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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

entry arrow2:25 PM | The Dean of Tenors

Voice, like most of performance art, commanders the truest admiration only for the duration of the artistic act: after that, the fledgling memories of witnesses become the only record of what genius has taken place, haphazard that may be. If, indeed, to see is to believe, then the collective cultural history that came before the advent of recording devices would have been lost forever to amnesia. Fortunately, we do have cultural chroniclers who tell us of geniuses we can no longer comprehend today for ourselves. But to have seen Margot Fonteyn or Martha Graham dance! Or Jenny Lind sing! or Sarah Bernhardt set the French stage ablaze! Only history remains, of course.

The point I am trying to make is to drive home the value of seeing an artist at his or her peak perform on stage, in front of you, and playing for you—because these are moments that will be fleeting, and that one may never encounter again. One of my two biggest regrets as a cultural aficionado was foregoing seeing Lea Salonga on the Cultural Center of the Philippines stage doing Kim in the local production of Miss Saigon. I had a ticket to a great seat, but ultimately backed out at the last minute because traveling to big scary Manila on my own proved paralyzing. The second regret was foregoing a concert with Cecile Licad at the height of August during the Silliman University centennial celebration, because I was tired from work that day and needed a night to call my own. I realized much later that tiredness comes and goes, and can easily be remedied by a few hours of sleep some other time—but to see the legendary Cecile Licad play the piano in your neighborhood for the price of pittance? That opportunity comes only once in a blue moon.

Which is why tomorrow, January 11, I have marked my calendar to see the brilliant tenor Ramon Maria Acoymo perform on the Luce Auditorium stage.

The name may be unfamiliar to many, but Montet (as he is called among friends) comes to Dumaguete this week fresh from a glorious win as Best Male Classical Performer from the Aliw Awards, which was given out last December. That alone should tell us that what we have here is an emerging artist worthy of any adulation. Praise, of course, has already come from many quarters in the classical music scene, showered on an increasingly distinguished career that has seen him perform in three continents. The accolades rightly proclaim him as “the Dean of tenors.”

The nickname is not without basis given his talent. But it is also apt: he is, after all, the present Dean of the University of the Philippines College of Music. And a celebrated one at that. Consider this short list of his musical accomplishments: he is the first Filipino to graduate magna cum laude at the U.P. College of Music (after which he went to the University of Wyoming to earn his masters in Vocal Performance); he is the first Filipino classical singer to sing a recital format at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (in 2003); and he is the first Filipino classical singer to perform solo at the Alice Tully Hall of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

Impressive indeed, especially given the fact that his first calling was in biology—and actually graduated cum laude for his bachelor of science degree. Science’s loss became music’s gain.

In the United States in 1982, he took on the role of Wang Ta in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, where he earned favorable notices. The New York Times theater critic hailed his performance as “a pleasant presence.” Other theater critics on three continents have described him as “mesmerizing” (in New York), “successful” (in Rottenburg), and “remarkable” (in Manila).

His belief in musical excellence wherever he goes stems from a personal philosophy of meeting challenges head-on, but at the same time remaining true to one’s musical roots. “Everywhere we go,” he once said, “we meet the host country in its own terms—its own brand of music, its theories, its research. But, at the same time, we make it a point to showcase the Filipino artistry.”

A first-prize winner of the U.S. National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition, Mr. Acoymo has released three CD albums in America. Among his opera portrayals have been Canio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Tamino and Monostatos in Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, the title roles in Blake’s The Bear (which he performed with the Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra Society), Oedipus in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, and Pagong in Philippine National Artist Lucrecia Kasilag’s Ang Pagong at ang Matsing, a role which he created.

The concert by Ramon Ma. Acoymo is scheduled on January 11, and is the third event in the current cultural season sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. Upcoming shows include the Powerdance on January 26, Pinky Amador and Bart Guingona in the play Love Letters on February 23, and the U.P. Guitar Orchestra on March 1. Tickets are available at the College of Performing Arts Office and the Luce Auditorium Office, and at the theater lobby before every show. For inquiries and ticket reservations, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.

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