Young mu­si­cians on a mis­sion

The Philippine Star - - FRONT PAGE - By Ida Anita Q. del Mundo


re­hearsals were run­ning over­time – Venezue­lan con­duc­tor and mu­sic di­rec­tor Joshua Dos San­tos had to give the young mu­si­cians a lec­ture be­fore ad­journ­ing, to light a fire un­der them as they pre­pared for their up­com­ing per­for­mances in Qatar.

“I was telling them just right now, OFY is a dif­fer­ent kind of orches­tra be­cause it is not a cul­tural project. We are not an­other orches­tra of the city. We are a so­cial project. We re­ally be­lieve in free ed­u­ca­tion, we re­ally be­lieve in the orches­tra as an agent of so­cial change. I be­lieve the orches­tra can cre­ate com­mu­nity, broth­er­hood, love, mu­tual com­pas­sion. Those things are val­ues that we need in the world right now,” Dos San­tos says.

The OFY is the main per­form­ing arm of Ang Misyon, a non-stock, non-profit cor­po­ra­tion that gives tal­ented chil­dren, mostly from un­der­priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try, the chance to learn to per­form at a high cal­iber and to reach their full mu­si­cal po­ten­tial.

The up­com­ing tour is the first to bring the whole orches­tra abroad; pre­vi­ously, se­lect mem­bers had taken part in per­for­mances in Asia and the US. With per­for­mances at the Qatar Na­tional Li­brary (Oct. 25) and Qatar Royal Opera House (Oct. 26), the reper­toire in­cludes mu­sic from South Amer­ica, Spain and the Philip­pines, and the full Shostakovich Sym­phony No. 12. “They are just kids!” Dos San­tos ex­claims, proud that his young charges are tak­ing on such a daunt­ing piece. “They are amaz­ing. I trust in them,” he adds. Sup­port­ing Dos San­tos in hon­ing the chil­dren’s tal­ents are sev­eral pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians who give in­di­vid­ual lessons and group train­ings. Among them is vi­ola men­tor Val Cad. “Since June I started to work on the pieces with them, es­pe­cially the sym­phony that they will per­form in Qatar,” he shares. He is ex­cited for the op­por­tu­nity for the chil­dren to per­form abroad. “It will be a great ex­pe­ri­ence for them to

per­form for our coun­try,” he says. “It will pro­mote friendship amongst them, to other coun­tries. It will be an ex­am­ple that the Philip­pines is a coun­try full of tal­ents in dif­fer­ent fields.”

“Each one is a book, each one has a story to tell,” says Dos San­tos on the mem­bers of the OFY. In­deed, each mu­si­cian of the OFY has their own story to tell of tri­umphs over all odds, for the love of mu­sic. The mu­si­cians’ ded­i­ca­tion to their craft is ev­i­dent – there are some who travel a to­tal of eight hours ev­ery Satur­day to at­tend re­hearsals.

12-year-old flute player Carmela, one of the youngest mem­bers of the orches­tra, trav­els from Car­dona, Rizal ev­ery week­end to at­tend re­hearsals in Pasig. She doesn’t mind the long jour­ney, she says, adding that the OFY has not only taught her mu­sic but also about the value of com­mit­ment and con­tribut­ing to a team. She wants to go on to take up mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion –

“imbes na com­puter, mu­sic ang ka­harap” – and adds, with a shy smile, culi­nary arts.

An­other young mem­ber, Rheyvean, comes from a fam­ily of mu­si­cians from Bu­la­can. He and his brother Rey John are both mem­bers of the OFY, car­ry­ing on the le­gacy of their fam­ily. Rheyvean, the youngest in the fam­ily, started play­ing the drums as early as 5 years old and joined the orches­tra at 8.

The older mem­bers of the group have flour­ished not only into ca­pa­ble mu­si­cians, but young men­tors as well.

Ax­elle, a vi­o­lin­ist who is in 11th grade, is study­ing at the In­ter­na­tional School in Cebu on a schol­ar­ship she re­ceived be­cause of her ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent. She cur­rently serves as a men­tor to some 20 chil­dren from an in­di­gent com­mu­nity. She holds classes in a nearby com­mu­nity chapel and even lends her stu­dents the vi­olins she has out­grown.

Vera, 22, has been with OFY from the start, and now teaches mu­sic in Valen­zuela as well as in Talim Is­land in Tay­tay, Rizal. A vi­o­lin­ist with the OFY, she says be­ing in the orches­tra teaches you to work as one, not kanya-kanya (on your own).

17-year-old John Pa­trick, on the other hand, men­tors the Ang Misyon Caloocan Satel­lite while main­tain­ing his grades as a class vale­dic­to­rian. He uses his al­lowance as a men­tor for his school ex­penses and daily needs.

The cur­rent con­cert mas­ter of the OFY is 18-year-old JM, a vi­o­lin player from Taguig whose father works as a tri­cy­cle driver. He learned to play the vi­o­lin from YouTube; when he joined the OFY, he was play­ing only at level one. But, he says, he wanted to be in front, so he prac­ticed re­ally hard. How­ever, he can only prac­tice un­til 6 p.m. so his neigh­bors won’t com­plain. Three years later, he leads the orches­tra and is a mu­sic scholar at St. Scholas­tica’s Col­lege. JM says he hopes to be­come a pro­fes­sional orches­tra or cham­ber mu­si­cian some day.

Idon’t want to say I fell in love, but I could see some­thing spe­cial. I could see some­thing re­ally spe­cial there,” says Dos San­tos on the first time he met the OFY. “I thought, I can do some­thing here, we can build some­thing spe­cial here.”

Dos San­tos ad­mits the first time he was of­fered the po­si­tion of OFY mu­sic di­rec­tor and con­duc­tor, he de­clined. At that time, he was based in Madrid and was not re­ally con­sid­er­ing a move. “Af­ter the of­fer from OFY, I got con­certs with Malaysian Phil­har­monic Orches­tra, sud­denly a lot of per­for­mances in Asia. Asia was call­ing me,” he re­calls.

Dos San­tos adds, “I re­ally love con­duct­ing.

You have no idea how I feel when I am con­duct­ing on the podium. I can spend 24 hours there. In Madrid, I was not spend­ing 24 hours on the podium. I wanted more.” So, some four months af­ter say­ing no, he re­vis­ited the of­fer and thank­fully, OFY was still look­ing for a con­duc­tor.

They played Da­zon No. 2 by Mex­i­can com­poser Ar­turo Mar­quez, says Dos San­tos, the mem­ory still very clear in his mind. “It was good! I re­mem­ber think­ing, this orches­tra is re­ally tal­ented,” he says. “They have such an amaz­ing tal­ent but at the same time there is a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship or chem­istry be­tween us.”

“I’m not say­ing they are the best orches­tra in the city or in the coun­try. We are re­ally far from that. For me a good orches­tra is one that can im­prove and they want to im­prove. Ev­ery day is bet­ter, that’s enough for me. If there is a hunger for more in­for­ma­tion, more mu­sic, I love that.”

As he re­calls meet­ing the orches­tra for the first time, Dos San­tos says, “It feels like years ago, but it’s only eight months!”

The mae­stro, him­self a young mu­si­cian in his early 30s, grad­u­ated from the no­table El Sis­tema in Venezuela, study­ing di­rectly un­der its founder Jose An­to­nio Abreu.

He has worked closely with Gus­tavo Du­damel and other fel­low Abreu dis­ci­ples.

“I have been work­ing in mu­sic al­most my whole life,” he says, start­ing at the young age of seven. He be­came part of a pro­fes­sional orches­tra when he was 14 years old.

On bring­ing his ex­pe­ri­ences with El Sis­tema to the Philip­pines, Dos San­tos says that it is not his ob­jec­tive to com­pletely change what OFY al­ready has.

“El Sis­tema is flex­i­ble. If you try to put El Sis­tema here in the Philip­pines ex­actly like how we have it in Venezuela, for­get it. It won’t work. When Mae­stro Abreu cre­ated El Sis­tema, it was based on the idea that even in the coun­try, it is dif­fer­ent,” he says.

In­stead, OFY is in­spired by El Sis­tema. “I will just share what I learned, then you can adapt and mold to what you have here.”

The con­duc­tor jokes, “What am I bring­ing? My bad English, maybe.” More se­ri­ously, he says, “What I am putting here is the idea that you are re­ally good... You can­not find the tal­ent you have here in the Philip­pines in other coun­tries. It’s re­ally spe­cial tal­ent.”

Af­ter a short eight months of work­ing with the OFY, Dos San­tos al­ready knows that he does not re­gret his de­ci­sion to move to the Philip­pines. “I’m re­ally happy... with ev­ery­thing.” He de­scribes his ex­pe­ri­ence so far as “crazy but amaz­ing. Those words must al­ways be to­gether. If you want to do some­thing amaz­ing, it must be crazy also. I would like the world to re­al­ize that what you have here in the Philip­pines is re­ally amaz­ing.”

Look­ing for­ward, Dos San­tos’ vi­sion for the OFY is three-fold. “First, they will be­come pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians and they will play in pro­fes­sional orches­tra here; sec­ond, they will be doc­tors, en­gi­neers... they will be­come good cit­i­zens. We are build­ing here good Filipinos, good hu­man be­ings.”

Thirdly, he says, “They will be­come peo­ple who are will­ing to help in teach­ing and trans­mit­ting in­for­ma­tion to the next gen­er­a­tions.”

When asked about his plans for the fu­ture of OFY, the mae­stro says sim­ply, “Stay tuned!”

Young mu­si­cians big and small, from all walks of life, unite to form the Orches­tra of the Filipino Youth (top). Mu­sic di­rec­tor Joshua Dos San­tos is flanked by con­cert­mas­ter JM Eser­jose and flutist Carmela Casas (above).

The OFY pre­pares for their per­for­mances in Qatar, un­der the ba­ton of Dos San­tos (top). Dos San­tos is joined by Ang Misyon founder Fed­erico Lopez (cen­ter) and Leo Her­rera-Lim of the De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs, spon­sor of the OFY tour to Qatar (above left). The brass sec­tion takes on the daunt­ing Shostakovich sym­phony (above and left).

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