Saturday, May 4, 2013
Although I am from Ormoc City, I had never heard of the pianist Dingdong Fiel until a couple of weeks ago, on Facebook. I put this mainly to the fact that I have been abroad for the past five years and have only come home to roost back in my hometown in the past month or so. Also I am sure Dingdong had been busy building up his pianism and musical reputation in the past couple of years both in the Philippines and abroad. Hence the lacuna in my recognizing a pianist who happens to come from one of the oldest families in Ormoc, the Fiels.
When I read his FB resume prior to his concert on May 4, 2013, my interest was piqued when it mentioned that he graduated from the UST conservatory and was a pupil of the late Ms. Erlinda Fule. I also studied at UST, in the Central Seminary back in the '70's, and, while there, I cross-enrolled at the UST conservatory and took a few piano lessons with the said Ms. Fule. I didn't last long with her, because like any self-respecting classical purist, she used to yell into my ear whenever I played Mozart with jazz accents. She was also my teacher in harmony, and the way she stretched her writing arm and made her joints crackle was legendary among us students.
So, yes, even if Dingdong just played 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead", I would still attend the concert to find what the late Ms. Fule had wrought. From what I eventually heard, she did well by him, or him by her.
Before presenting my thoughts on his concert, let me present my thoughts on what went on before the concert itself.
A cursory examination of the programme told me that this recital was going to be a heavy-hitter. Any concert that featured Liszt's "Tarantella" and Beethoven's "Appasionata" sonata was either overly ambitious or challenging the attention span of the audience. On the other hand, the presence of a grand piano onstage jolted me out of my low expectations. I had never seen a concert grand before in Ormoc City, so I figured that Dingdong and the organizers meant business.
In true provincial Philippine fashion, the concert started with a prayer. I was expecting a priest or a minister to deliver an invocation to God Almighty, but that notion of mine was disabused when they actually started playing a recording of "The Prayer", that Celine Dion-Andrea Bocelli home run hit. The audience dutifully stood while the song played on the PA. Normally the invocation, such as it was, would be immediately followed by a playing of the Philippine National Anthem but what followed was actually a projected video of the Philippine Anthem that was prefaced by a tableau of killings, namely, the killing of Magellan at the hands of Lapu-lapu, the garroting of the rebel priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, the bloody KKK revolution, and finally the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal. Over Rizal's dead body, the camera panned out to a triumphant rendition of "Bayang Magiliw". A slightly bizarre introduction to an evening of Liszt, Chopin et al. you might say, but, to me,as a native Ormocanon, there was also an attitude of sweetness and goodwill on the proceedings, not least because I had the chance to meet once again my local friends. One of the concertgoers was a classmate of mine whom I hadn't seen since 1965!
The concert, and the pianist Dingdong Fiel, was a revelation. When Dingdong walked onstage in a dark suit, you could mistake him for a sweet-looking nerd with glasses and a somewhat diffident smile. You would be wrong. Because when he launched into his first piece, Debussy's "Fireworks", I realized he had the strength of a horse and the delicacy of a hummingbird. The pieces that he \chose to play where not the usual potboilers, but knuckle-busters like Liszt's "Tarantella". Chopin's 3 preludes, Rachmanninoff's Moment Musical #4, Scarlatti's 3 sonatas and Beethoven's "Appasionata" Sonata. These were muscular pieces that only an athletic pianist could play. This is where I thought the spirit of Ms. Fule hovered over the piano: in Dingdong's muscular, yet delicate fingerwork. Ms. Fule, as I recall, inspired a certain muscular technique in her students. I heard that she even advised a protegee to lift barbells to strengthen his fingers. Of course, Mr. Fiel, as his resume reveals, eventually had other teachers in Europe, but I'm sure his UST Conservatory schooling gave him the solid foundations for his technique and pianistic expressiveness.
It was in his playing of the Chopin's "Raindrop Prelude", the Scarlatti Sonatas, and Chopin's Nocturne in C#minor that Dingdong impressed me. For, contrary to popular impression, the hardest piano pieces to play are the slow, thoughtful ones such as the "Raindrop" Prelude. This requires a lot of restraint and delineation of interwoven melodies. Dingdong had this restraint and clarity in the enunciation of this melancholy, and somewhat lugubrious, prelude. He also played Scarlatti's more cheerful sonatas with the clarity that they demanded so that they sparkled like little jewels in his hand. As for the Chopin nocturne, which was used in the movie "The Pianist", he gave this piece a thoughtful, unrushed reading.
Mr. Fiel's final piece was the first movement of the "Appasionata" sonata of Beethoven. This sonata was one of the last five Beethoven wrote before his death, and is considered one of the hardest to play. Dingdong made short work of this, of course, a testament to his prodigious technique, and a tribute to whatever influence his later studies in Germany might have given him.
For an encore, Dingdong played Rachmaninoff's " Prelude in C#minor", and if he suffered a few missed notes here and there, I probably would put it to the onset of exhaustion (yes, pianists and performers do get tired, even if what they do looks so easy to the uninitiated).
Normally, in my experience, the end of the concert is where the audience goes wild, gives the artist a standing ovation, shouts "Bravos!", throws roses at Dingdong, brings down the confetti, etc. But since this was Ormoc, whose audiences I know so well, there was none of the sort. Well, after the Beethoven Sonata, people did stand up and cheer the homecoming son of Ormoc. Then they sat down for an encore, and remained seated after it. There was one round of polite applause and a plea for another encore (not heeded) then a post-concert session of "Thank You's" from the organizers of the event, followed by an awarding of a plaque of appreciation to the artist, who, it was announced, played "Gratis et Amore" to benefit a scholarship fund. Ormoc audiences are generally conservative. One woman once confessed to me apropos a past concert I did in the same venue that she wanted to stand up and applaud, but she was afraid of what people might think and didn't want to be the first to stand up.
However, I could tell that the audience of Ormocanons was enraptured by Dingdong's virtually flawless performance and I'm sure pretty proud to count such a fine artist to be a son of Ormoc City, Leyte. In a season of noisy and tawdry politicking, not to mention almost unbearable summer heat, Dingdong's concert was a breath of fresh air in a city that seldom sees presentations of this sort.