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SMDC vows to preserve Philam Life Theater

It looks like a hands down triumph for an iconic piece of cultural history in architecture, after the SM Development Corporation (SMDC) announced on Thursday that it “will save and preserve the culturally historic Philam Life Theater” in Manila. The company arrived at the decision following a “dialogue between SMDC Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Henry Sy, Jr. and Olivier Ochanine, music director and chief conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO),” according to an official statement. Ochanine had spearheaded an online petition to prevent the demolition of the building after it was sold last year to SMDC, which has announced plans to build a residential complex on the property. “This is one of the best performance halls in the entire Philippines,” according to the peititon statement posted on that garnered more than 10,000 signatories. "Its destruction would be a gigantic loss for Filipino culture and heritage.” Built in 1961, the Philam Life building was designed by architect Carlos Arguelles and is known for its excellent acoustics. Arthur Espiritu, the first Filipino tenor to sing at the La Scala di Milan, has said the Theater’s amazing acoustics ranks right up there with Carnegie Hall's little theater.  

Local classical music afficionados had been alarmed when they discovered that the Philam Life Theater had been bought by SMDC, thinking it would be turned into a shopping mall. Ochanine presented the petition and met with officials of SMDC, the company statement said. “We are fully aware of our responsibility as corporate citizens. In envisioning a progressive, convenient, upscale yet affordable lifestyle for Filipinos, we also value our cultural heritage especially in communities where we operate,” Henry Sy, Jr. said, according to the statement. The Philam Life building and compound along UN avenue in Manila had already been sold to the mall developer when it was believed to be on its last legs with what was the final performance at the Theater's auditorium: award-winning Ukrainian pianist Sofya Gulyak with the PPO.

A concert featuring award-winning Ukrainian pianist Sofya Gulyak with the PPO was to be the final performance at the auditorium in Philamlife Center along U.N. Avenue in Manila. Photo by Danny Pata
Prior to that though, the Theater has served as a venue for many hallmark events, especially in classical music, for 52 years. These include the 1969 orchestral debut of an eight-year-old piano prodigy named Cecile Licad with the University of the East Student Orchestra; Licad would go on to win the Leventritt Gold Medal and have an international music career. "Although the development plan is still in its initial stage, SMDC stressed that the complete theater including all its elements and most especially its acoustics will be preserved. This will be done in close consultation with the country’s music, acoustics and design experts," the company statement said. "The hall may be moved within the complex to complement the overall master plan of the property, which will also include a larger parking area for the benefit and convenience of the theater-goers," it added. – Karl De Mesa/YA, GMA News