MANILA, Philippines?Playing world and Filipino classics at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) auditorium in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija, on Tuesday, Cecile Buencamino Licad thrice brought her audience of farmers, workers, teachers, civil servants, children and music lovers to its feet.
The internationally acclaimed pianist, national treasure and adopted daughter of the Science City of Muñoz was accompanied by the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) under the baton of Arturo Molina.
It was her first rural foray with a full orchestra of 53 members in her long career that began when she performed as a piano prodigy at 7.
Several times in between movements, the audience clapped, and Licad turned to acknowledge the applause with a broad smile although she was not done playing the pieces yet.
Interruptions from the heart
Later, after the concert, the New York-based pianist said she did not mind the interruptions because they came ?from here,? gesturing toward her heart.
Muñoz is the first science city in the country, the second in the world. It has won national and worldwide recognition for its strides in infrastructure, technology and research.
Under the three consecutive terms of outgoing Mayor Nestor L. Alvarez, a genetic engineer by training and a former CLSU professor, a balance has been achieved. The arts thrived because of his conviction that ?ang taong walang kultura, walang kaluluwa (an uncultured person has no soul).?
As Alvarez?s legacy to his city, his office and the concert organizers helped realize his and Licad?s dream to have her play a full concerto (Chopin?s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor) with the MSO.
Arriving at the Philippine Carabao Center?s veranda for a light late lunch, Licad, 48, immediately asked to visit the auditorium. It is the only hall in the city that can fit the size of the MSO and a capacity crowd of close to 2,500.
The auditorium is not airconditioned; its principal use is for commencement exercises, convocations and such university functions.
The ceiling is frayed and dotted with water stains. The wooden seats are similarly woebegone, the paint peeling off on most of them. Foam peeks out of the torn edges of the few upholstered seats on the front row.
The concert invitation and program were printed and photocopied back to back on one-fourth sheets of long bond paper.
Nevertheless, Licad headed straight to the Vienna-made Bösendorfer piano, the same she had been playing on since she began her free concert tours of Ayala Malls in Metro Manila in the past week. (It is the same one that will be heard again on March 27 and 29, at the Philamlife Auditorium on United Nations Avenue in Ermita, Manila, and on March 30 at Atheneum School in Noveleta, Cavite, her last provincial outreach for this visit.)
Delivering the sound
Licad, Ray Sison (a businessman by day and MSO principal flutist by night) and his team tested the sound quality of the auditorium.
?Our thrust is to deliver the sound, not just the artist,? Sison, 44, said of his day job with his ROS Music Store in Eastwood, Libis, Quezon City.
?It is my first time to work with Cecile. I knew that to work with her, I would have to bring in a piano in perfect condition to serve her needs. She always says a technician is half the concert. A technician can make or break you. My job is to see to it that standards are met,? he said.
According to Sison, a humanities graduate of the University of the Philippines with a master?s degree in business administration from an American university, Vladimir Horowitz, one of the piano greats of the last century, brought his own tuner and technician wherever he went.
?He even brought his own piano. He used to say, ?If I cannot bring my own piano, I cannot play.? So you can imagine him flying with that piano in his concert commitments all over the world,? Sison said.
He clarified that one did not need an expensive piano, although the Bösendorfer is one of the five top piano brands in the world along with Steinway, Hamburg, Fazioli and Steingraber & Son.
?What matters is the taking care of it,? he said.
Heart for rural folk
The program began before 7 p.m. because Licad was concerned that her audience might be sleepy if she played at her usual Metro Manila time of 8 p.m.
Mayor Alvarez, 55, assured her that his constituents ate their supper at 6.
Although the hall is huge, the atmosphere was homey as the CLSU parish priest, Fr. Rudy Ibale, led the invocation that acknowledged the giftedness in everyone.
Dr. Ruben Sevilleja, the CLSU president, thanked Licad for her ?special heart for provincial audiences? and for going on out-of-town trips ?for purely artistic reasons? to share her talent with those unable to watch or listen to her when she?s in Manila.
The audience came on foot and on tricycles or pickup trucks normally used to ferry loads of palay, the city?s main produce.
Alvarez?s office provided financial aid to cover vehicle rental and gas so people from as far away as Barangay Curba?14 kilometers from the campus?could watch.
?Even if we bring in the artist and the orchestra and the entrance is free, a typical farmer would think twice about coming over. The amount he spends for transportation could easily go to a few gantas of rice for his family,? Alvarez observed.
Licad strode confidently onstage wearing a powder-blue handkerchief top, her arms and part of her back bare, her legs covered by a shimmering pair of pants designed and made for her by Filipino couture hobbyist Len Cabili.
Although the heat of the afternoon had dissipated, her shoulder-length hair was casually put up and held together by an oversized clip.
Studs glowed on her earlobes. Her feet were shod in her favorite black Christian Louboutin stilettos, a French luxury brand. Again she lived up to her reputation of showing up elegant anywhere, whether before a free or paying audience.
Although the applause for Licad?s first piece, Chopin?s ?Scherzo No. 1,? was polite, as though the people were waiting for her legendary pyrotechnics, they warmed up immediately to ?Etude No. 2.? The air buzzed as old-timers in the audience recognized it and exclaimed, ?Ay, ?No Other Love!??
The excitement began to rise when Licad launched into her grandfather Francisco Buencamino?s compositions ?Kumintang,? ?Mayon,? ?Harana? and ?Larawan.?
After the last note from the full-length Chopin concerto faded, the audience again rose as one, applauding.
Licad obliged with three encores: The folk ditty ?Magtanim ay Di Biro,? more popularly known as ?Planting Rice,? her tribute to the slippers- or sneakers-wearing farmers in the audience, Kreisler?s ?Love?s Sorrow? and Gottschalk?s ?Pasquinade.?
When she bowed her last for the evening and headed backstage, streams of people and MSO musicians followed her, requesting a photo-op. Children climbed on the piano stool she had vacated and ran their fingers on the Bösendorfer.
Before Licad headed back to Manila late in the night after dinner at the mayor?s house, she played two more pieces on an upright Trebel for the cooks, drivers, security detail and some members of Alvarez?s support staff who were unable to be at the concert.
She thanked them in the best way she could.