Duo of Russian masters fires up in PPO concert

There were queues leading to the lifts up to the Samsung Performing Arts Theater Auditorium in Makati City on 17 November.

These on-the-go escalators were almost at full capacity at each and every mobile step.

There was even palpable and excited buzz radiating from the foyer of the lobby. To add to the elation, there were eye-catching tarpaulins of the master conductor, gifted pianist and the orchestra — stars for the evening — which expectedly drew in noisy pairs and small crowds to snap a photo or two as their keepsakes.

Music lovers all — Paul Daza, Julie Yap-Daza, and Maurice Lim

There were also one last line of individuals and more who obtained last-minute entrance tickets. It was evident a storm was brewing and a significant event was bound to happen.

Some tension was loosened as we greeted friends and acknowledged acquaintances, but noticed their expectations and anticipations were likewise high!

They admitted they had earlier Googled information on the pianist and featured performers. One even quipped, “Enough said! The Russian work ethic is admirable.

Just look at their graceful ballerinas and record-breaking athletes — they have the fiery determination to excel.”

As we all stepped into the amphitheater, some time before showtime, it was half-filled thus far. So we immediately wondered, how would the ever-increasing crowd, still loitering at the lobby, fit in here? The attendance was an empresario’s dream.

Now seated down, we curiously observed the members, on stage, of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the nation’s premier orchestra, celebrating their golden anniversary, totally preoccupied as they tuned their instruments, warmed up their fingers methodically, creating brief solo rehearsals.

We suspected they must be nailing down the most difficult portions of their repertoire and untying some knots for this undeniable feat of a concert.

After all, they paid absolutely no mind to the steadily filling-up theater; they were completely zoned in on their own musical world, in deep concentration.

Upon stern observation, we were pleased to notice they were in full gala uniforms. The gentlemen donned tailcoats with white bow ties, black studs and some in charol shoes — a dress code which signaled the significance of this event for them.

The ladies looked elegant in absolute two-piece black long gowns with subtle glitters, brandishing three-fourth sleeves to allow for more arm maneuverability.

Once the final seat was taken, the concertmaster maestro, Grzegorz Nowak, the current music director and principal conductor of the PPO, who has performed alongside many respected soloists, such as Nigel Kenney and Mstislav Rostropovich, made an appearance on the stage.

There was deafening silence. We were finally welcomed to “Switch,” the 39th concert season of the PPO presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The PPO began the evening with a rendition of the Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky classic Polonaise from Eugene Onegin, Op. 24, a lively and familiar piece which enveloped the arena with a sense of festivity and remains with enduring popularity as a choice for operas and theaters across the world.

Then, entered Nikolay Khozyainov, a 31-year-old piano prodigy who has had sold out stages in the world’s most esteemed theaters and grandest opera houses.

Reminiscent of a matured Vienna Boys Choir member, all with blonde curly hair and youthful demeanor, he walked in, unfettered and unbothered, with absence of jitters and nerves.

The young gentleman has performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra and the RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, among many others.

He has deservingly received honors from the United Nations, Emperor Akihito of Japan and Empress Michiko of Japan and the Spanish Royal Family.

He finally settled himself in his chair and happily sent the adoring crowd into orbit as he imposingly performed Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, an emotionally-charged number.

Seated right beside me was a doctor at work, pianist at play, from Dipolog City, who was so mesmerized. I thought he forgot to breathe. I suspected he did not want to miss a single note. Totally enraptured!

The all-too-brief show ended with Selections from Romeo and Juliet Op. 64 by Sergei Prokofiev, a curated offering from one of the most-remembered ballets of Shakespeare’s tragic star-crossed lovers story. With 11 brief passages, it was a teaser of the oeuvre of the neoclassical and modernist composer.

However, going back, while the Russian duo was on stage, in trance in the best of their abilities, we soon found out that the conductor and pianist have collaborated before, akin to an unbreakable bond between a caring father and an obliging son.

Once the last note was played, the audience applauded over and over as the duo and the orchestra bowed again and again, with multiple exits and re-entrances to once again recognize the cheers from the elated spectators.

Khozyainov even smilingly obliged for an encore rendition of the well-received graduation march tune, Pomp and Circumstance, which ultimately sealed the love affair between the patrons and the performers.

I must confess I am no critic of any sort, but to put it simply, Khozyainov played captivatingly beautiful, while Nowak commanded the full attention of the listeners. Together with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, it was truly a grand night of enchanting music.