As I write this, it is just a few hours before a new president is sworn in.
A couple of days earlier, I had tea with the pianist who will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor in the Palace on the day of the inauguration.
We had not seen each other for almost four years.
She looks good and can only laugh at what she went through during the pandemic.
She believes she gained unnecessary pounds from endless round of instant noodles and canned food and cooking rice at three in the morning.
She was the special request of the new president.
Many things were arranged for the president-elect during the inauguration.
He had only one request: Rachmaninoff No. 2 by Cecile Licad.
I have another conductor in mind – the sensational 22-year old Filipino-Finnish Tarmo Peltokowski who just conducted the Rotterdam Philharmonic with Yuja Wang.
But it is too soon with the event happening in less than three weeks. But I alerted the conductor’s mother: please make time for a possible Philippine engagement in the future.
The sudden search for conductor fell on the lap of Rodel Colmenar who conducted her with the San Miguel Philharmonic in Rach 3 highlighted by a brownout in between the middle and last movements.
At the moment, I see backgrounders of the new president and his family in TV stations.
Sometime in the mid-80s before People Power, I was in Malacanang to witness the public reunion of the two then young pianists, Cecile Licad, the first Filipino recipient of the New York-based Leventritt Prize (the same award that went to Van Cliburn and Gary Graffman) and Rowena Arrieta, the first Filipino Tchaikovsky Laureate (she placed fifth in one edition of the Tchaikovsky Competition in the early 80s).
I am a friend of both. I hid behind the Malacanang reception hall curtains to avoid greeting them at the same time. If I did, it would show who among the two I treasured most. (It was like encountering our own Maniya Barredo and Japan’s prima Yoko Morishita backstage at the CCP after one weekend of Swan Lake.)
If I recall it right, it was one of those happy weeks before People Power.
Earlier, Licad played Rach 2 at the CCP with cinema icons Marilou Diaz-Abaya, Charito Solis, Dina Bonnevie and many others in the audience. I remember holding on the Rach 2 score for the pianist while she greeted well-wishers. When I met Irene Marcos Araneta in the hallway, she quipped, “What’s in those score Pablo that you look like your life depended on it?”
I said, “Secret” and she grinned.
In that Palace gathering before People Power, it was the turn of Arrieta to play Rach 2 with the PPO. It was full of suspense as the foremost interpreter of the concerto was in the audience and with no less than President and Mrs. Marcos watching.
The last time Licad played Rach 2 at the CCP, filmmaker (now National Artist for Film) Marilou Diaz Abaya told me as I escorted her to the CCP parking lot, “Pablo, the second movement of the concerto was so profound I just saw my life pass by.” She passed away in 2012.
I chose to recall this past Malacañang scenario as the inauguration of the 17th president of the Republic will be capped by Licad performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for the nth time in her life.
Since I cannot attend this latest Rach 2 performance, I figure it is best to recall how many times I had set foot in the Palace in the 80s.
As editor of the CCP’s Arts Monthly Magazine in the early 80s, I had access to all performances including those held in Malacañang with CCP resident companies performing.
Hence there was no way I could avoid the Marcoses.
They figure in CCP gala nights and wherever Licad goes (for practice and performances in Manila), I am there as well.
There was no doubt the former first lady really loved music and I was witness to that.
A few hours after the Licad-Arrieta encounter in the Palace, Mrs. Marcos invited her guests to watch videos of famous performing artists. I remember watching soprano Leontyne Price singing her signature aria, O Patria Mia from Aida.
In the early 80s in Malacanang, there were fashion shows and concerts with not just Licad but tenor Noel Velasco among others (he sang Our Father in one Marcos inauguration).
I remember watching Mrs. Marcos dancing with the cello icon Mstislav Rostropovich in the Palace. AP’s Bullit Marquez took a picture of that dancing moment with cello legend and it was front page in New York Times and other major dailies in the world.
A fashion show followed with Rostropovich as guest. I have a picture of the eminent cellist greeting model Crispy Santamaria and later posing in a Philippine jeepney with Licad.
In 1980, the Romanian diva Nelly Miricioiu (then newly proclaimed as grand prize winner of the Maria Callas International Voice Competition) literally sang all night in Malacañang for Mrs. Marcos and her guests. Mrs. Marcos was profuse with praise for her she remarked the Romanian sounded better than Maria Callas. She later made headlines by announcing her defection from her native Romania. The Philippines could not accept her as the country had diplomatic relations with Romania.
When La Miricioiu returned to the country in 1984 for what turned out to be a landmark concert at the Manila Metropolitan Theater, the diva told me, “Can you invite Mrs. Marcos for me? If she can just forget that defection episode in my life. After all, I am now a British citizen.”
In the last return engagements of La Miricioiu at the Ayala Museum in 2017, Irene M. Araneta came and we had a picture with her.
I left CCP in 1986 when Bing Roxas replaced Tita King (Kasilag).
Briefly, I was retained as Assistant to the CCP President. One time I accompanied her to Malacanang with Rowena Arrieta for a courtesy call with Cory Aquino.
In the early 90s, I was back in Malacanang as guest of Cecile when she was given a Presidential Medal for Excellence in the Arts by President Cory Aquino.
I remember she balked at reading the speech prepared by CCP. “I can do a short, revised version, Cile,” I told her. She replied, “Forget it, Pablo. I will just perform to say thank you and no more speech.”
It was the first time I saw Cory Aquino listen to Licad. She was enchanted from what I could see from her face. So was then Cory’s Secretary of Justice Franklin Drilon. (Licad was reunited with Drilon in one concert at the Molo Church in Iloilo City in 2018.)
I didn’t last with CCP’s Roxas. But when she died, I gave her a fitting tribute in the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
As I write this, I am watching Pres. Duterte leave Malacanang for the last time.
In an hour, President-elect Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr. is sworn in as the 17th president of the Republic of the Philippines.
I never met Marcos, Jr. in Malacanang.
He was around in a Licad recital in Paoay Church in 2006.
In 2004, I brought a grand piano from Manila to Paoay for another Licad recital at the place called Malacanang of the North. As it was my habit as concert organizer to move the piano after the event for its trip back to Manila, BBM called my attention that I shouldn’t move the piano while guests were still around. I said sorry but the piano had to be transported back to Manila. I couldn’t forget the irritation on his face.
To make matters worse, he scheduled a send-off lunch at the Ilocandia Hotel with sister Irene. I could see he was still angry at me.
But it was prim and proper lunch.
All the Marcos children (then very young in 2004) gave the guests (including me) a welcome buss on our cheeks.
Earlier, the future first lady, Liza Araneta Marcos told me I could stay in their place if I was staying longer. I replied, “Oh no. I’d be a nuisance in your place. I vocalize at 3 a.m.” She laughed and so did Cecile.
At the time, I had no idea they’d return to the Palace many years later as president and first lady.
I did return to the Palace even after People Power.
I witnessed President Aquino giving Licad a presidential medal of honor.
I was back in Malacanang Palace in the time of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos to present piano prodigy Makie Misawa to perform for dignitaries. (She placed fourth in a Curtis audition in the late 90s; Lang Lang placed first). Ramos was guest of honor when Licad performed Brahms No. 1 with PPO.
Then Vice-President Joseph Estrada was my cultural patron as he provided air tickets for artists performing in Catanduanes concerts in the 90s. When he became president, I set foot in Malacanang to cover the Cebu orchestra accompany cellist Wilfredo Pasamba in a Boccherini cello concerto. Gemma Cruz Araneta was then Secretary of Tourism and I was with soprano Evelyn Mandac and actress Chin-Chin Gutierrez. We didn’t realize Estrada would last only for 2 and a half years.
I attended one vin d’honneur in Malacanang during the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Tenor Nolyn Cabahug and soprano Rachelle Gerodias sang with the Cebu orchestra. Pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria and I closely coordinated with Palace staff before this event. I remember approaching PGMA during my last vin d’honneur in the Palace. I thanked her for the little help she sent through singing journalist Nestor Mata for the bail of my late daughter then detained at the Isabela jail in 2001.
I don’t think I got to set foot in Malacanang during the time of Noynoy Aquino and Rodrigo Duterte.
By that time, I was recovering from what I perceived to be disappointing term of a president who cursed a lot as a habit.
I hear fighter planes giving tribute to the incoming president.
I see Mrs. Marcos in the background and presidential daughter now presidential sister Irene M. Araneta visibly happy beyond words.
Flashback. I saw her debut as a singer in a televised recital at Paco Park while I was babysitting Rhissa Garcellano in the late 70s. Mentored by the late Francisco Feliciano as a budding conductor, Irene conducted the CCP Chamber Orchestra in the early 80s. She also conducted a Bach cantata with NAMCYA winner Luz Morete as soloist.
Just a couple of weeks before the inauguration, she got in touch with me through her staff. They needed official profile of Cecile for the inaugural program. I sent it posthaste. We go a long way in between upheavals of power in 1986 and now their return to power in 2022.
She used to call me Pabs but now I get an updated title: Lolo Pabs.
The last time I was in her place, it was Licad’s birthday and I brought along my grandson. To be fair to her, she was solicitous especially to my grandson. She took a picture of me and my granddaughter Tanya when the Licad concert venue I set up in Cavite was on fire. I was a harassed concert organizer at the time but I kept my cool.
In that fiery dramatic Licad outreach concert in Cavite in 2012, friends from opposite political (ideological) fences came and witnessed the post-concert drama: Irene Araneta with Raul Teehankee and Nedy Tantoco on one side and Babeth Lolarga, Chato Garcellano and my late daughter, on the other side. That was the last time Licad saw my second daughter alive.
Now I am watching the inaugural speech of BBM.
In a few hours, he will listen to his special request: Licad with the PPO playing Rachmaninoff Piano concerto No. 2 in C Minor.
It is strange that concerto figured a lot in the country’s history.
I see it being performed again and again with the same soloist who has logged six decades of a musical life with several presidents.
I am sharing a poem a wrote after a brief encounter with the pianist before her PPO rehearsals and another historic performance in the Palace.
I catch this
As she reckons
Playing Rach 2
Before she hies off
To New York
In less than 48 hours.
It’s all the time we have
Catching up with our lives
After nearly four years.
It’s a full cycle
Playing Rach 2 in the Palace
After playing a memorable Rach 3
In a theater
Highlighted by a brownout
And third movements.
With the brown out
Of our lives.
In the family
An unattended baby
Falling off the veranda;
Left without warning.
How did she get
Those extra pounds?
Maybe from generous servings
Of instant noodles
And cooking rice
At three in the morning.
I got a perfume
Which I requested
As a joke.
I probably need it
As an alternate
To baby colognes
I have used
All my life.
As I look at
My unfinished noodles.
The future hold?
It is not too much
To ask for
In our lives
As we watch helpless
And the so-called
Voice of the people.
As we put together
Of our lives.
Where one of us lives
She said she crushed it
And it is still moving.
She tried getting rid of it
By spraying it
With a perfume
Still it kept moving
Fighting for its life.
As a joke
I said that poor insect
Is perhaps telling you:
‘Time to practice’
As the rain poured
And a howling wind
In the well-manicured
I posted on FB
After that brief encounter:
To be caught
In the middle of Ayala Av
By the rain
And no umbrellas from Cherbourg
* * *