By Yugel Losorata
Over the past six months, the Gerard Salonga-led ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra has been as busy as a flight of bumblebees.
Granted, the holiday season provided the extra boost, but ever since the orchestra was formed, the musicians not only bonded quickly, Salonga said, “we hit the ground running.”
Since June of 2012, the Kapamilya-backed orchestra has booked notable gigs including Icons at The Arena: Masters of OPM, which featured Gerard’s sister Lea Salonga, Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Jose Mari Chan, Basil Valdez, Freddie Aguilar, Piolo Pascual, Bamboo and Arnel Pineda, among many others.
They also backed up Aiza Seguerra’s Bente Singko, the singer’s 25th anniversary concert at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, and paid tribute to composer John Williams at the Meralco Theater in September.
As its “house” orchestra, the ABS Philharmonic was also on hand for the famed wedding scene of the phenomenal teleserye "Walang Hanggan."
This past holiday season, the ensemble delivered a Christmas-themed concert at Rockwell Plant with actor-musician Xian Lim guesting as trombone and piano player.
With sister Lea, Nikki Gil and the British classical voice quartet Blake, the ABS Philharmonic performed in a series of packed shows called Kindred Voices spearheaded by the Ayala Malls for their shopping patrons.
They also collaborated with composer Jessie Lasaten and created the film score for the Metro Manila Film Festival entry "El Presidente."
"Fortunately," Salonga pointed out, "many of the members are already experienced ensemble players, so now it's a matter of achieving a higher level of unanimity as well as a higher concept of sound."
Did the ‘El Presidente’ score in one day
Open auditions for a slot in the orchestra were held in April of 2012 but other musicians were personally invited by Salonga to play with the group based on his experience working with them.
Experience and expertise were especially required of applicants as Salonga was pressed by time and budget constraints. He seemed especially delighted for knocking out the whole of the "El Presidente" score in just one day. It eventually won Best Musical Score during the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival Awards.
"I hope more film producers will choose to have their music recorded by live musicians. It really adds an organic quality, it's almost as if the music is an actor in the film," Salonga said.
Assessing the orchestra’s performance in the first six months of continuous activities and valuable exposure, Salonga said, "Right now it's still a matter of familiarity. There are lots of orchestral pieces that the mainstream listeners love. We get great reactions when we play 'Star Wars' or 'Harry Potter,' but we're also trying to get listeners used to music that is unfamiliar, and get the younger generation accustomed to triggering their imaginations via listening and versus the sensory overload we get in a lot of media today."
Still, he added, "All we want to do is keep playing at the highest level we can, regardless of the material."
The ABS Philharmonic is also involved in an outreach program that aims to introduce orchestral music to younger folk. Some of the schools tapped for the program are Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Calatagan, Batangas, PAREF Woodrose, The King's School International, Raya School, PAREF Northfield, and the University of Asia and the Pacific.
Asked what attracted him to music-conducting, Salonga said, "The sound of an orchestra and the beauty of the music itself. One of the things I love most about it is the fact that I'm working with artists to make an artwork come alive. Music is not the notes on the paper...it needs performers for it to become real. That whole process of discovery, collaboration, and performance makes it wonderful."