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Scholarship, Truth and Service

Love of art drives this family

No doubt the Philippines is a country rich with artists, but in a developing nation like ours, the less mainstream arts are usually regarded as an elite activity. Books lose out to TV, theater loses out to movies, and classical music is rarely preferred over pop.

The wholehearted pursuit of the arts is also impossible without a day job (what would you eat?), and support for the arts? Perhaps that’s the most elusive of all.

Which is why it’s gratifying to learn about people who believe in the redemptive qualities of painting, literature and music enough to enough to nurture it financially.

One such family is the Lopezes. Entrepreneurs who run multiple businesses in power generation, construction, manufacturing and real estate, among others, they are also consummate art patrons who’ve proven their devotion and created a legacy for other Filipinos through The Lopez Museum and their two orchestras, the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth.

Through the Lopezes’ premium property development arm Rockwell Land, they’re providing a venue for world-class stage performances at The Proscenium, which launched in 2012. Designed by internationally renowned “starchitect” Carlos Ott, The Proscenium will feature a 600-seater performing arts theater, and will soon house the Lopez Museum. Just think: under one roof you can view the paintings of Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo, read original texts by Jose Rizal, and listen to orchestral music composed by the likes of John Williams.

Spreading appreciation for orchestral music

Orchestral music that’s as hummable as pop? That was the reality recently as the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by music director Gerard Salonga, played John Williams’ “greatest hits” from movies like Star Wars, ET, Indiana Jones and Superman. Scores by the film composer are rarely heard live outside of the United States, so the concert was a rare treat for Filipino families, but leave it to Salonga, who is perfectly in tune with the zeitgeist, to make orchestral music hip again for today’s young generation.

The orchestra he leads is a joint venture between First Philippine Holdings Corporation and the ABS-CBN Corporation. For Federico “Piki” Lopez, chairman of First Philippine Holdings (FPH), and Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III, chairman of ABS-CBN Corp., music is such a unifying force that by early 2012, they agreed to collaborate and support the formation of not just one, but two orchestras. In April 2012, auditions for the 40-piece ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra (ABSCBN PO) were held under the helm of Salonga and Mickey Muñoz, who were named ABSCBN PO’s music director and managing director, respectively. They envision the ABSCBN PO to be a professional, self-sustaining orchestra of international caliber that will serve as an inspiration for aspiring musicians, especially the members of the little brother orchestra, the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth. The Orchestra of the Filipino Youth (OFY), which held its own auditions in July 2012, is a 40-piece youth ensemble inspired by El Sistema of Venezuela, which is a “tested model of how a music program can both create great musicians and dramatically change the lives of hundreds of thousands of a nation’s neediest kids.” The OFY members, aged between nine and 19 years old, are mostly underprivileged and come from Angono, Antipolo, Batangas, Bulacan, Cainta, Cardona, Cavite, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Manila, Morong, Pasig, Quezon City, Taytay, and the provinces of Aurora and Cebu. Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz is its artistic director while Tinky Cruz is managing director. OFY members receive free music education, rehearsal allowances, transportation assistance, meals, uniforms and the use of instruments for their rehearsals and performances. Over time, the OFY is envisioned to become a community-led activity, to be supported eventually by like-minded Filipinos who love orchestral music and are willing to take an active part in charting the path of the orchestra through the foundation established for that purpose, Ang Misyon.

Here, Piki Lopez talks why orchestral music is so important in today’s tech-driven sonic landscape and how it can uplift the future of the Filipino youth.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: How were the two orchestras born, and why was Gerard Salonga chosen to helm the ABS-CBN Philharmonic?

PIKI LOPEZ: During FPH’s 50th-anniversary celebration in 2011, I got the chance to meet Gerard, whom we tapped to be the musical director for our anniversary show. We started to chat about his orchestra, the FilHarmonika, which Gerard mentioned he was looking for funding for. Our conversation shifted to the challenges facing professional orchestras around the world, particularly programming and funding, and that led us to a discussion about the musicians of Venezuela and El Sistema. Around the same time, I was having similar conversations about El Sistema with world-renowned pianist and good friend Jovianney Emmanuel “John Em” Cruz, who, together with his wife, Tinky, was hoping to begin a similar program in the Philippines. I shared all these with my cousin Gabby, and it turned out that ABS-CBN was already considering having a full orchestra for the network. So after a few more meetings among all of us, the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Filipino Youth were finally formed. Gerard, together with Mickey Muñoz of ABS-CBN, were put in charge of the adult orchestra, while John-Em and Tinky were tasked to head the youth orchestra.

Is Gerard given carte blanche to determine what the orchestra will play, or is it ultimately a family/board decision?

Since our goal is to reintroduce to Filipinos a genre of music that they thought they never knew, the adult orchestra always aims to strike a balance between classical yet familiar pieces and the more popular tunes in their performances. But whatever it is, we will always make that special effort to keep the performances informative, audience-friendly and fun. In the end, it is a group effort among the ABS-CBN PO’s staff to come up with the pieces that the orchestra will play for different concerts, but Gerard always has the final say on the pieces to be played.

A thriving orchestra is often hard to maintain. How does the ABS-CBN Philharmonic balance the demands of serious art with the more commercial concerns that drive symphony programs?

It’s only been a year since the ABSCBN PO was formed so the main objective is to reach out and introduce them to as wide an audience as possible. From the beginning, they’ve been doing a mix of classical and more approachable concerts, like the “Tribute to John Williams,” but always remaining true to the vision of providing performances that meet the highest artistic standards. But with its association with ABS-CBN, the ABSCBN PO is in a really unique position to bring orchestral music into the hearts of the Filipino audience in the coming years. The ABSCBN PO is now tapped to perform for the network’s various concerts and events and is also used for television and film scoring. However, we highly encouraged them to perform for more external clients so we are able engage the larger business community to help gain support and appreciation for orchestral music.

What do you think is the value of orchestral music in today’s fast-paced modern world?

Wherever we live and whatever happens in our world, music, especially orchestral music, will always have a place in our lives. The tendency is for us Filipinos to think that we’re not a rich country; that we can’t afford the arts, and therefore, we should de-prioritize the arts until the time that we’ve developed more as a country. But what’s evident even to foreigners is that the Filipinos have a gift for music, and it’s always been at the center of everything we do as a people. And music is very important. It has the ability to unite, to inspire, and to get things done beyond the power of words. FPH and ABS-CBN’s support for both orchestras is our way of ensuring that the gift we have as a people is given that opportunity to shine, become world class, and bring light into everyone’s live in the way music has always done through the centuries.

Are the musicians in the orchestra hired and supported full-time?
The ABSCBN PO musicians are under contract for a year, but must re-audition yearly. This gives them the incentive to keep sharpening their skills and technique. We also provide the musicians with quality rehearsal space and practice rooms. As for the OFY, we consider it an after-school program (aptly called Sistema for the Filipino Youth) where the kids receive free music education and the use of instruments, rehearsal allowances, transportation assistance, meals and uniforms. We have engaged a team of local and international mentors as part of the faculty, some of them also from the ABSCBN PO, to provide music lessons to their younger brothers and sisters in the youth orchestra.

What happens in the educational outreach programs?

ABSCBN PO’s educational outreach programs are part of our mission to change the general Filipino public’s aversion to orchestral music. The programs introduce young people to the symphony orchestra and the wide repertoire that is available, as well as how to listen to classical music in a manner that is interesting and exciting for everyone. The educational concerts also sometimes have a very accessible repertoire with pop songs, film music and Broadway songs, to rekindle the love of live orchestral music. They are truly fun and interactive programs, which ensure that the audience members leave the theater with a newfound openness to orchestral music. The concerts incorporate audience participation (for example, the audience is invited to sit amongst the orchestra members while playing; there is even a portion where an audience member is invited onstage to conduct the orchestra) as well as short and fun demonstrations of the different instruments and sections of the orchestra.

How many concerts are staged in a season?

The ABSCBN PO still does not have a formal season, but they target about one major concert every quarter. The OFY is getting their share of the limelight — they’ve performed for Knowledge Channel in Antipolo, at the Power Plant Mall in Rockwell, the White Cross Orphanage, and more recently at the ABS-CBN Dolphy Theater in a Kapamilya Concert. The two orchestras also performed together for the first time during FPH’s Christmas Concert at the PICC in December 2012.

Do the orchestras have a “home base” where they rehearse, and how often?

The ABSCBN PO rehearses four to five times a week at the Dolphy Theater. For the OFY, we have converted the gym at Benpres Building into their rehearsal hall, and the kids hold practice sessions four times a week.

How much of the orchestral budget is devoted to them traveling around the country and playing for more communities?

Through ABS-CBN’s multimedia platform, we’re hoping to bring orchestral music to a wider audience. The ABSCBN PO has been performing in various ABS-CBN events that are usually broadcasted over their channels. The interesting thing that’s happening now with the OFY is that our young members are also volunteering to teach music to other underprivileged children — wanting to give other kids the same opportunity that they themselves were given. This early, they’re already trying to give back. The OFY has formed satellite orchestras in Santolan, White Cross, Guadalupe, Angono, Imus, and Caloocan. We believe that this is also one way to spread the appreciation for orchestral music to different parts of the country.

Filipino treasures to get a modern new home

When my mom does her banking at the Benpres Building in Ortigas Center, I retreat to a place that’s become a favorite haunt over the years: The Lopez Memorial Museum & Library. Founded in 1960 by Don Eugenio Lopez Sr. to honor his parents, Benito Lopez and Presentacion Hofilaña, it feels less like a museum than someone’s beautifully decorated home — if the décor consisted of priceless treasures from the Philippines’ foremost artists, that is.

In addition to Don Eugenio’s personal collection of rare Filipiniana books, manuscripts, maps, and archeological artifacts, the galleries house paintings by 19th-century Filipino masters Juan Luna y Novicio, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, as well as 20th-century National Artist Fernando Amorsolo.

While I enjoy the drama of Luna’s canvases, the serenity of Hidalgo’s scenes and Amorsolo’s landscapes provide a welcome contrast. And it’s not just old masters on display. Many of the country’s National Artists are represented, including Botong Francisco, Vicente Manansala, HR Ocampo, Cesar Legaspi, Arturo Luz and J. Elizalde Navarro.

As a writer I’m even more excited by their collection of Rizaliana: some 90 priceless letters from Jose Rizal to his mother and sisters, his billfold and brushes, flute, and personal papers from Dapitan, Hong Kong, and Europe.

I have yet to fully explore the library, which has reportedly amassed over 20,000 Filipiniana books, with new titles added all the time. Rare Philippine imprints date from the early 17th century — the oldest being the 1620 Belarmin-Lopez Doctrina in Ilocano.

Among the other rare books and manuscripts on display are by such eminent printers as Tomas Pinpin, Raymundo Magysa, Nicolas Cruz Bagay, Laureano Atlas and Juan Correa.

The earliest book in the library is the 1524 third Roman edition of De Moluccis Insulis by Maximilianus Transylvanus, which has the first printed account of Magellan’s voyage to the Philippines. Another important book is the Relacion de las Islas Filipinas by the Jesuit Pedro Chirino, printed in Rome in 1604. 

Because there’s so much to see, I find myself regularly going back to the Lopez Museum’s hushed interiors and discovering new treasures. The last time I went I saw 14th- and 15th-century artifacts recovered from the Calatagan burial sites, the excavations of which have shed new light on the culture and civilization of early Filipinos. Don Eugenio financed some of the diggings, which unearthed porcelain of Chinese origin, Filipino earthenware, beads and a few Annamese and Siamese pieces.

We talked to Don Eugenio’s granddaughter, museum director Mercedes “Cedie” Lopez-Vargas, about how the Lopez Museum is preserving Philippine arts and letters, and making it relevant and interesting for future generations.

When did Don Eugenio Sr. start collecting rare Filipiniana? What was his first piece of Filipiniana?

CEDIE LOPEZ-VARGAS: Don Eugenio Sr. began collecting in the 1950s in pursuit of rare Filipiniana books. During his travels in which he would be away three to five months of the year in all parts of the world, he would visit antiquarian book dealers and inquire about any publications that made reference to the Philippines. In this way, he slowly built what has become one of the most comprehensive Filipiniana book collections in the country.

What initially sparked his interest? And how did it grow and develop over the decades?

According to my father, my grandfather’s interest in collecting grew out of his deep and abiding love of country, his lifelong love affair with books and his incorrigible passion for travel.

What was his most prized acquisition?

Although his collection would grow to encompass art, pottery, rare maps, manuscripts, periodicals, photographs, and Rizaliana, among others, Don Eugenio Sr.’s most prized acquisition was, as his collection began, a rare book: the Doctrina Christiana of 1620, translated into Ilocano by Father Francis Lopez, an Augustinian friar. This was the earliest Philippine imprint he would acquire in his lifetime and the closest he came to the sought-after 1593 edition, the first book to ever be published in the Philippines.

What drew him to the works of Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo, in particular?

He considered Luna and Hidalgo, along with Jose Rizal, “los tres genios de la raza.” Luna and Hidalgo were the first Filipino painters to gain international recognition, earning honors and prizes in competitions against European painters. For many Filipinos of that generation, their artistic successes were confirmation of our worth as a people and reflected a momentous period in our nation’s history in anticipation of our independence.

Rather than expanding through acquisitions, the Lopez Museum will be expanding its physical spaces at its new location in The Proscenium, opening an opportunity for greater access to its extensive holdings. At present, the museum is focused on sharing its collections with the public and safeguarding its treasures through an ardent preservation and conservation program.

What will happen to the old Lopez Museum space in the Benpres Building?

While plans for the old Lopez Museum site are still being developed, we look forward with excitement to the new site at The Proscenium and to the day when the Museum opens its doors to the Rockwell community.

Regarding The Proscenium, why did you choose Carlos Ott as the architect?

Rockwell recognized Carlos Ott for his unparalleled skill in designing iconic buildings. Ott has projects in China, Singapore, Argentina and France, and The Proscenium is his first work in the Philippines. With two visionaries, Rockwell and Carlos Ott, working on the Proscenium, we are excited to have the Lopez Museum housed in this exceptional development.

What was your vision for the theater and what sort of events/shows do you plan to hold there?

Rockwell’s goal for the performing arts theater at the Proscenium is to provide a venue where more Filipinos can enjoy philharmonic shows, musicals, opera works, ballet, theater, and concerts. Rockwell envisions the 600-seater theater to be an intimate, state-of-the-art venue that will showcase both classical and contemporary works for the Proscenium’s residents, the Rockwell community, and its patrons.

Do you support promising artists, writers and musicians by offering scholarships?

While we do not offer scholarships, we do offer support to promising artists through collaborations for contemporary art exhibitions that lend new perspective to our existing collections.

Will the focus of the Lopez Museum remain on cultural history? Or will it patronize young/established artists in the future?

Philippine cultural history is an integral part of our purpose as an institution, and young/established artists are inextricably linked to that. For the past 12 years, the Lopez Museum has patronized artists by inviting them to engage with our permanent collections, resulting in contemporary art exhibitions that lend new perspective and active scholarship to our holdings as well as Philippine arts and letters by and large. We certainly hope to foster this relationship.

What are the current and future projects of the museum and library?

In our mission to further engage our audiences and safeguard our collective patrimony, we have embarked upon a digitization project, are strengthening our public programming, and have established a conservation center. The Roberto M. Lopez Conservation Center is committed to the restoration and preservation of our museum and library collections, specializing accordingly in paintings on canvas and wood, artworks and artifacts on paper, and books.

Does the Lopez Museum also lend pieces or collections to other museums and exhibits abroad? Will it continue to do so?

The Lopez Museum does indeed lend its pieces to other museums and exhibits abroad, and certainly hopes to continue.

The Lopez Memorial Museum is currently located on the ground floor of the Benpres Building, Exchange Road corner Meralco Avenue, Pasig City. Viewing hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays.

Acknowldgment and Attribution:
By: Therese Jamora-Garceau
The Philippine Star (June 23, 2013)


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