Wednesday, June 10, 2015

REVIEW: The Philippine Madrigal Singers in Hong Kong

Lee Shau Kee Center Grand Hall, Tuesday June 9

What is the worst thing that you can give to some members of the audience right before they attend an a capella choir concert? Candies wrapped in cellophane? In the case of the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong, they decided to give away rainstick. Yes, one of those long, hollow cylindrical instrument filled with small pebbles or beans, that when upended, the pebbles inside will trickle down to the other end of the tube, making sounds reminiscent of rain. Wonderful! The concert must have a part where the audience will be asked to whisk out the rainstick and create an impression of typhoon in the Philippines! I wondered what the song will be.

The a capella choir concert I was referring to was of world-renowned The Philippine Madrigal Singers. They are also known as the “Madz”. They hold the distinction of being the first choir in the world to win the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing twice (1997 and 2007). While led by choirmaster Mark Anthony Carpio these days, I first know them when it was still being led by the Philippine National Artist for Music, Professor Andrea O. Veneracion. It played a HUGE part in my university life. When my peers were going crazy with punk rock groups, I was infatuated with the Madz! If there is only one thing that I learnt from the Madz that I have brought forward to my life as a concert director was their programming style. The way they juxtapose the songs of different tempi, style, familiarity, popularity and depth in their program, and yet maintain a certain logic and concept, truly made their concert elegant, educational and entertaining.

In celebration of the 117th anniversary of the proclamation of the Philippine independence and as a tribute to the domestic workers in Hong Kong by the SERVICE100 Domestic Workers Empowerment Project, the concert opened with The Musician’s Prayer. This prayer by B.J. Hoff was set into a song by former member of the Madz Eudenice Palaruan with grace and dignity. What followed must be my favorite section of the concert with All Creatures Now (by John Bennet), Musica Grata Deo (by Jacobus Gallus) and Mas vale trocar (by Juan del Encina) that segued to something a more modern, Amor (by Norberto Romualdez Sr.). It is in this section where the singing style and tone of the group’s harmony sounded most suitable and appropriate.

The rest of the first half was occupied folksongs and standards. The second half was dominated with a section Filipino folks, followed by pop songs. Some of the highlights was the beautiful arrangement by Saunder Choi of the Chinese standard 月亮代表我的心 (The Moon Represent My Heart by We Qing Qi & Sun Yi), Ryan Cayabyab’s Da Coconut Nut and the uplifting Pharrell Williams song Happy. It is with the pop songs however that the group and the audience seems to really pop. Even I enjoyed it immensely… until they gave two encores… First, they had Elton John’s Circle of Life, complete with dissonance of animal jungle sounds and then followed it up with Queen of the Night. No, the Queen of the Night was not "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. It was the one popularized by Whitney Houston. I am sure someone was tickled by the idea of juxtaposing coloratura passages into a pop song, but the effect was like having a cacophony of cats in heat. WHY??? How I wish they performed Ryan Cayabyab’s Tsismis instead. Now back to the rainstick.

So what was the rainstick for? It was there to sabotage the concert. As if allowing people to enter the hall whenever they want, and letting them walk around wherever they want were not enough, the frequent raining sound of shifting rainstick didn’t really help the performance. Phones were ringing and people were taking pictures and videos. There was also a Quasimodo figure in the first row (he is either part of the Madz or the Consulate) who kept hobbling around. He was most distracting! I don’t know what the Madz has done to deserve such disrespect from fellow Filipinos. Having said that, the Madz beat the odds with a stellar and stupendous performance that should make every Filipino proud; and every member of the audience grateful that they have graced our stage here in Hong Kong.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers

The Musician's Prayer -  text by B.J. Hoff, music by Eudenice V. Palaruan

All Creatures Now - John Bennet
Musica Grata Deo - Jacobus Gallus
Mas vale trocar - Juan del Encina
Amor - Norberto Romualdez Sr.

鳳陽花鼓 - arr. Chen Yi
Izar Ederrak - Josu Elberdin
La Mer - Leo Chauliac/Charles Trenet, arr. Saunder Choi
I'm Gonna Let It Shine - arr. Rosephanye Powell

Pasigin - Chris Barrera, arr. Eudenice Palaruan
Si Nanay, Si Tatay - arr. La Verne Dela Pena
Tuksuhan - arr. Dr. Ramon Santos

月亮代表我的心 - We Qing Qi/Sun Yi. arr. Sauder Choi
Marry You - Bruno Mars. arr/ Ily Matthew Maniano
Abot Kamay Kita - Vehnee Saturno, arr. Lawrence Claderon
Babalik Ka Rin - Louie Ocampo/Chot Ulep, arr. Arwin Tan
Da Coconut Nut - Ryan Cayabyab
Happy - Pharrell Williams, arr. Ily Matthew Maniano

Circle of Life - Elton John
Queen of the Night - Whitney Houston, Antonio "L.A." Reid, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Daryl Simmons