PAGPUPUGAY: TRIBUTE TO NICANOR ABELARDO

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Belinda Olivares-Cunanan Philippine Daily Inquirer

Date: March 13, 2019Posted by: Marionette Martinez

Sr. Evangeline Anastacio, SPC, President of St. Paul University, Manila, writing a message for the "Pagpupugay" concert last Sunday honoring Filipino composer/artist Nicanor Sta. Ana Abelardo on his 125th birth anniversary, quoted the passage in that by-now-immortal essay, titled "Jewels of the Pauper" that the great Jesuit historian, Fr. Horacio de la Costa, wrote during the Japanese occupation—doubtless to boost his own morale as well as that of our hapless people at that time.

Wrote Fr. de la Costa: "...poor as we are, we yet have something. This pauper among the nations of the earth hides two jewels in her rags." One, he said, is our music. "We are sundered one from another by 87 dialects; we are one people when we sing. The kundimans of Bulacan awaken an answering chord in the lutes of Leyte. Somewhere in the rugged north, a peasant woman croons her child to sleep; and the Visayan listening remembers the cane fields of his childhood, and his mother singing the selfsame song."

Our other jewel, asserted the great Jesuit historian, is our Faith.

How true about us Filipinos and our legendary love for music that unites our various islands. Last Sunday night, February 17, 2019, St. Paul University Manila's College of Music and the Performing Arts held a beautiful concert in the Fleur-de-lis Theater to honor the 125th birth anniversary of composer Nicanor Sta. Ana Abelardo. As Sr. Maria Anunciata Sta. Ana, the music college dean, wrote, Abelardo is one of the "Triumvirate of Filipino composers who, in his short life of 41 years, has contributed to Philippine Music a prolific output of 140 works covering different genres of music."
It's interesting to note that despite his very short life, Nicanor Sta. Ana Abelardo (happily a relation of the indefatigable Sr. Anunciata Sta. Ana), is today memorialized by two significant institutions in our national life: the Cultural Center of the Philippines which has named its main theater the "Tanghalan Nicanor Abelardo" and the University of the Philippines, whose music department is housed in "Abelardo Hall." But such recognition counts for naught if the composer's music is not recognized and kept alive and vibrant—which is what St Paul's Music College sought to do last Sunday evening before an overflow crowd.

Sr. Anunciata stressed that the musical heritage of Nicanor Abelardo and his contemporaries is "regrettably relegated to conservatories and music schools in our present-day society, or worse, just in archives and libraries." But as the great Filipino composer has challenged us, "The nationalism of our music is so important that it merits more than just a passing notice...what about our Kundiman, Awit and Kumintang? Let us dig them up and from them fashion a music that is truly Philippines."

Heard once again at last night's concert were Abelardo's famous "Cavatina for Violin and Piano, Op. 7," with Dino Akira Decena, violin, and George Ong, piano; the "First Nocturne" with Dr. Raul M. Sunico interpreting it on the piano. Then ten immortal Abelardo kundimans were rendered, such as "Mutya ng Pasig" (to me this is among our greatest kundimans, powerfully interpreted by soprano Nenen Espina), "Bituing Marikit," and "Nasaan ka Irog." Six of these kundimans, rendered by various sopranos and tenors, were skillfully accompanied on the piano by Mary Anne Espina. On the other hand, four kundimans were arranged by Herminigildo Ranera into a medley for three sopranos, two tenors and a baritone, with Dr. Raul Sunico, chair of St. Paul University's Doctor of Musical Arts Program, on the piano.
Dr. Sunico also rendered Abelardo's "First Nocturne" on the piano, while cellist Renato Lucas rendered "Serenade in A Major" as accompanied by Sunico on the piano. Concert notes said that this cello piece was composed in 1922 by Abelardo and dedicated to his friend, the great Filipino cellist Felipe Marin.

One added attraction was the composer's "Violin Sonata," which was last played in full in 1932 in Chicago, described by a critic then as "like a long-overdue eruption of a searching musical volcano" with its "soaring melodic lines and highly ambiguous and unpredictable harmonic progressions like the furies unchained from their imprisonment in the realm of the classical romantic idiom." The "Violin Sonata" in three movements was expertly rendered by violinist Melchora Regina Medina-Perez, with Mary Anne Espina on the piano.

The various compositions were arranged and conducted by Herminigildo Ranera, assistant conductor of the CCP.

What was beautiful was that Abelardo and Sta. Ana relatives of the composer attended the concert and were introduced to the guest crowds afterwards. Sr. Anunciata, possibly because she is related to Nicanor Abelardo, waxed poetic in her message, citing Robbie Robertson, who said, "You don't stumble upon your heritage. It's there, just waiting to be explored and shared." And the good Sister closed her message by quoting the great Roman orator Cicero, "To know nothing of what happened before you is to forever remain a child." Amen.

Fr. de la Costa would have been happy with last Sunday's concert, for one of the two jewels of our people—music—shone bright as a diamond that evening.