Thursday, October 2, 2008

Filipino mandarin

It was a big but not a glitzy, showy affair. Definitely not for the loud society pages but more for the art critics maybe. From the invitation to the event, the book, the food and drinks to the renderings in sculpture and painting, and most of all, the music—they all suggested muted elegance. Perhaps one could call that class.

Music lovers were treated to a musical feast at the Meralco Theater last Saturday evening for the celebration of the 85th birth year of the late Robert Coyiuto, a trailblazer in the insurance industry. It was an event so well planned by his descendants who chose fine classical music to honor their patriarch and set the tone of the celebration. More on the music later.

Here’s an abstract from the biography “Filipino Mandarin” written by award-winning writer Charlson Ong.

“When Robert Coyiuto passed away at the relatively young age of 58 in 1982, he was a giant of the Philippine insurance industry. He had led various companies to the pinnacle of the industry and founded Prudential Guarantee and Assurance Inc. which his heirs, led by Robert Coyiuto Jr., would eventually transform into one of the nation’s top corporations. Before the term taipan came in vogue to describe successful entrepreneurs and industrialists of Chinese descent, Coyiuto led corporations that boasted hundreds of millions of pesos in resources.

“Born of humble origins in Fujian, China in 1923, Coyiuto settled in Manila shortly before the outbreak of WWII to help his elder brothers run the family trading business... The youngest surviving male children in a brood of 10—born to goldsmith Co Di Jian, and a bound-feet village woman, Tan O Kuan—Coyiuto was a quiet, self-possessed boy who loved to read and study. In Manila, he taught himself English and learned the culture of his adopted land.

“(Coyiuto) was also among the earliest to venture into petroleum exploration in the country. In 1975, (he) was among the first foreign industrialists to explore business in China at a time when the country was emerging from decades of isolation. In 1977 (he) became the first Filpino member of Lloyd’s—an insurance market of a kind based in London.

“For all his admiration of modernity, Coyiuto was a gentleman of the old school. He was steeped in Confucian tradition and valued family above all. Like those from his generation, he cherished propriety, filial piety, righteousness and compassion.”

Coyiuto married Rosalyn Go with whom he had nine children: (not in chronological order) Emeline, Samuel, James, Elisa, Robert Jr., Peter, Jane, Carolyn and Miguel. I do not know any one of them personally.

The evening’s program host was TV’s David Celdran who happens to be our new board chair at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. Rafael del Casal’s bust of Coyiuto and a portrait by Romulo Galicano (with his trademark vertical lines) were unveiled.

But it was the music that was the centerpiece of the night. The Philippine Philharmonic orchestra under the baton of international conductor Helen Quach opened the concert with Wagner’s “Prelude to Act 1 of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg”. Quach knew it by heart.

Juilliard-trained Cristine Coyiuto (married to James), one of the country’s leading pianists, played “Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor” with, ah, confidence and grace on an award-winning Bosendorfer piano shipped from Vienna for the occasion. I had primed myself by listening over and over to Schumann’s opus before the concert.

And fresh from her flute lessons in France, 14-year-old daughter Caitlin gave everyone a wow moment with her seamless, silken rendering of Poulenc’s Flute Sonata (orchestrated by Sir Lennox Berkeley). And more wow moments with the jazzy Bolling encore piece with Caitlin’s mom on the piano.

The musical evening was capped with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. I have reason to pine for either the 6th or the 5th symphony (which Quach conducted last year) but with the Dragon Lady of the Podium bringing the 4th to a blazing end, who can complain? You bet, Tchaikovsky—to borrow a line from rock—was in the building.

A plug… This weekend Quach descends to the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ darkened orchestra pit (this time with a battery-illuminated baton) to conduct Puccini’s “La Boheme”. Dubbed the “greatest love story every sung”, the somewhat Philippinized opera is produced by the Philippine Opera Company. There ain’t no fat lady singing, just penny-pinching indie artists on a Manila landscape singing in Italian. (Oct.3 and 4 at 8 pm, Oct. 5 at 3 pm. For tickets call POC 8928786, Ticketworld 8919999 or CCP 8321125.)

Gary del Rosario, one of the three tenors singing Rodolfo, came all the way from Seattle Opera. I wrote about him more than 15 years ago, when he was a choir boy from Pasig, newly discovered by Tony Hila.

Unlike the Coyiuto concert which was free, “La Boheme” begs for your support. Didn’t you notice that despite hard times, big venues still pack it in for foreign pop artists? We should be more supportive of our own, especially those who keep classical music alive.

I had watched “La Boheme” at the CCP in 1992 and I still have my ticket stub as bookmark in a book on opera. This collector’s item won’t get me a free seat at tomorrow’s gala but in solidarity with the Mimis and Rodolfos of this world, I bought a ticket for the vertigo section. (As the editor bitingly answered a letter writer on a ticket issue yesterday, Inquirer editors--and writers, too--could afford to pay for bleacher tickets.)

I wish our struggling artists and patrons of the arts a great musical weekend. Hunger is not just for food for the body but also for food for the mind and spirit. A quote from The Bard as I remember from my college “Twelfth Night” days: “If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it…”