Monday, September 08, 2008

Music That Sweetens The Soul

The UP Madrigal Singers will hold a new series of concerts entitled "Shining Through" from the 25th to the 28th of October, 2008, (Saturday to Tuesday) at 8PM, Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater), Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City.

Woman does not live by bread alone.

That adage is so true, and one I practice with full commitment. I think it is more true for women than men, or maybe I don't really understand what men feed their souls with (cars? boxing? drinking and talking about women?)

I have been a devout attendee to the concerts of the University of the Philippines Madrigal Singers (UPMS, or Madz for short) for almost two decades now. It started somehow as a duty while I was a member of a civic organization in college, though I had been a church choir member since my kindergarten years.

It was only when I went to the University of the Philippines where I saw the Madz perform live. And even my wildest dreams came true - I became a member of a university-based performing group and got to sing with the Madz, too.

After graduation from college I continued to watch the Madz, along with former orgmates and with the sponsorship of dear friends. I think we wanted then the continuity of our performing lives, secretly wishing we were the ones onstage, though of course we reveled in the joy of pure listening pleasure, brought about by musical mastery, creativity, performance with aplomb.

The Madz are a class of their own. True to their name, they specialize in the Italian musical form madrigal of the Renaissance period, sung polyphonic (in many voices, here commonly three to six) and a capella (without the accompaniment of a musical instrument). But madrigals, and religious works which are common choral performance pieces, constitute only the first third of the Madz' repertoire.

The group has resident composers and choral arrangers, and they usually originate choral arrangements of new songs and pop hits, as well as country and folk music. These are then performed with the characteristic Filipino heart, which have reached out and inspired enthralled audiences worldwide.

Concerts are also characteristically distinct with the Madz humor. The Madz usually sing seated in a semi-circle (a testament to their musical excellence, because singing seated is more difficult than singing while standing upright), but that does not keep them from injecting simple choreography and gestures that do not fail to elicit loud appreciative heehaws from amused crowds.

Last September 7, though, in a concert dubbed More Than Madrigals, with no less than Dulaang UP's artistic director, Prof. Alex Cortez, at the helm of stage direction, the Madz traced the evolution of the musical drama with more than the usual Madz performance acts.

From Italian operas to rag-time and Broadway musicals, down to our own zarzuelas (the Filipino version of the musical drama), the Madz sang and cavorted onstage, bringing their seats in and out of the curtains. Choirmaster Mark Carpio, a musical genius himself, played four roles - pianist, conductor of the Sonata String Ensemble, as well as vocal soloist and a capella choir conductor.

It was a riotous night, full of musical wonder and delight. The pieces were familiarly difficult (masterpieces oft-heard in radios and movies), the choreography ascribably Madz, and more. Yet despite the more than Madz activity onstage, not a note was out of place, and the technical perfection was, as usual, breathtaking.

And it was a night celebrating talent honed and molded by the country's premier state university - the Madz, three celebrated soloists, two of whom were former Madz themselves, and the stage director - that it would have been apt for the concert to have been included in the UP Centennial schedule of activities.

It was a Madz concert, but the guest soloists (coloratura soprano Ma. Cristina Viguilla-Navarro, soprano Maryjo Palencia, bass baritone Jonathan De la Paz Zaens) were given equal stage time. And they were brilliant. Especially luminous was Viguilla-Navarro in Mozart's Magic Flute Overture, with flawless runs and trills, the highest notes the human voice could ever reach sang effortlessly and in such crystal-clear voice that my companion for that evening mistook it for the flute.

Jonathan Zaens was also in perfect form, generating goosebumps with a touching rendition of Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables. It was sung not with the raw energy of the Broadway musical, but as a refined prayer, which the song really is, an entreaty to God to protect the youth. His pianissimos, pianississimos actually, in all of his solos were incredible - just a whiff of air, really, that was barely there, yet was tangible and filled the cavernous main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines quite stunningly.

The only noticeable discrepancy for the whole evening was the less-than-stellar performance of the ABBA capella, a medley of songs from Mamma Mia!. It was a bit lacking in zeal, as my companion, who has seen the movie version, put it. I agree, and I think it could have been done better with the Madz seated. As it was, they went through the motions of dancing ABBA, and came short. I believe this is due to the fact that the Madz are refined singers trained classically, and there is no way they could sing and dance pop, in the proper pop way.

That number was thankfully rescued by their eye candy costumes - authentic circa 1960s-70s from CCP's collection - and the last song, Thank You For The Music, to which the audience clapped and sang along. The last line, So I say, thank you for the music, for giving it to me, had the Madz converging in a line downstage, with hands outspread directly to the audience. It was as if they were saying, thank you, too, for being able to share this music with you.

Thank you, for the music that feeds my soul.

*Photo taken during an outreach concert for typhoon victims in Sichuan, China, June 2008. From the UP Madrigal Singers archives.


Wyatt said...

I'm also a fan of the Madrigal Singers. Thanks for the post.

Kai said...

Don't food and music go together? I've noticed that quite a lot. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Hey Kai, great to finally visit your blog. Great site, and great writing, as always. Our choir conductor at the office (member ako, hehe!) is a Madz alumnus. Ely

Kai said...

Thanks for dropping by, Ely! They (the Madz) are all over the place! ;-)

Anonymous said...

You write very well.