On playing Brahms and coping with Manila’s traffic

Darrell Ang conducting. Great romantic program in Manila.


Manilans will have a rare chance to listen to the rarely performed Brahms’ Double Concerto when distinguished conductor Darrell Ang leads the Manila Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, November 16, 2019 at 4 p.m. at the Meralco Theater.

The time must have been decided to allow music lovers to avoid the rush hour traffic which Maestro Ang has gotten used to every time he visits Manila. “I love coming to Manila,” he said. “I love the people, my friends, the food, the vivacious culture and lifestyle. But it is also true I have to brace myself for the bad traffic. I have run out of ‘superlatives’ to describe it. Being caught in one is such a waste of time and I know the majority of people in Manila feel the same way. If Manila didn't have this, productivity and efficiency would increase a thousand-fold.”

The much-heralded Maestro who travels around the world for various engagements is also the most sought after.

The experience of making music with musicians of various nationalities is to him a special one. “Classical music is played with equal vigor and passion in all countries that I have been to,” he pointed out. “And that is because music is really a calling rather than a profession. Of course, the level of commitment especially in professional orchestras differs from group to group even within the same country or city.”

He noticed that in Asia with a few exceptions, there is an aspiration toward European and international levels as well as models and styles. “In Europe and elsewhere, I find that there are two schools of thought: sticking to tradition and continually exploring new vistas. Not many are able to combine both, and not surprisingly, there are several factions that have already lost their way as classical music continues to lose relevance in the old world.”

To his surprise, he finds music as a rising wave in Asian capitals. “In Europe and other capitals in the western hemisphere, all is calm.”

He shares his experience leading the London Philharmonic which recorded the award-winning Chopin No. 2 recording of Cecile Licad with Andre Previn conducting. “It was my third time with the orchestra and they are truly one of the world's best. They can read any conductor's mind with such clarity, speed and accuracy that one doesn't require to work very hard. I literally just thought of it and they made it happen. We had a two-hour rehearsal for a three-hour program and even that was too much.”

He finds the November 16 Manila program a great romantic combination. “It is German style versus Russian style in terms of form, harmony, counterpoint and sublime structured melodies. It should bring about heart-on-sleeve emotional and grand outbursts of excitement.”

The surprise of it is that he has a Filipino violinist (Domedes Saraza, Jr.) and a Korean cellist (Kim Yeonjin) in the Brahms Double concerto. He said he doesn’t think of nationalities of soloists when making music. “I think of them a special and unique carriers or certain performing traditions and I try to encourage them during the working process to bring out the best of those traditions. I've previously performed the work with two top French soloists (now world-famous stars with big recording contracts on Deutsche Gramophone and Warner respectively) as well as a husband-and-wife team who are both principal players of two of Germany's top orchestras.”


Concertmaster Diomedes Saraza, Jr. at Carnegie Hall. Performing makes his world go round.


Violinist Diomedes Saraza, Jr. said it is the first time he is doing the Brahms Double with a Korean co-soloist. “It is such a big piece not just for violin and cello but also for the orchestra. It almost feels like a symphony with added violin and cello solos. Maintaining the energy and focus is a challenge in playing this massive concerto.”

He heard the recording of the piece when he was only 12 years old. “It was played by Heifetz and Piatigorsky with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I loved it and I was in awe since that was the first time I heard a concerto for violin and cello. Earlier, I didn't know back that this piece existed. It is an epic masterpiece right from the beginning and played by my favorite violinist and cellist.”

Of late, he enjoys the frequent transition as concertmaster and soloist which roles he finds quite similar to what he does as musician. “The transition was not hard because I've had many chamber music playing experience. When you play so much chamber music, it really opens up your ears. When your ears are open, you'll know what to listen for as a soloist or concertmaster. Leading as soloist and concertmaster is also familiar to me. I give cues and bring energy to the orchestra whether I'm soloist or concertmaster.”

Apart from performing, he also enjoys teaching and he was happy his student Jeanne Marquez did very well as Sibelius soloist of the MSO under Tarmo Peltokoski. “Performing is something I've loved since I was a kid but teaching has become a new passion for me.”

(Tickets to Nov. 16 concert of the MSO available at TicketWorld. Call 891-9999 for inquiries and reservations. For special deals on group bookings, please call the MSO office at 8523-5712.)

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