Wo and friends

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By JULLIE Y. DAZA

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.

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