos: Alan Hovhannes’ 1982 “Mt. St. Helen Symphony” and Frank Ticheli’s 1999 concert piece, “Vesuvius.”

I’ve always been fascinated by Taal Volcano which I could see every time I visit what then was known as the Taal Vista Lodge. In 1995, I brought Licad and cellist-husband Antonio Meneses to perform in one of the functions rooms. It has a view of Taal Volcano seen from the glass partition. I actually imagined a volcano acting up when they played the Shostakovich sonata.

The last concert one brought there was an outdoor one with classical guitarist Lester Demetillo and flutist Antonio Maigue. It was the first flute and guitar concert in the area but we ended up picking music scores blown away by winds coming from Taal Lake.

After Tagaytay, I brought the Licad-Meneses team to San Antonio, Zambales where Coke Bolipata’s Pundaquit Festival was a yearly attraction. The venue is also in the same province where Mt. Pinatubo woke up in 1991 with a cataclysmic eruption with ashfalls reaching as far as Singapore. Writer Gilda Cordero Fernando wondered why I had to leave and rush to buy something before the concert. I told her: “The pianist asked me to buy a feminine care pad or else you will hear a ‘liquid’ Beethoven sonata if I don’t.”

A few weeks after that Pinatubo eruption, Chinese mezzo Liang Ning (the first Chinese singer to sing at La Scala di Milan) had a recital at the CCP main theater. While singing a Faure art song, the CCP main theater shook. It was still mother earth adjusting from the Pinatubo eruption. I panicked and left the theater without finishing the recital.

In the late 90s, a baby grand piano traveled all the way from Manila to Lipa City for the outreach concert of pianists Ingrid Santamaria and the late Reynaldo Reyes. As usual, the most loved encore piece was Buencamino’s Mayon Fantasy.

In the late 90s, I brought then piano prodigy Makie Misawa (she finished 4th in the Curtis audition with Lang Lang getting the top score) to Bacolod City with baritone Andrew Fernando. What I remember about that concert aside from the good audience reception was a slight tremor during the concert caused by Mt. Kanlaon.

Is there any other arts creation inspired by volcano eruptions?

The Washington (USA)-based City Dance Ensemble has staged a unique volcano dance with original music generated from seismic data recorded from four volcanoes across three continents.

The show titled “The Mountain” was based on the structure of melodies created out of seismic waves recorded from Mount Etna in Italy, Mount Tungurahua in Ecuador, and the mountains Pinatubo and Mayon in the Philippines.

The performance was staged to increase awareness of climate change.

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