Home FEATURES ARTS CHROMATIC COUNTERPOINTS: Folk Songs and Lieder with Titus Levi and Clement Acevedo

CHROMATIC COUNTERPOINTS: Folk Songs and Lieder with Titus Levi and Clement Acevedo

CHROMATIC COUNTERPOINTS: Folk Songs and Lieder with Titus Levi and Clement Acevedo

By John Anthony Estolloso and Miguel Antonio Davao

It was a relatively ordinary afternoon when the ornate chamber of UPV’s Performing Arts Hall resounded once more with the mellow sounds of folk songs and lieder, paired with the dulcet tones of piano music.

Then again, rarely does a baritone make an appearance in a solo recital paired with a piano virtuoso – well, at least not in Iloilo City. Last January 25 introduced Ilonggo music afficionados to the stentorian voice of Dr. Titus Levi, a member of The Shanghai International Chorale League’s BG Chorus. The audience was likewise reacquainted with the homegrown and familiar virtuosity of Dr. Clement Acevedo, pianist extraordinaire of Panay.

Still, it was not an afternoon devoid of surprises. The concert, after all, was themed ‘cradling life and death’ – a most existential phrase especially mirrored in the selection of songs performed by the musicians. Beneath the lyricism of these airs would be the melodic depth captured and embedded in the music that is not easily translated to words: a musical vignette of sorts set in the background of cultural contrasts.

Harking back to our indigenous roots would be Dr. Levi’s world-premiere (yes, you read that right) performance of Dr. Maria Christine Muyco’s Ohoy Song Cycle, a vocal composition and arrangement of songs and ditties gleaned from the traditions of the Ati and the Panay Bukidnon. The composer graced the afternoon’s event with her presence, and it was from her that we got a more comprehensive understanding of the composition.

Rendered in Kinaray-a, the cycle began with a call to gather, an ohoy: the sharp and guttural exclamations punctuated by an occasional ululation evocative of an assembly in a village. This was followed by an arrangement of Balay Balay Titoy, a child’s game song – whimsical and impish in contrast to the lullaby that follows. Duruduruhat was gleaned from the narrative of one Feliza Castor, a binukot, who recalled a plaintive, persistent humming only for it to fade. The stories tell that she eventually identified the source from a tamawo who laments and mourns the death of her offspring.

Concluding the cycle would be the rhythmic Tak’danga, essentially a song for dance fraught with onomatopoeic accents and syncopated rhythms pervading the abrasive chanting, interspersed with the measured stomping of the foot to mark time for the dancing. In its entirety, the musical narrative paints a local scene, quite forgotten but slowly regaining in prominence, to find its proper place in the contemporary musical niche.

Schubert’s lieder were also a delight to the senses. The often turbulent and frantic piano accompanied by the soft and reassuring voice of Dr. Titus: the delivery was decent, often hinting the singer’s American origins, but it was a most pleasant thing to hear.

Dr. Acevedo’s mastery of the repertoire makes transports us into the world of the persona in the lieder. We were treated to the most wholesome and friendliest part of the Winterreise (literally, ‘winter journey’). Der Lindenbaum (The Linden Tree) made one look back at warm memories of past Christmases, but the frantic piano accompaniment reminds the listener of the situation at hand, where the persona is out in the freezing cold of mid-winter nostalgia.

In Auf dem Flusse (On the River) and Frühlingstraum (Dream of Spring), the audience was also transported to lovely memories, balmy weather, beautiful colors, and faces. The listeners, riveted to the idyllic evocation of the musical scenery, were left feeling a sense of light dread as we wake up from a dream to be awake in a nightmare.

No question, Dr. Acevedo’s technical mastery of the piano captured delicate nuances in accompanying Dr. Levi’s songs. Still, it was the solo piano pieces of the concert that showcased his virtuosity. His performance of Nicanor Abelardo’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor and Lucrecia Kasilag’s Variations on Walay Angay highlighted the technicalities and dynamics that define great piano-playing.

Abelardo’s nocturne was exquisitely inundated by running chromatic scales and romantic arpeggios: much as it aspires to Wagnerian romanticism, it is left more to a Chopinesque ideal of what night music should sound: languidly pensive and passionate. On the other hand, Kasilag’s variations were a dazzling display of brilliant intensity – rolling ostinati and crashing chords run rippling resonant throughout the composition’s delivery. Talk of fireworks on the keyboard.

Staying true to the theme of contrasting cultures would be the final segment of American folk songs arranged by Aaron Copland. Dr. Levi’s sweeping delivery of The Little Horses (a lullaby) and the old hymn At the River brought the audience to a youthful America grasping to its homely values. Ching-A-Ring Chaw was more evocative of a tradition put under the spotlight of controversy. The song was one of those minstrel melodies performed in blackface – racist undertones right there and then, though the composer was sharp enough to alter the lyrics to remove any taint of the issue.

For whatever cultural feeling gleaned from these old Americana, there was a certain nostalgia pervading the old hall as songs from the time when the university would have been newly founded found their way once more to an audience held in rapt attention and awe.

Played as encore to the audience’s demands was Dr. Levi’s tender rendition of Ili-ili Tulog Anay, the well-loved Hiligaynon lullaby; he was accompanied on the piano by Dr. Muyco, who performed her arrangement of the piece.

With the spate of classical performances in the past weeks and months, a renascent surge in the appreciation of the genre is in motion in the city. Whatever virtuosity Dr. Levi and Dr. Acevedo offered that afternoon is but a brief glimpse of great musical possibilities – chromatic counterpoints perhaps to our contemporary zeitgeist, but nonetheless a most welcome, soulful, and refreshing one. [Photo is from Mr. Vic Salas’ Facebook page. Used with permission.]