The European Sojourn of Pasig's Master Violinist
(The article is originally published in the Old Pasig)
As we celebrated the triumphs of pianist Cecile Licad, tenors Otoniel Gonzaga and Arthur Espiritu in Europe, one has to take note of the fact that other Filipinos were actually making waves in this part of the world much earlier than we thought.
The late baritone Aurelio Estanislao and conductor Oscar Yatco also figured in an European music competition way before Gonzaga had emerged one of the major prizewinners.
Way before soprano Evelyn Mandac was singing Susanna in Marriage of Figaro opposite the Countess of Kiri Te Kanawa at the Salzburg Festival, mezzo soprano Conchita Gaston was the definitive Carmen in Holland and Germany.
Many years earlier, composer Richard Strauss was coaching our own Jovita Fuentes in the German production of Salome and soprano Isang Tapales was making waves in Opera Comique in Paris opposite Beniamino Gigli, the idol of Luciano Pavarotti. Before Zaens debuted in Prague, Jose Mossessgeld Santiago-Font went straight to La Scala in Milan after
his stints as a Caruso scholar. The one item I forgot in my story on Eleanor Calbes was that this Cagayan-born soprano toured Germany and sang more than a dozen performances of a major part in Bernstein’s Westside Story – in German!
What does it take to make it in Europe? One found a lot of insight in the transcript of my
last interview with violinist Carmencita Lozada before she passed away a couple of years ago. She happens to be the only Filipino prize-winner of the tough Paganini Competition in Italy. (Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu with pianist Mary Anne Espina was a prize-winner of the Paganini Competition. He performed at the Pasig Musem in a concert series founded by this writer. )
While Yatco was teaching in Hannover and Mandac was making her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, Lozada was taking Europe by storm. After her double victory at the Paganini Competition in Genoa, Lozada was harvesting acclaim in Germany, Holland, Austria, Great Britain, Belgium Greece and Poland, among others.
In West Germany, Lozada was described by German critics as the violinist with “volcanic temperament and fascinating with exotic sparkle.” Still others saw“ ”the devil-of-a-violinist in her blood.” In Holland, a critic noted: “Lozada played with nearly superhuman virtuosity, passionate yet controlled musical temperament and a remarkably right feeling for rhythm.”
Lozada admitted that her earlier stint at the Vienna Academy made her absorb different musical period and style and exposed her to musical buoyancy. The Europe of her time was the same place where music was everywhere.
Recalled Lozada: “In Europe is where you feel a lot of musical energy. Both young talents and seasoned artists have the chance to join festivals and competitions.” One of the highlights of her European sojourn was being chosen as a last-minute substitute for a famous
violinist to play a Sibelius concerto in Frankfurt. In France, she discovered that her recital was graced by a famous violinist in the person of Henryk Szeryng who was very enthusiastic when he greeted her backstage.
What is tough being an artist based in Europe? Lozada reflected then: “To be a real artist in its truest sense is always a tough one. It is never easy.But if your talent for that is great, it becomes a compulsion and probably a responsibility. I am reminded of a concert I accepted in Holland. I was called as a last-minute substitute for a sick artist a day before a recital. I could no longer engage my accompanist who was also not available at the time.
Nevertheless I accepted to play the concert and proposed an evening of violin sonatas for violin alone. My repertoire consisted of solo sonatas by Bach, Hindemith, Max Reger, Jean Martinon and Prokofiev. In the morning of the day of the concert I warmed up routinely in the huge podium and to conserve energy, ,I asked for a chair for my practice. On the evening of the performance as I was about to go onstage, I saw the same lonely chair in the middle of the huge stage – a sight which made me almost break into laughter. With that chair, the audience probably expected a grandmother violinist. The audience broke into laughter when I pushed the chair out of my way with my feet. I was 26 then! After the concert, I had a headache for three days due to the concentration I mustered because of the tough unaccompanied repertoire. I believe very few artists would dare face such a challenge on one day notice. But the audience response which was overwhelming made up for all that preparation.
To be an artist, it is important to have spiritual insight, individualistic nuances within the confines of the style. Once the mastery of the piece is achieved, the artist surrenders to the dictates of the music as in a trance. There is no substitute for total immersion in the music.”
Lozada passed away on August 15, 2006 in the Philippines.