By By Pablo A. Tariman
posted 28-Aug-2019  ·  
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Pablo Tariman with Sen. Franklin Drilon and cello prodigy Damodar Das Castillo and cello fans during the post-concert reception.

I was back in Iloilo Saturday night for the much-anticipated cello recital of 12-year old Damodar Das Castillo with pianist Dingdong Fiel at the Nelly Garden.

Like the first time with Cecile Licad, I used the same historic heritage house built in 1928 made much more significant when I saw the movie, “Quezon’s Game.” One noted that governor-generals of the Commonwealth Period frequented Iloilo and ending up with dinner and reception at Nelly Garden.

It was a virtual repeat of the Licad recital: standing ovation for Damodar and three encores for the cheering audience and his pianist, Dingdong Fiel.

And a long line of autograph seekers who had souvenir picture-taking with the artists.

For me, Iloilo will always be associated with the Ilonggo writer Stevan Javellana (Without Seeing the Dawn) and the home base of Filipino violinist Gilopez Kabayao and wife Corazon, the pianist. This is also the home city of the first and the last Filipino prizewinner of the Van Cliburn Competition, Maria Luisa Vito.

In previous visits, I found the city’s oldest pianos: a century-old Steinway grand and an upright at the Avancena House (now known as Camina Balay nga Bato) at # 20 Osmeña St., Arevalo, Iloilo City. The house, built around 1860s, was originally owned by Don Fernando Avanceña.

For the record, Iloilo City is also the birthplace of distinguished tenor Otoniel Gonzaga, the first and last Filipino to sing Verdi’s Otello.

Also becoming visible in the city’s arts scene is the association of Ilonggo artists under the guidance of Rock Drilon. “The Ilonggo artist is passion-driven, and his outlook sets him apart from other artists. What is good now is that they help each other connect with Iloilo arts patrons,” said Drilon who joined his fellow Ilonggo artists in an informal talk with media at the FitStop Bites and Bikes Gallery.

Iloilo City was born in August of 1937 with the signing of the charter by President Quezon after the National Assembly had created the four cities of Iloilo, Cebu, Zamboanga and Davao..

The last time I was in Iloilo, I witnessed the theater coup for Jhett Tolentino’s production of M. Butterfly which received a rousing standing ovation on its opening night at Cinema 6 of SM Iloilo.

Over at Hotel del Rio, the city’s premier chef Rafael Jardeleza, Jr. whipped up a fitting menu for Ilongos celebrating Valentine’s day. “What and how Ilongos cook is pretty much part of our cultural heritage,” Jardeleza told this writer. “Iloilo being the Food Haven of the Philippines, Ilonggo’s love to eat and take delight or pleasure in preparing our Ilonggo heritage cuisines and it has been an existing part the Ilonggo tradition and custom.”

Asked how he felt watching Cecile Licad tasting Ilongo food, distinguished Ilongo chef answered thus: “I just felt awesome watching her sample what we have. When you make a music icon happy, it is a confirmation we have an Ilongo cuisine we can all be proud of.”

It must be noted that the port of Iloilo was opened to world trade in 1855, six years after Frederic Chopin died in Paris.

Good commerce probably led to the rise of the middle upper class which nurtured classical music.

It was probably sugar money that allowed Ilonggos and Negrenses to enjoy the artistry of pianist Artur Rubinstein who visited in 1937 (he was paid P5000 per performance) when he performed in Bacolod. Ilonggos savored the vocal might of Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel when she performed in Negros in the early 50s. I happen to stay in an ancestral house of the Kilaykos turned inn where Traubel stayed

Back to the present time, I like to think that Damodar’s Aug. 17 cello recital will bring more Ilonggos closer to the timeless appeal of classical music especially the millennials.

After all, it is seldom that great music and a great venue are enjoyed in one setting.

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