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Filipino baritone debuts in Jakarta

Azcona in Jakarta Hall

By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files

Indonesian music lovers got another taste of Filipino talents  when Filipino baritone Noel Azcona and  soprano Rachelle Gerodias  proved their worth as  star soloists in a  recent weekend performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the  Aula Simfonia concert hall in Central Jakarta August 25 and 26.

The concert was another shot in the arm for classical music not yet widely appreciated in Indonesia.

The Filipino soloists were one in saying that the acoustic of the hall was fantastic. "The design of the hall is a combination of modern architecture mixed with Baroque and Romantic designs. It is impressive!" Azcona enthuses.

The concert was mounted by the  Jakarta Oratorio Society along with the Great Wall String Quartet and the Jakarta Simfonia Orchestra under the baton of Dr. Stephen Tong.

The concert was another eye-opener for the Filipino baritone who was last heard in the last CCP  performances of Barber of Seville and La Traviata.

"Yes, this is my first time in Jakarta and my third performance as baritone soloist in Beethoven's Ninth," says Azcona who is also soloist of the world-acclaimed UST  Singers.

He will be  singing the part again on December 10 in Hong Kong with the Hong Kong Bach Choir under Jerome Hobermann."

Regarded as   one of  Beethoven's greatest works, and  considered by  many as  the greatest piece of music ever written, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 was a classic example of a symphony using human voices.

Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, in a letter written April 20, 1878, praised the first three movements of the symphony but noted that the parts for voices in the last movement were badly written.

9th symphony JakartaAzcona regards  the part as one of the most difficult and the most challenging for a singer: "The tricky part about the  Ninth Symphony is that soloist vocal lines are written in such a way like it was written for instruments with high tessituras and big leaps. Even my lines have an Alberti bass line which is difficult for a singer."

He rates  his opening recitative of  O Freunde as  "quite manageable" and the well known melody of the ninth  as  "very singable."

" I could go on about the ensemble singing which is quite challenging. Each singer much know each other's temperament and note  how they sing their lines. We must have cohesion," Azcona elaborates.

Azcona says the most difficult of the ensemble parts is the Alle Menschen werden Brüder section: "Each soloist displays each vocal line without any aid from the instruments. So you are left to your wits on how you should go together as ensemble."

The Filipino baritone got the part through the recommendation of another Filipino baritone, Dr. Joel Navarro, now based in USA.

Azcona says his  participation in several productions staged at CCP made him realize that singing opera is not just about familiarizing with the music. "In the  last ten years, I think  I have grown a lot doing those operas staged at the CCP. I have worked with brilliant directors such as Floy Quintos whose imagination has given me a lot of inspiration to dig  deeper into the character I am portraying."

Azcona shares a few pointers which he takes to heart every performance: always leave something for the audience during the actual performance; research your character, how he came to be, his purpose, some subtext.

"In the end, it's not just learning your notes or your music. You have to convince your audience that you are that character. It will reflect in your singing if you do it right,"

An acclaimed soloist of the UST Singers for 12 years, Azcona has just earned a bachelor's degree in music and will pursue a master's degree abroad.

He gives the UST Singers credit for teaching him teamwork while not losing focus. "Differences in interpretations and temperaments are bound to arise. So you have to be patient in both music and in life. Music is the best medium to win the hearts of different people. You just have to work hard for it."

He says his stints as soloist and choral member enabled him to travel and be exposed to world music first-hand. "All these travelling and singing exposures all over the world I think   honed me into the singer that I am today. It changed my whole life! It changed me into a better musician."

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

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