Before I Forget

Cecile Licad’s ‘Rachmaninoff No. 2′: From Marcos Sr. to Marcos Jr.

My diary as an occasional Malacañang Palace watcher

Cecile Licad after her inaugural performance at Malacanang on the evening of June 30, 2022, where she played 'Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2. (Photo courtesy of Steinway Boutique)

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. greeting Cecile Licad after her performance of Rachmaninoff Concert No. 2 on the evening of June 30 inaugural at the Palace (From official IG Bongbong Marcos)

In the mid ’80s President Ferdinand Marcos at Malacanang with pianists Cecile Licad (far right) and Rowena Arrieta  (Pablo Tariman Collection)

President Cory Aquino with Cecile Licad at Malacanang for the conferment of Presidential Medal for Excellence in the Arts

I write this just a few hours before a new president is sworn in. A couple of days earlier, I had tea with the pianist who will perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor in the Palace on the day of the inauguration, June 30, 2022.

We had not seen each other for almost four years. She looks good and can only laugh at what she went through in the pandemic. She believes she gained unnecessary pounds from endless rounds of instant noodles and canned food, and cooking rice at 3 in the morning. Her performance was the special request of the incoming president.

Many things were arranged for the president-elect during the inauguration. He had only one request: Rachmaninoff No. 2 by Cecile Licad.

I have another conductor in mind—the sensational 22-year-old Filipino-Finnish Tarmo Peltokowski, who has just conducted the Rotterdam Philharmonic with Yuja Wang. But it is too soon, with the event happening in less than three weeks. But I alerted the conductor’s mother: Please make time for a possible Philippine engagement in the future.

The sudden search for a conductor fell in the lap of Rodel Colmenar, who conducted the pianist with the San Miguel Philharmonic in Rach 3, highlighted by a brownout between the middle and last movements.

At the moment, I am seeing backgrounders on the new president and his family on TV.

Some time before the 1986 People Power, I was at Malacañang to witness the public reunion of two young pianists  

Some time in the mid-’80s, before the 1986 People Power, I was at Malacañang to witness the public reunion of two young pianists: Cecile Licad, the first Filipino recipient of the New York-based Leventritt Prize (the same award given Van Cliburn and Gary Graffman), and Rowena Arrieta, the first Filipino Tchaikovsky Laureate (she placed fifth in one edition of the Tchaikovsky Competition in the early ’80s).

A friend to both, I hid behind the Malacañang reception hall curtains to avoid having to greet them at the same time. If I did, it would show who between the two I treasured more. (It was like encountering our own Maniya Barredo and Japan’s prima Yoko Morishita backstage at the Cultural Center of the Philippines after one weekend of Swan Lake.)

If I recall right, it was one of those happy weeks before People Power. Earlier, Licad had played Rach 2 at CCP with cinema icons Marilou Diaz-Abaya (now National Artist), Charito Solis, Dina Bonnevie, and many others in the audience. I remember holding the Rach 2 score for the pianist while she greeted well-wishers. When I met Irene Marcos Araneta in the hallway later, she quipped, “What’s in that score, Pablo, that you look like your life depended on it?” I said, “Secret,” and she grinned.

In that Palace gathering right before People Power, it was the turn of Arrieta to play Rach 2 with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO). It was full of suspense, as the foremost interpreter of the concerto was in the audience, and with no less than President and Mrs. Marcos watching.

‘….The second movement of the concerto was so profound I just saw my life pass by’

The last time Licad played Rach 2 at CCP, Diaz-Abaya told me as I escorted her to the CCP parking lot, “Pablo, the second movement of the concerto was so profound I just saw my life pass by.” (She passed away in 2012.)

I chose to recall this past Malacañang scenario, as the inauguration of the 17th President of the Republic will be capped by Licad performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 for the nth time in her life.

Since I cannot attend this latest performance, I figured it was best to recall how many times I had set foot in the Palace in the ’80s.

As editor of the CCP’s Arts Monthly Magazine in those years, I had access to all performances, including those at Malacañang, with CCP resident companies performing. Hence, there was no way I could avoid the First Family.

They were at CCP gala nights, and wherever Licad went (for practice and performances in Manila), I was there, as well. There was no doubt the former first lady really loved music, and I was witness to that.

A few hours after the Licad-Arrieta encounter in the Palace, Mrs. Marcos invited her guests to watch videos of famous performing artists. I remember watching soprano Leontyne Price singing her signature aria, O Patria Mia from Aida.

In the early ’80s at Malacañang, there were fashion shows and concerts with not just Licad, but also tenor Noel Velasco, among others (he sang Our Father in one Marcos inauguration).

I remember watching Mrs. Marcos dancing with revered cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the photo landed in the New York Times

I remember watching Mrs. Marcos dancing with revered cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in the Palace. AP’s Bullit Marquez took a picture of that moment, which landed on the front page of the New York Times and other major dailies in the world.

 A fashion show followed, with Rostropovich as guest. I have a picture of the cellist greeting model Crispy Santamaria and later posing before a Philippine jeepney with Licad.

In 1980, the Romanian diva Nelly Miricioiu (then newly proclaimed grand prize winner of the Maria Callas International Voice Competition) literally sang all night at Malacañang for Mrs. Marcos and her guests. Mrs. Marcos was profuse with praise for her, saying the Romanian sounded better than Maria Callas. She later made headlines by announcing her defection from her native Romania. (The Philippines could not accept her, as the country had diplomatic relations with Romania.)

When La Miricioiu returned to the country in 1984 for what turned out to be a landmark concert at Manila Metropolitan Theater, the diva told me, “Can you invite Mrs. Marcos for me? If she can just forget that defection episode in my life. After all, I am now a British citizen.” In the last return engagements of La Miricioiu at the Ayala Museum in 2017, Irene M. Araneta came, and we had a picture taken with her.

I left CCP in 1986, when Bing Roxas replaced tita King (Kasilag) as CCP president. Briefly, I was retained as assistant to the CCP president. One time I accompanied Licad to Malacañang with Rowena Arrieta for a courtesy call on President Cory Aquino.

In the early ’90s, I was back at Malacañang as guest of Cecile when she was given the Presidential Medal for Excellence in the Arts by President Cory Aquino.

I remember she balked at reading the speech prepared by CCP. “I can do a short revised version, Cile,” I told her.  She replied, “Forget it, Pablo. I will just perform to say thank you, and no more speech.”

It was the first time I saw Cory Aquino listen to Licad. She was simply enchanted, I could see. So was then Cory’s Justice Secretary Franklin Drilon. (Licad was reunited with Drilon in one concert at the Molo Church in Iloilo City in 2018.)

As I write this, I am watching President Duterte leave Malacañang for the last time. In an hour, President-elect Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr. will be sworn in as the 17th president of the Republic of the Philippines.

I never met Marcos, Jr. at Malacañang, I did during a Licad recital at Paoay Church in 2006. In 2004, I had brought a grand piano from Manila to Paoay for another Licad recital in the place called the Malacañang of the North. As it was my habit as concert organizer to move the piano after the event for its trip back to Manila, BBM called my attention, saying that I shouldn’t move the piano while guests were still around. I said sorry, but the piano had to be transported back to Manila. I couldn’t forget the irritated look on his face.

In the send-off lunch at the Ilocandia Hotel with sister Irene, I could see he was still miffed at me. But the prim and proper lunch went smoothly, with all the Marcos children (then very young in 2004) giving the guests (including me) a welcome buss on the cheeks.

Earlier, the future first lady, Liza Araneta Marcos, told me I could stay in their place (this was in Ilocos) if I was staying longer. I replied, “Oh no. I’d be a nuisance in your place. I vocalize at 3 a.m.” She laughed, and so did Cecile.

At the time, I had no idea they’d return to the Palace many years later as president and first lady.

I did return to the Palace even after People Power. I witnessed President Aquino giving Licad a presidential medal of honor.

I was back in the administration of President Ramos to present piano prodigy Makie Misawa, who performed for dignitaries. (She placed fourth in a Curtis audition in the late ’90s; Lang Lang placed first). FVR was guest of honor when Licad performed Brahms No. 1 with the PPO.

Then Vice President Joseph Estrada was my cultural patron, as he provided air tickets for artists performing in our Catanduanes concerts in the ’90s. When he became president, I set foot at Malacañang to cover the performance of the Cebu orchestra accompanying cellist Wilfredo Pasamba in a Boccherini cello concerto. Gemma Cruz Araneta was then Tourism secretary, and I was with soprano Evelyn Mandac and actress Chin-Chin Gutierrez. We didn’t realize Estrada’s term would last only two and a half years.

I attended one vin d’honneur at Malacanang during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Tenor Nolyn Cabahug and soprano Rachelle Gerodias sang with the Cebu orchestra. Pianist Ingrid Sala Santamaria and I closely coordinated with the Palace staff before this event. I remember approaching PGMA during my last vin d’honneur  in the Palace. I thanked her for the little help she sent through singing journalist Nestor Mata for the bail bond of my daughter Kerima, in 2001, then detained by the police and the military in the Isabela jail.

I don’t think I got to set foot at Malacanang during the administrations of Noynoy Aquino and Rodrigo Duterte.

By that time, I was recovering from what I perceived to be the disappointing term of a president who habitually cursed a lot.

 I hear fighter planes giving tribute to the incoming president. I see video clips of Mrs. Marcos in the background and presidential daughter (now presidential sister) Irene M. Araneta visibly happy beyond words.

I saw Irene debut as a singer in a televised recital at Paco Park in the late ’70s, and she was also a budding conductor

Flashback. I saw Irene debut as singer in a televised recital at Paco Park while I was “babysitting” Rhissa Garcellano in the late ’70s. Mentored by Francisco Feliciano as a budding conductor, Irene conducted the CCP Chamber Orchestra; this was in the early ’80s. She also conducted a Bach cantata with NAMCYA (National Music Competitions for Young Artists Foundation) winner Luz Morete as soloist.

Just a couple of weeks before this 2022 inaugural, her staff got in touch with me. They needed an official profile of Cecile for the inaugural program. Indeed we’ve come a long way between upheavals of power in 1986, and now their return to power in 2022. She used to call me Pabs, but now I get an updated title: Lolo Pabs.

The last time I was in her place, it was Licad’s birthday, and I brought along my grandson. Irene was solicitous, especially to my grandson. Also, she took a picture of me and my granddaughter Tanya when the Licad concert venue I set up in Cavite was on fire. I was a harassed concert organizer at the time, but I kept my cool.

Retail industry leader Nedy Tantoco (far left) hosts small dinner for Cecile Licad (third from left) on the week of June 30, with guests, from left, Margie Moran-Floirendo, Maja Olivares-Co, Thelma Sioson San Juan, Linda Ilusorio Bildner and Nikki Huang (Photo from T. San Juan)

In that fiery dramatic Licad outreach concert in Cavite in 2012, friends from opposite sides of the political fence came and witnessed the post-concert drama: Irene Araneta with Raul Teehankee and Nedy Tantoco on one side, and Babeth Lolarga, Chato Garcellano and my late daughter Kerima on the other side. That was the last time Licad saw my second daughter alive.

Now I am watching the inaugural speech of BBM.

In a few hours, he will listen to his special request: Licad with the PPO playing Rachmaninoff Piano concerto No. 2 in C Minor.

It is strange how that concerto figured a lot in the country’s history. I see it being performed again and again by the same soloist, who has logged six decades of a musical life with several presidents.

I am sharing a poem I wrote after a brief encounter this week with the pianist before her PPO rehearsals for another historic performance in the Palace.

I catch this
Fleeting moment
As she reckons
Playing Rach 2
Before she hies off
To New York
In less than 48 hours.

It’s all the time we have
Catching up with our lives
After nearly four years.

It’s a full cycle
Playing Rach 2 in the Palace
After playing a memorable Rach 3
In a theater
Highlighted by a brownout
Between second
And third movements.

Now
We reckon
With the brown out
Of our lives.

Death
In the family
By bullets.

An unattended baby
Falling off the veranda;
Lost income;
Friends who
Left without warning.

She wondered:
How did she get
Those extra pounds?
She reckons
Maybe from generous servings
Of instant noodles
And sardines
And cooking rice
At three in the morning.

I got a perfume
Which I requested
As a joke.

I probably need it
As an alternate
To baby colognes
I have used
All my life.

We parted
As I look at
My unfinished noodles.

What does
The future hold?

Perhaps
It is not too much
To ask for
Less brownout
In our lives
As we watch helpless
Over upheavals
Of power
And the so-called
Voice of the people.

We meander
As we put together
Conversations
From days
Of our lives.

Early morning
Where one of us lives
A cockroach
Materializes
From nowhere.

She said she crushed it
And it is still moving.
She tried getting rid of it
By spraying it
With perfume
Still it kept moving
Fighting for its life.

As a joke
I said that poor insect
Is perhaps telling you:
‘Time to practice’

We parted
As the rain poured
Like mad
And a howling wind
Battered plants
In the well-manicured
Avenue.

I posted on FB
After that brief encounter:
To be caught
In the middle of Ayala Av
By the rain
And no umbrellas from Cherbourg
In sight.

Postscript: The Palace return engagement went well last June 30. The new president was visibly happy and so were the orchestra members. Everyone did well,  especially the concertmaster. She said the conductor was super. The former first lady, now a presidential mother, was also happy. She felt good about the whole thing. She knew I was unhappy because my candidate lost. But then we all have to move on, I told her.  She stayed a bit longer in the reception and had vodka. There was jazz music in the background but it turned loud. She has only a day left and she flies back to New York at midnight after a birthday party.  She feared another typhoon and the subsequent floods. Then I deliver another joke, “May vodka pa sa reception? Habol ako.”

On that note, her Palace return engagement ended on a happy note. She knew the mixed feelings. They are good ingredients she can use on how to interpret in music the sad and happy times in her country of birth.

About author

Articles

He’s a freelance journalist who loves the opera, classical music and concerts, and who has had the privilege of meeting many of these artists of the performing arts and forging enviable friendships with them. Recently he’s been drawing readers to his poems in Facebook, getting known as the ‘Bard of Facebook.’

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