By Pablo A. Tariman
They are back in Manila for their regular musical homecoming and will be heard in an evening of music honoring Spanish composer Enrique Granados on Aug. 2 at the CCP Little Theater.
Soprano Andion Fernandez will interpret Spanish pieces with Alberto Urroz on the piano while composer-husband Jeffrey Ching will give a unique, if, unusual tribute to Granados by fusing his own Sonata Domenica to the “Scarlattiana” tradition that Granados began.
Explained Ching, “Our concert is a tribute to Granados in the centennial year of his death. Hence, the program is overwhelmingly Spanish not just with pieces by Granados but also by Mompou (a fellow Catalan) and De Falla. A Chinese-Filipino like me really has no place in this company! Nevertheless, I so admire the way our guest pianist from Navarra, Alberto Urroz, brings the Spanish elements to the forefront when he plays Scarlatti—the Italian genius who settled in Spain in 1729 – that I expressly composed a short sonata based on Scarlatti for Alberto to premiere at this concert. Granados himself spearheaded a Scarlatti renaissance with his 26 transcriptions –so I am very proud to be carrying the tradition he started into the 21st century. I find Granados unique as a composer. In him there is all power and all delicacy, achieved with unbelievable spontaneity and purity of inspiration. His own aesthetic statements reveal a lot—a late Romantic nostalgic for the courtly, bitter-sweet.”
The soprano thinks the program enables her to retrace her roots. “It is rare to have an all-Spanish classical concert in the Philippines. In 2016 we commemorate a tragic event—Granados died 100 years ago when a submarine torpedo hit his boat as he was crossing the English Channel. But by paying this musical tribute to him, not only do I get to explore my Spanish heritage, but all we Filipinos get a chance to re-assess the immense cultural debt we owe to Spain and her rich culture. In this concert, I will be singing seven Tonadillas by Granados. They are short songs, which are mostly about love and heartbreak. I think these pieces are very charming. Sometimes the poetry is really sad yet the music magically remains elegant and graceful. For Filipinos the empathy with Spanish music as a whole of course runs very deep. But Granados explores emotions linked to love and death, and his many moods range from playful too tragic—all these have a powerful and universal appeal.”
She said she started working with the pianist in 2013 and, by coincidence, he comes from the same town in northern Spain where her father comes from. “We probably are related to each other because his mother’s maiden name occurs in the Fernandez family tree some generations back. He is a very fine pianist and a wonderful musician. It is really a pleasure working and singing with him.
Indeed, the Filipino couple’s moving to Berlin yielded several well-received contemporary works one of which was Ching’s, Das Waisenkind (The Orphan), which was cited as the best opera production by a German opera company for 2011-12 season.
Ching had a good memory of that musical breakthrough in Germany. “To be exact my opera won the Audience Prize—that is, the most popular opera production by audience vote—in the Theater Erfurt 2009-10 season which was where and when it was premiered. Gratifying yes, because it won over Handel and Tchaikovsky by a wide margin—and that is astounding for a new, maybe even confusing score—in seven languages!—that had never been heard before. However complex my pieces may seem to be, they are already the simplest that I could make them—both for the performers and the listeners—and after all, my ultimate object is to address the heart and mind as directly as possible about the great questions and mysteries of our universal human condition. The reviews in the German and Austrian press were unanimously enthusiastic and seemed to think I had achieved this. Of course I was very lucky to have a great cast (which included Andión in the title role), an intelligent conductor (Samuel Bächli), and an unusually empathetic stage director (Jakob-Peters Messer) and his design team. But I must reserve special praise for the artistic director of the theatre, Guy Montavon, who commissioned the opera from me in the first place, and believed in the potential of the work from start to finish.”
He likes to believe Germany is a natural haven for contemporary works, which don’t attract a good audience in Manila. “In Germany contemporary music, both instrumental and operatic, is understood—correctly in my opinion—as growing directly out of the same classical traditions that produced all the great composers from J. S. Bach to Richard Strauss. And therefore state and society feel a moral obligation to support new music, however difficult to appreciate on first hearing, because logically it is the only way the world can continue to nourish the Bachs and Strausses of the next generation. There is such a surfeit of both classical and contemporary music in Berlin—indeed in Germany as a whole—that it can often be difficult for a composer desperate to make an impression on one of the most cultured concert and opera audiences in the world, not to fall back onto cliché and (as Schumann said of Meyerbeer) “effects without causes.”
His Berlin routine suits his work as a composer. “I like to rise very early, five or six in the morning, before the children wake up for school, so I already get some thinking done before the rest of the household is up. Usually I bring the children to school, and Andión picks them up. We then have several hours to ourselves in-between—more composition for me, vocalizing and repertoire for Andión. Our dog, a Bichon called Piera, likes to sleep on my study room couch while I work, and this is very calming for both of us. Once the children are home, Andión and I help with the schoolwork. My assigned domains are Chinese assignments and Jeffrey Jr.’s piano practice; Andión oversees Clara’s piano practice—and just about everything else!”— So how did parenthood change their musical life?
Pointed Andion, “Before the kids came along, music was my whole life. Experiencing motherhood has opened up my world, and my understanding about life has become deeper. Of course being a mother is time consuming, as I have to be there for my children (and husband) always! So now I really have to budget my time learning and practicing my music, making sure that I am not sacrificing its quality in any way.”
Jeffrey likes to think fatherhood must expand everything about one’s humanity—and that in turn must reshape one’s creativity in unpredictable ways. “I can’t say I’ve ever re-thought a concept because my children didn’t get it (my boy is 10, my daughter, seven). But on the other hand, they have time and again surprised me with their receptivity to the weirdest sounds modern music can offer, which in turn encourages me to forge ahead along my chosen path, however eccentric.”
(The Aug. 21 concert of soprano Andion Fernandez, pianist Alberto Urroz and composer Jeffrey Ching is presented by the Embassy of Spain and Instituto Cervantes de Manila in collaboration with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Turkish Airlines and Rustan’s.
For ticket inquiries to the Aug. 21 concert, call the CCP box office at 8323704 or 8321125.)