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Remembering the Baroque period in the 38th International Bamboo Organ Festival

February 21, 2013 1:27pm
Many Pinoys may have read about the Baroque period in their history classes. They may not know it, but they can actually still see and hear a bit of this grand period—and they don't even have to leave the country. Just 10 kilometers from Metro Manila is St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas, home of the world-famous bamboo organ.

"Built between 1797 and 1819, the church has an Earthquake Baroque architectural style and is mainly made out of adobe stones," the Las Piñas City website said.

"Earthquake Baroque" refers to the style used by early church builders, who would use huge buttresses to reinforce the structures located in earthquake-prone areas, the Heritage Conservation Society explained.

The bamboo organ is played daily in the morning and afternoon, but every February, visitors get the chance to hear special performances during the International Bamboo Organ Festival. Spanish Baroque music is among the highlights of this year's festival, which runs from February 21 to 27.

Now on its 38th year, the festival opens with an invitation-only gala concert on February 21. On February 22 is Concertate, a two-part program of choral music for double choir. The first part features composers from the late Renaissance period: Lassus, Victoria, and Monteverdi. The second part features Spanish Baroque music in the style of villancicos, a motet by J.S. Bach, and the Gloria from a Mass for Double Choir by Portuguese composer Esteves.

Performers for Concertate include the Las Piñas Boys Choir and the UP Education Choir in a face-to-face formation; vocal soloists Sherla Najera and Stefanie Quintin, sopranos; Ily Matthew Maniano, countertenor; tenors Ervin Lumauag and Joel Aquino; Mark Abesia, baritone; organists Peter Van de Velde and Armando Salarza, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra conducted by Eudenice Palaruan.

On February 23 is Concert Under the Trees, featuring "less serious musical fare," with performances from popular artists in the inner courtyard of the church. This year's highlight is a performance from Jamie Rivera, who composed and sang the hymn in honor of San Pedro Calungsod. Other performers include Trinna Alcantara, a former member of Passage and Deep Projek, a newly-formed band headed by Gerald Manuel, former lead vocalist of IAXE.

On February 24, there will be a concert specially dedicated to organ music, which will be performed on the Bamboo Organ as well as the larger contemporary instrument in the school auditorium. For an Evening of Organ Music, the guest artist is renowned Belgian organist Peter Van de Velde. He taught himself to play the organ at the age of nine, and at 12 was the organist of the local church in the Flemish village of Doel. He is now the Titular Organist of the Antwerp Cathedral, as well as organist of the church of St. Michael.

On February 25 is an Evening of Chamber Music, which follows the format of the Evening of Organ Music. The first half of the program will feature works by Cabanilles, Correa de Arauxo, J.S. Bach, and Mozart. These will be performed on the Bamboo Organ by organist Dr. Johann Trummer (Austria) and Armando Salarza , Titular Organist of the Bamboo Organ of Las Piñas, with assistance of the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

The second part will include compositions of J.S. Bach and his two sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. These will be played on the organ in the school auditorium.

The festival ends on February 27 with a repeat concert of Concertate.

History

The bamboo organ was built by Father Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen, the first parish priest in Las Piñas, according to the Bamboo Organ website. Fr. Cera was a Spanish Recollect missionary who belonged to a family of organ-builders in Graus, Hauesca.

When he came to the Philippines in 1795, he adapted the European instrument to the Filipino climate by using the best native material at hand. Instead of wood, Fr. Cera used bamboo to make the organ, which he worked on for eight years, from 1816 to 1824. The organ has a total of 1,031 pipes, 902 of which are bamboo. The remaining pipes are metal.

In 1880, a typhoon followed by an earthquake destroyed the church's roof. Stones and water fell into the organ case, making it unplayable for several years. The pipes were kept in the old sacristy until 1917.

In 1973, the organ was shipped to Germany, where it was restored by Johannes Klais Orgelbau. In 1975, the organ returned home, and the International Bamboo Organ Festival was born.

On November 24, 2003, the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ was officially declared as National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines, which said "it is the only 19th century Bamboo Organ in the Philippines that has survived and is still functioning."

The organ is currently watched over by the Diego Cera Organ Builders of Las Piñas. — Carmela G. Lapeña/BM, GMA News
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