Wo and friends
AN entire page, magazine size, was how much space the Friends for Cultural Concerns of the Philippines needed to recite the achievements of the pianist Raul Sunico and justify why he’s their choice for the Award for Excellence in Music.
The award is the first to be given by the 38-year-old organization and comes in the form of a glass sculpture by another famous master, Ramon Orlina. FCCP used to be Friends of the Cultural Center of the Philippines until the ladies realized they wanted to spread their wings to cover other cultural groups. At their annual ball last week, FCCP president Nonie Basilio told me, “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t raise more than P1.5 million tonight for our scholarships.”
Raul, or “Wo” to his closest friends (I’m not one of them), is used to using his fingers to raise millions. Some years ago he helped Asian Institute of Management collect P6 million from ticket sales, a fabulous sum considering how the piano meant for the concert could not be squeezed through the doors of the National Museum and had to be replaced by a last-minute substitute. The violinists in the orchestra forgave the piano because “our soloist knows his music, he more than made up for the piano’s weakness.”
Weakness is not in the pianist’s vocabulary. When his services were required to stand in for the concert soloist who had suddenly taken ill, Raul accepted the job and memorized the score, four movements long, during the plane trip from New York to Manila. (It helps that his brain is programmed for music, math, and statistics.) Neither the prospects of jet lag nor his unfamiliarity with the material could deter him from his strong will.
And if physical strength alone were the challenge, one has only to remember how our pianist committed the ultimate lunacy of playing all four Rachmaninoff concertos in one evening, a feat that I compared with climbing the peak of Mt. Everest and coming down on the same day. Not to be outdone by his own lunacy, he next played Tchaikovsky’s three concertos, again in one sitting.
A man-about-town, a bachelor set in his ways who retired only recently as dean of the UST Conservatory of Music and as president of CCP, Raul’s one tiny regret is that the jewel of a piano from Italy, branded Fazioli, that he acquired for CCP, will now be literally out of his reach – unless he is asked to perform there, solo or with orchestra, one of these dream-come-true nights.