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Another corporate orchestra is born

ABS-CBN orchestra under Gerard Salonga

By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files

CONDUCTOR Gerard Salonga was in his usual high spirits when he announced the formation of the ABS CBN Philharmonic Orchestra.

"As you can see, we have a new home and a new partner which can help us spread the joy of music," said Salonga as the new orchestra regaled the audience with orchestral music from classical masters to Broadway favorites including a Ryan Cayabyab arrangement of "Maalaala Mo Kaya" which calls to mind the network's long-running and high-rating TV drama anthology.

With some 40 instrumentalists in it, the ABS CBN orchestra has Mickey Munoz for its executive director. Apart from the network, the orchestra also has the support of the First Philippine Holdings Corporation.

For now, Salonga's rehearsal and performance venue is the Dolphy Theater within the TV network compound.

The good news is that the orchestra will not be limited to corporate work with the network and its sister company, Star Cinema. "We aim to bring live orchestral performance closer to the Filipinos and give them an option of what to listen to," Salonga added.

In so short a time, Salonga has made significant forays into the country's music world enough to know its promise and potentials and its hazards as well.

After graduating at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts where he received Berklee's Contemporary Writing and Production Achievement Award, Gerard had stints at Sony Pictures as an orchestrator and music copyist before  exploring Manila's music world in 1999.

His niche was music arrangement but he found out he was also excited about conducting. He started by leading an orchestra tied with Broadway musicals and soon enough, he had his own Filharmonika orchestra servicing not just Broadway musicals but handling film scoring as well. In 2006, he scored the musical soundtrack for the supernatural horror-thriller film, Ang Pamana, which had its world premiere at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival.

But midway into the first season of the Filharmonika orchestra which had Cecile Licad as one of its formidable soloists, Salonga found out a private orchestra can only last so long without regular subsidy. He joined the CCP orchestra orchestra festival last year and got lots of insights as to how musicians live in this country.

The conductor has earlier pointed out: "I know the government has a lot of other things to think about, but the common problems all boil down to funding, funding, and funding. I think we should follow the German model in that sense which initiates state funding. In Hong Kong, it's not just the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra that receives government funding. The Hong Kong Sinfonietta and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong also receive substantial financial support through the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. I also feel the government should bring back the program that sends deserving music students to Europe to study, then come back and play in the PPO."

Now with a new home and a new orchestra, Salonga marvels at the huge influence of a TV network which can help bring music to wider audiences. It took a lot from production budget to have anything classical aired on TV and out of the blue, classical music found a new home in that same big network. "I'll take the 'philosophical' route and say, 'Why not a TV orchestra? Everyone here knows the reach of ABS-CBN.  Think about it, how many times would we have to fill up a concert hall to be seen by the same number of people who'd see us on one TV appearance? The power of this network to make this orchestra known to people is something I'm still trying to fathom."

Salonga said the network has approved his outreach programs that will give both kids and adults a chance to experience a medium not easily accessible to all.  The inaugural gala will be  held on August 18 , 7 p.m. with pianist Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz as soloist in Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 at the Philamlife Theater on United Nations Avenue in Manila.

What is in store for the newly recruited musicians in this new orchestra?

For one, the wage for musicians at ABS CBN orchestra is decent and second, they were given very good rehearsal space.

He elaborates: "The acoustics of the Dolphy Theater were designed by Mike Pedero, and it has that scoring-stage feel to it and at the same time, it is perfect for rehearsal, not too reverberant.  So far, every rehearsal has been targeted at a performance.  One of the goals is to not have rehearsals that are not directly aimed at a specific performing event.  The result?  Concentration is higher, and we feel that anxiety that all musicians need, and can only get when preparing for a performance.  In September we'll have a new office here with rehearsal and practice rooms.  The musicians are looking forward to that."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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