Monday, January 26, 2009

Rhapsody in Blue

At the east coast of Batangas’s Calumpang Peninsula in the town of Mabini, where the waters of Balayan Bay lap at its craggy shores, resorts have cropped up over the years, some clinging on the cliff. The area has become famous for diving and came to be generally, and erroneously, known as Anilao, after one of Mabini’s barangays. The row of resorts seems to start in Anilao East and Anilao Proper, and then goes on south to Majuban, San Jose, Selo, Ligaya, Bagalangit and San Teodoro.
The Calumpang Peninsula has an almost severe landscape and a rugged coastline, not really a picturesque vacation spot. But the rich of biodiversity of the Mabini-Tingloy area has attracted foreign divers, and then local divers. The little hype caught the attention of excursionists and vacationers from Manila. Because of its proximity to the country’s capital city, about two hours’ drive, the Calumpang area has become a vacation fixture, spurring the development of resorts that includes not just dive resorts but also small to medium picnic resorts.
The resorts here are of the “rugged” type, not really built for a luxury vacation. Divers are not particular about poshness but are keener on the dive facility. Excursionists from nearby areas, on a budget, look for inexpensive resorts. Right now, there are 34 dive resorts and there are 24 small- to medium-enterprise picnic resorts. Among them are 16 private resorts.
A new addition is the Vivere Azure Resort, located down south of the peninsula in the sitio of Aguado of San Teodoro. Owned by Richville Corporation of Rolando Garcia, which also operates the Vivere Suites in Alabang, Muntinlupa, Azure stands out by offering a deluxe stay with well-appointed rooms, an infinity pool, a spa, dining options and beautifully landscaped gardens.
Opened in March 2008, Vivere Azure sits on about half a hectare area along the rocky beach, between two private resorts. One is called Pawikan. Nearby are the dive resorts El Pinoy and the former Dive Solana.
Almost half of the property is cliff, and thus the landscaping works around this characteristic. Some resorts in this area have modest entrances, leading down the cliff to where the resort buildings stand by the shore. Azure has a more space to accommodate a small infinity pool, which affords a spectacular view of the Maricaban Strait and a sunset dissolving behind the nearby Tingloy Island.

From the gate, the pathway made with cement blocks with leaf impressions lead to the large hut that is the reception area with its capiz windows accents, wicker sofas and driftwood chairs. At one end, a large tamarind holds a tree house called Chanty Tree Top Hut. The reception area opens to the infinity pool. The spa, actually two open huts with gauzy curtains, mattresses and pillows, overlooks the pool and the strait. Between the huts and the pool is a strip of white sand. During sunset, tables can be set with candles and flowers for cocktails to watch the sunset or a romantic dinner. The Coco Bar nearby is a a venue for after-dinner conversations and fun.
The pathway down to the resort building is filled with gravel and lined with driftwood embedded with pieces of coral and shell. One passes trellis with a curtain of millionaire’s vine roots.
Vivere Azure is a four-storey building with 13 rooms, all designed with a modern tropical vibe and Filipino accents by architect Ryan Untivero and interior designer Ronnie Bugay, who also did Vivere Suites. Their names are in English and Latin, after different shades of blue, state of feeling or connotations of luxury, life and bliss—Cobalt, Indigo, Escape, Sapphire, Aqua, Elixir, Elan, Rejuvena, Enchant, Anima, Zephyr, Ultima and Azure.

Cobalt, Indigo, Escape, Sapphire and Aqua have about 26 to 28 square meters of room area, while Elixir, Elan, Rejuvena, Enchant, Anima and Zephyr has from 34 to 58. Ultima has about 70 but the most spacious is the Azure or the Presidential Suite with about 106 and more luxurious trappings. Each room has different designs and concepts, but all adhering to a sense of rustic elegance. The room rate ranges from USD215 to USD500.

At the upper floor is the Z Cafe, which offers a view of the beach, where sometimes local boys frolic, and very cozy dining space. Another dining option is Cenare, this one al-fresco and by the beach.
Diving is a top recreational activity on offer here, though it can be arranged with the dive shops of other others. But Vivere Azure offers other water activities from kayaking to snorkeling. Island hopping is very popular, and guests usually go to Tingloy for that.

At the northwest tip of the island municipality, in the barangay of Maricaban, is Sepoc Point, where Eagle Point Resort in Bagalangit operates a two-hectare beach center with a dining facility, volleyball area and a white-sand beach. Non-diving Calumpang guests often take a day trip to this area to swim on the beach or climb the hill for a panoramic view of Sepoc Point, which is characterized by a large rock outcrop at the tip. Perhaps there have been frequent sightings of eagles or kites in the area that it is also called Eagle Point, but the day I visited there were numerous large crows. On the way to Sepoc Point, one passes the islet Sombrero, so named because of its hat-like shape. Pirasan Point is also a destination on offer.

Vivere Azure was originally planned as a rest house by the owner, according to resident manager Elmer Garcia. After three years of development, it became a resort. Garcia said that Azure is big on corporate accounts. Companies have their seminars, office outings, and teambuilding sessions here. They also have a sprinkling of families. Garcia revealed that less than a hectare of land area, inland, just across the main road from the resort entrance, have been acquired and will be developed for teambuilding facilities.
As of now, Vivere Azure is perhaps the most luxurious resort in the Calumpang Peninsula area.

Vivere Azure Resort is located at Kilometer 108, Aguada, San Teodoro, Mabini, Batangas, while Manila office telephone number (632) 771-7777, fax number (632) 771-0158, e-mail and Web site

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Suddenly Sarah Chang

I was not sure what to expect from a former child prodigy. There are a lot of preconceptions, and I was trying to remember one minutes before meeting Korean-American violinist Sarah Chang at the Conrad Centennial Hotel in Singapore. But my mind was on her track record: starting violin studies at age four; auditioning at age eight for Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti which led to immediate engagements with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra; a recording contract at age nine; notable recital engagements including her Carnegie Hall debut and performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Symphony Hall in Boston, the Barbican Centre in London, the Philharmonie in Berlin and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; an Avery Prize in 1999 as well as other honors; worldwide acclaim; collaborations with giants in classical music, etc.
Chang was in Singapore for the second Singapore Sun Festival, a 10-day extravaganza of art and living well, born out of the Tuscan Sun Festival, which was inspired by the book Under the Tuscan Sun. There were notable chefs preparing signature dinners, writers giving light on their craft, musicians and singers touching the soul, and gurus talking about wellness.
I was not able to catch Chang perform, having flew in late and being busy with sampling a wide array of good food, but I was able to talk to her. She turned out to be effervescent and amiable, almost like a teenager in interest and attitude, dressed almost skimpily. That I did not expect.

RHM: You started very, very young. How was it? It doesn’t seem to be a normal kid’s life.
SC: It’s really not. Within the circumstances, my parents did what they could. They were very supportive. They made sure I went to a normal school so I have friends my own age because when I was working I was always with grownups and people twice my age, three times my age if not older. When I was working, touring, recording, doing concerts, that was one set of my life and then when I went home I was a kid. My mom expected me to do homework. I went to Juilliard on top of that so I would have all the musical training. I feel that it was very structured and categorized in a way that I really did try to get the most, the best of out of both worlds. In theory it works like that. Obviously going to high school that became really, really hard. Because it’s hard enough when you’re just a full time student, but to have a career, as long as it’s a recording career, and then trying to finish school and keep up with school, it’s not fun. It was at a time when email was just starting but not huge so I really did finish high school like that. I really did. It truly saved my sanity. That was the only way that I was able to finish school. I had great teachers, amazing professors, who were willing to work with me, you know, to fax this when I’m working extra in the classroom. They were usually supportive but you know at the end of the day their requirements have to be met. There were a few years of rehearsals, concerts, parties and dinners and all that great stuff and then having to rush back to the hotel to do my homework, and I did. Many years of that. I’m glad it’s over now.

RHM: Is there a chance you will go pop?
SC: No, that’s not where my interest lies. I do listen to a lot of pop music. When I’m relaxing or driving or when I just want to get my mind off work, like anybody else, I love Beyonce, I love Rihanna, I love anything Latin and anything salsa. You know, I love, love that. That’s what I would be listening to. But when it comes to work and what I do onstage, I mean my training is classical music and I think that’s where my strengths are. And I feel that I’ve been very lucky in this career. I have some of the most amazing friends in the music industry who are absolutely the best in what they do. I don’t feel the need to do like crossover things for pop project. If anything comes in my direction and it’s a good project musically then of course I’ll love it. I’m with EMI. I’ve stayed with them since I was nine years old, and it’s probably one of the longest recording relationships out there. Occasionally, they send me projects, you know, that are unique or a little different or slightly more crossover but I think they also know what I do and what my fan base is, the classical field.

RHM: Who are your artistic influences?
SC: I think when it comes to like violinists, I think (David) Oistrakh I love, love Oistrakh. Anything that Oistrakh did I think is just phenomenal. Out of the living, I think Lieberman. I think he’s just unbelievable.

RHM: How different is it performing in the festival in Tuscany from this one in Singapore?
SC: First of all, this is by far the biggest hall and this is the proper hall. This is an actual proper hall. You can bring any orchestra, any conductor, and this is at par with any of the great halls in the world. The one in Tuscany, it’s just small opera hall. It’s beautiful but it is not an opera hall. You can’t fit in a big orchestra. I have played with a reduced chamber orchestra. Of the opera halls in Europe and especially in Italy, they’re like little miniature jewel boxes. They’re very like visually beautiful but capacity-wise they’re smaller, and the number of seats are smaller as well. The stage there is so much smaller. You can’t fit a hundred and twenty on stage, whereas this (the Esplanade) is enormous. There are differences like that. I’ve gone to Cortona a few times. It’s just different because here like after yesterday’s concert we have this big thing at the tent, we all went out to dinner and we had drinks at the Raffles then we went clubbing. It’s really a cosmopolitan big city. There’s so much to do here. Whereas Cortona is rustic. It’s wine country. A lot of green stuff. Really, really beautiful but in a different way like all cobblestones. You don’t wear heels there because you’ll get stuck and stuff like that. It’s one of those places where there’s one strip of shops and that’s basically it. It is like in a lot of little Italian cities and you go there and you get vegetables and stuff, and there were a few shoe stores and clothing stores. I remember I was walking back after one of the rehearsals and there was this little shoe shop which is so cute, so great. The next day I tried to go back and it was closed, and that wasn’t like on a Sunday or anything else. It was just a regular Thursday, four in the afternoon. No big deal. I asked the guy the next day why were you closed, and he said my mom came so we went out, we had company and we had lunch and it sort of got late so I just closed the shop. It’s sort of like that—totally easy-going, slightly disorganized, which is charming in a way. They’re very laidback. It’s different being in small Italian city from being in a big city.

RHM: How is it working with an orchestra?
SC: I have it easy because as a soloist. You’re only there for a few days. You do your normally two rehearsals. You do the concert. Sometimes it’s one. Sometimes it’s as many as four or five in a city. And then you are out of there. So it’s great if you like the people that you work with. But if you don’t, it’s okay because you’re leaving anyway. I think most of the musicians are contracted for like fourteen to eighteen weeks in an orchestra. They have a validity pack. And orchestra members, you know, it’s their community. It’s their family. And I think everyone gets strong like any family, great relationships and great friends, and some that are aren’t so fantastic. It’s pretty fun. There are a lot of married couples in an orchestra. There are a lot of divorced couples in an orchestra. It’s fun like a soap opera.

RHM: What’s your personal definition of music?
SC: For me, it’s my life. It’s a huge part of my life. It takes over most of my major decisions. In the music industry, we schedule really far in advance. So right now we’re doing my 2011 to 2012 calendar so you know what city you’ll be in, who you’ll be working with on a certain day on 2011. It adds a little bit of stability, which is really good. It’s a challenge just to live the rest of your normal life. With all this extra stuff that goes on and at the end of the day, when you go on stage and actually play and to be with an audience that is so enthusiastic, to be with an orchestra and conductor that you really click with and work really well with, then the chemistry is there, that really makes everything just click, you know. It really all works out.

RHM: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be? What other interests aside from music do you have?
SC: I was at one point really interested in journalism, not just because I do some interviews, but I love to write and all that about me. But if I wasn’t actually a violinist I would hope that I would be somehow involved in the music industry, the promotion side of it, the recording company side of it.

RHM: Who is the biggest source of inspiration in your musical career?
SC: I would say probably my teacher, Miss (Dorothy) DeLay. She passed away several years ago. But she was an incredible teacher who taught like a whole list of really wonderful, wonderful musicians. Her and Isaac Stern probably. He really had a wonderful way of keeping an eye on the next generation of musicians, and was constantly calling and asking what you are working on, when are you going to Europe, and I want to hear you playing. You know, keeping an eye out. That’s pretty impressive, to see somebody of that stature and that important and huge, and he was certainly making that effort.

RHM: Do you have one violin or several?
SC: I travel with one but back home I’ve got a few. I got one that I bring out for photo sessions. I have one sometimes for outdoor concerts. When it’s raining or really hot and humid, it’s not good for the instrument. I got another one for that. [But I have] one main, one main instrument.

RHM: How’s your relationship with your violin? Some artists can be protective of their instruments.
SC: I don’t think I would go that far, but it is pretty special. For me, it’s my life, almost like an extension of your body. You spend a lot of time with it so you get to know it pretty well. They get quite temperamental with the different climates that we’re in. It’s very, very sensitive. Over the years, you need to learn how to make it work for you, realize if you’re in a tropical climate what it will and it cannot do this for you. And if you’re somewhere really high up like in Aspen, Colorado, you realize what amazing things it can do for you. What you want to do you know after the climate but you should just be calm and just learn.

RHM: What’s your main violin?
SC: It’s a Guarneri, del Gesu. It is about 300 years old. I’m pretty lucky to have it.

RHM: Some musicians sort of ascribe gender to their instruments, referring to it as he or she.
SC: I don’t know. I spend so much time with it so I should probably call it a he. Sound-wise it is a very, very masculine instrument. It’s very in a way dark, sort of colored violin. It’s got a really beautiful like caster panel, sort of black. I think it’s got a really good balance.

RHM: Does traveling influence your music?
SC: It does actually. Just being in a different culture, being in a different atmosphere, you can feel it. You do feel that when you’re in a different city, you know. You get the vibe from people and their ways. They kindle the way you work. When being in the hotel all the time, you make an effort to go out and try the local restaurants, and go out and walk around a bit and get the feel. I love doing that. Traveling by itself is not a walk in the park anymore. Traveling is a bit of a pain and especially when…I’m from the States, so coming to Asia is a big flight, and jet lag is no joke…I’m always taking catnaps. Backstage there’s always a sofa usually for like sleeping or like taking a quick nap before the show.

RHM: What are your favorite places?
SC: I love Italy as a country, the architecture and the culture. There’s so much to do and to see and to hear. Germany is amazing just for a musician—great conductors, amazing orchestras. As a musician, it’s a jewel. Obviously, in the States, it’s Philadelphia, a very special place for me, and I started my career in New York.

RHM: How much do you travel?
SC: I’m on the road basically all year long. I do about a hundred, a hundred twenty shows a year. That basically means I’m gone most of the time. My tours are normally all clumped together in big chunks. I never go away for just one day. This whole Asia thing [includes] Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong. It just goes on and on. It’s a certain lifestyle that you need to get used to, that you need to adjust the rest of your life for. With my life right now it totally works because first of all I enjoy doing this. Second, I don’t have my own family so it works. My mom came to see me in Korea. Sometimes I get to see family. And I got friends in most of the cities that I go to. I keep it fun.

RHM: Do you have any traveling tips?
SC: You know what, give up and just take as many bags as you need. For a while, I tried to abide by these expert tips and all these going-away stuff. After a while, you just give up and think that life becomes so much simpler if you just take what you need. Because when you’re on the road, so much of your life is just in your suitcase. And you need your stuff. You need your tons and tons of music, which is really heavy, but you also need your dresses, your shoes and your normal clothes and all your personal items. You need all these stuff. This is a discussion that so many artists have. We all have the same life, and some of us leave sometimes for months, sometimes longer, and how do you pack life in three little suitcases? What I do now is I send stuff home. When I’m finished with a concert and I don’t need this stack of music anymore, I send to my mom. After Japan, I didn’t need my coat anymore, my boots anymore, I sent stuff home.

RHM: What do you dream of doing?
SC: A vacation. Just a little bit of breathing time sometimes. Where I could just have a free day and like actually a free day. With my life right now I don’t know if I actually have a so-called free day. It gets jam-packed with things that my manager puts in without me knowing. At least it’s not complicated. You know what I love doing is when I finally go home like for Christmas, my little brother and I, we usually…because when you travel so much you can’t keep up with your TV shows. There’s no way, right? The weekly TV shows you try to follow like Prison Break, Lost or whatever. You go away for seven days and then like everybody’s dead. You don’t know what happened. And then your friends start telling me, and you don’t want to hear it.
Normally, when I’m home for like a day and then I need to leave again, I barely had enough time to repack. Usually we went out on Christmas and get everything on DVD. My brother and I would just literally like go through all the seasons in one sitting, all day, all night. We don’t even get up for meals. We’re pretty serious about it. I love doing that. I love doing that when you just basically catch up on life.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Light of Day

The second Singapore Sun Festival, set for 10 days, from Oct. 17 to 26, 2008, was deluge of sensory delights. Involving about 200 or so artists, musicians, chefs, writers and celebrities, it celebrated the arts and living well, set against the cosmopolitan feel of Singapore, particularly in the Marina Bay area and along the Singapore River. I came to Singapore during the latter part of the festival, missing opera star Kiri Te Kanawa, the Vienna Boys Choir, actor Geoffrey Rush, singers Sergio Mendez and Peter Cincotti, Chicago chef Charlie Trotter, violinist Sarah Chang and Australian-Filipino writer Merlinda Bobis. But I did get to taste the dishes of Australian chef Luke Mangan and contemplate the paintings of German-American abstract artist Sibylle Szaggars. I heard Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra at the Esplanade, and was introduced to Canadian flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook and American singer-songwriter Spencer Day.
Cook and Day performed back-to-back one Saturday night at Timbre, the chic café near the Arts House, near the river and among colonial buildings restored to become art spaces. The statue of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, almost disappeared among the people, dancing and drinking, and in the darkness dappled with varicolored lights. Cook impressed with his dexterity, coaxing incredible sounds from the guitar and setting the air on fire, and Day coolly crooned, dripping with sincerity, against the backdrop of the glittering skyline along the Singapore River, a spectacle.
Fusing jazz, contemporary, folk and country music, Day sings in his velvety baritone on diverse subjects with refreshing wit, becoming a favorite performer at San Francsico’s Bay Area. He is also well-received and acclaimed when he performs in other areas of the United States and outside it. He has put out two albums, Introducing Spencer Day in 2004 and Movie of Your Life in 2005, and is working on a third, Vagabond.
The next day, Day was set against the skyline composed of malls and office buildings, his blond hair catching the most gossamer light of a gray Singapore day as we conversed at the club lounge of the Conrad Centennial Hotel. He was easy-going and was excited being in Singapore.
“It is really great. It is really clean. I haven’t seen really so much because we literally flew in yesterday, slept for a few hours, did a rehearsal and a sound check. We went to a hawker center. I have eaten a lot which has been great. That’s the main thing I have done so far,” he started.
Day has been performing a lot recently like at the Monterey Jazz Festival and at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in Massachusetts. Now, at the Singapore Sun Festival, he appreciated performing in a smaller scale in a warm outdoor setting. He also got to watch and interact with other artists, and taste the gustatory offerings. He also got to be interviewed, sharing his views on his music and life:

RHM: Any influnces?
SD: I have a ton of different influences. I think it has been a challenge in the industry because I am not doing what I think a lot of people expect me to do. I had some challenges in my career because I think I am not as jazzy like Michael Buble, or I am not doing a big band thing but I am also not doing a rock thing. But I think ultimately, hopefully that would be a huge benefit, that I don’t fit into either of those categories. I also grew up listening to a lot of different sorts of good music—country or Western music. My favorite singers are Ella Fitzgerald and Chet Baker. I really think they both sing ballads so beautifully. I really consider myself a torch singer, a ballad singer. I don’t think there have been a lot of torch singers lately though, more of another time period. I want to try bring that spirit of another time but put it in a more modern context.

RHM: Does the younger generation like your music?
SD: Yeah. I have been really surprised. I try not to worry or think too much about who is going to like the music and just do what I love to do. That is always better than thinking if I am cool with this people or am I proper enough for older people. What I have been really happy about is that I have discovered that there is a very wide range of people who seem to listen or appreciate what I am doing. I have people who are in their 80s and some are 18-year-old. I am really pleased about that.

RHM: Do you get compared to Michael Buble?
SD: It really depends on where I play and in what context. Sometimes when I play more like a singer than a songwriter, I get compared to Jamie Cullum or Rufus Wainwright or Harry Connick, Jr a lot, or Michael Buble. I think that’s what just people do to have a reference point, when people are trying to describe something. Just like if I would describe Singapore. It is a mix of Hawaii or Hong Kong. I don’t even know how to describe it, but sometimes when people don’t know something they need a starting point to give them an idea, even if it does not end up something familiar to it. People do that a lot. I don’t mind because they are wonderful people to be compared to.

RHM: How does a song idea come to you?
SD: It starts with coffee. Nothing happens without coffee. So as long as the trees keep growing beans, I would have ideas hopefully. When I am stuck with an idea, what I do is listen to something, whether it’s bolero or Joni Mitchell, and listen to a song I really like and try to figure what it is that I enjoy about it, and start to play along with it. When I stop the CD, it kind of transforms to something else. Sometimes by the point that I am done, it does not sound like anything like what I have started to listen to. When I am stuck creatively, I’d like to go back to a catalog of songs that I really love and respect, and think of what it is that makes me feel good about it and try to come up with my own interpretation. Sometimes, if I am stuck creatively, to work up a challenge, I would write a love song but never use the word love in it or do something like that. Or maybe just write a song about a bottle of water and what makes you think about it. It is a great way to focus your self. I think there are a lot of artists who tend to be very scattered. I put a lot of discipline onto myself.

RHM: You write songs on diverse topics. Where do you get your ideas?
SD: One thing that I was told when I was younger that I really disobeyed is you don’t want to write too specifically because then people won’t be able to relate to the song. That’s why a lot of love songs tend to have a general or very broad appeal. But a lot of the songs that I really, like The Counting Crows’ “Me and Mr. Jones,” has very specific details. It was a huge hit because they are really creating an image of the place, the people. Even if they have not been in that world, they really understand and know where the person is taking them. And for that one, I want to write a song from the perspective of family whose son is leaving home and they are worried that he is not going to make it and he is going for the big city of California. They never hear from him again, which is not an experience I personally had.
The fun in writing songs is that you can write about Marie Antoinette or you can put yourself in many different worlds. It is almost like a mini acting performance. Within the four-minute song, I can create a world which I have not personally experience, but we can find that experience all within our selves, and I want to invite everyone else to come along.

RHM: Do you have any idiosyncrasies or rituals before creating a song?
SD: I meditate a lot. I think creating an atmosphere wherein you can be creative is really important. That’s why I live now in the woods. I don’t live in the city. Usually I can find it when it is really quite which I do better too. I need to be alone, too. If I need to do any work calls or something like that, I have to do it on a different day. If I am going to be creative, I have to wake in the morning knowing that I have nothing else to do left to do because you are using the left part of your brain. Anytime I start thinking that I should write this song to make money or something else, it kind of ruins the creative impulse. You really need to be open and free. Yeah, I guess my real ritual is turning off my phone.

RHM: You are a singer, a composer and an actor. Which of the three comes first?
SD: I would say songwriter-composer and secondly a singer. I love singing other people’s songs too. All composers and singers have an element of acting. It is not the main talent if I would say, but I have learned that no matter what you are doing it is acting. You still have to create a world around you and then invite people into it. I did not think about that before, but now I do believe that I am an actor. But really more of a songwriter

RHM: Do you have any favorite songs that you wrote?
SD: I love them all. They are like children. Even if you have one kid who’s in jail you would still love him the same. I am really proud of the song I did last night, called “Weeping Willow,” and some of the ones that are very melodically strong. I think those of the songs I most proud of. I think a lot of songwriters are saying the best song they have ever written they haven’t written it yet. It is yet to come. Maybe tonight, who knows.

RHM: Who do you want to work with?
SD: Wow! I love Joni Mitchell. She is wonderful. I would love to do an album with an orchestra like the Boston Pops or the New York Philharmonic. There are so many different projects I’d like to collaborate with I can’t even think any of them. There are so many people I respect. I am really lucky that finally I am starting to meet those people and be respected in those circles. I love Feist. I would love to sing something with Feist. I love her. She is fantastic. I can go on forever.

RHM: What do you do in your spare time?
SD: I love to garden. I live in Topanga Canyon, in Malibu North of LA (Los Angeles). I love working in the yard. I just moved in to a new property. Tons of work to be done which is for me is exciting because for me I could see a lot of ways to make it beautiful. There are deers and coyote and some stuff. I am really excited to go back to tons of work. I also love traveling which is fortunately what I do. I get paid to travel. I want to do it anyway. I am so happy to be in Asia. Traveling is one of my big loves. I used to teach swing dancing, so used to do jitterbug music.

RHM: Where did you last spend your vacation?
SD: Oh, that is a while ago. I went to visit my family in Arizona. They live up in the mountains which is really beautiful. So I guess that is my last vacation. New York is my favorite city in the world.

RHM: What other places have you been or want to go to?
SD: Well, I have been to Australia a few times. It was wonderful. I love Australia. I’ve been to Paris which is amazing. Rome, all over Italy. Brazil, a few times, and London. I would love to go back to Paris though. I was only there for three days. It was prettier than I could ever imagine. I did not think it would be that beautiful when I got there, but it was really something.

RHM: Are you a light packer or heavy packer?
SD: I used to be a light packer until I destroyed my very expensive travel bag because I was packing too much into it. Now, I have started transitioning to be better safe than sorry. When I travel I have an enormous bag so that I won’t miss anything. I bring more than what I need. I bring like the entire medicine cabinet. I bring my own pillow for the airline, earplugs. I don’t leave anything to chance now. But it is a little bit of a pain.

RHM: What albums by other artists are you listening to right now?
SD: I am really into Roy Orbison right now. I am kind of rediscovering him and Dusty Springfield. It is so great. The productions are wonderful in those albums. I am kind of going back to the music I have grown up with that I kind of took for granted because it was always there. [I am listening to an artist] from Pakistan. I am listening to him a lot too. It is very diverse, and I don’t know what would come of me after this. A very interesting combination.

RHM: What are you reading right now?
SD: I am finishing a book right now entitled Delirious New York, which is an architectural manifesto about New York by Rem Koolhaas. It is a theory about everything that is wonderful and horrible about New York, that it is pre-planned. Because of the way it was built on the grid, it created certain rules on how to build because you couldn’t build a really huge building. You only have this tiny area so all the buildings have gone up. It is just a study of how people deal with each other in the city, [being put] in close quarters. It is really an interesting psychological study. I am reading that and I am also reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke.

RHM: Some critics have called you the male counterpart of Nora Jones. How do you deal with this?
SD: I love that. I’ll take whatever I could get. You know when I was younger, I try to avoid getting compared to someone, but now it is such a huge honor to be in comparison with them. I think what we share in common is that her music is very organic and natural sounding as opposed to other tracks out there which are very studio and manipulated. I think that’s what I actually share with her. We are both crooners too. She is a torch singer too. She sings ballad and has a very breathy, beautiful voice. She plays the piano. I feel great about it. Being in her company is not a bad place to be.

RHM: Do you consider yourself a poet?
SD: Other people call me that. I don’t know. There are so many good poets out there as well as songwriters.

RHM: Did you write some poetry?
SD: Yeah, a little bit. I did write some poetry. I write long, free-flowing poetry. With songs, it is a little bit difficult with the nature of melody. It kind of limits what you can say poetically. It’s really a whole different thing. Lyric writing is similar to poetry, but I think the rules are a little stricter. I think you have a little more freedom when you write a poem because in songwriting the melody should always comes first and the lyrics come second. “Take on Me” is a great 1980s song, and I don’t know what they are talking about. The lyrics do not make any sense at all.

RHM: Do you have a favorite poet?
SD: Who do I like? I like Frank O’Hara, Anne Sexton. She is really great. I have to be in a little sad if I would be reading Sexton poetry. Elizabeth Bishop, she is really great. Pablo Neruda.

RHM: Do you look at their styles?
SD: I think sometime. also lyrically I get blocked out, and I just have to go back and look at the subjects they write about. Poetry is best at taking what seems to be a very simple moment and bringing something so profound out of it.

RHM: Do you have a philosophy you follow?
SD: I think one of my main goals through music is to try to bring all the religions and philosophies in the world and show them what they have in common. I have been studying a lot of Buddhism recently, but I think they all have the values of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, etc.

RHM: What do you want people to remember you for?
SD: That is a very good question. I think what I want people to remember me for, long after I have gone in the earth, I hope there is a little smile in their face. I think if I could leave people feeling something or thinking something, that is my main goal. I really want to encourage people to look at the world and human beings a little differently. Even if I could only do that with one person in an audience where after they go home and encourage them to view their lives in a more positive way. That is my goal. I think musically, to just leave them with something beautiful. It is a very simple goal.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Grand Gathering for the Arts

For 18 years now, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has been spearheading the National Arts Month (NAM) in the month of February with a series of festivities and activities mounted throughout the country meant to celebrate Filipino artistry and to promote the arts and the artists. For 2009, the celebration continues with intensified promotion. For a country that has a scant interest in art and culture, NAM has remained largely overlooked despite efforts to popularize it. It is an unfortunate thing as the past celebrations have yielded notable and interesting productions. As early as now, efforts in publicizing the event are underway. There are plans to penetrate television shows, malls and different schools to promote NAM. Celebrity endorsers are being tapped. Contests, many targeting the students, are concocted like poetry writing through SMS and contests for the best cultural page in student publications.
But the still the substance lies in the lineup of productions and events for NAM. For the past few years, the celebration has become wishy-washy, some of the events just a tepid rehash of past ones and some serving particular agenda. This year, will NAM shine through its own cloud of obscurity, enlighten the public and lift the gloom of the looming global financial crisis? It remains to be seen.
Like in the past, NAM will feature the talents and performances of artists and arts groups in the seven arts, particular those of the NCCA’s committees. There will also be productions in the regions that have been granted funding by the NCCA. NAM gets ambitious by calling itself Philippine International Arts Festival (PIAF) but the international aspect involves selected artists from different countries joining some events in coordination with the Philippine International Theatre Institute (ITI) headed by its secretary general Malou Jacob, who is also the NCCA’s deputy executive director. It is not yet promoting itself internationally to attract art-loving tourists as the cultural events of, say, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Though the international caliber is not yet determined, there are many events, geared towards the local public, that are worth anticipating.

The flagship projects
At the frontline of the NAM celebration are the projects of the committees of the Sub-commission on the Arts, which is headed by poet Ricardo de Ungria, namely architecture and allied arts, cinema, dance, dramatic arts, literary arts, music and visual arts. The Committee on Architecture and Allied Arts will mount traveling exhibits, while Cinema will show films made in the regions. Concerts and shows will be staged by Dance, Dramatic Arts and Music. Arts festivals will be held by Literary Arts and Visual Arts.

Architecture: the celluloid and the vernacular
The projects “Pa(ng)labas: Architecture + Cinema” and “Walai-Vernacular Architecture of Mindanao” will be offerings of the Committee on Architecture and Allied Arts with the College of Architecture Foundation for the Built Environment and architect Gerard Lico as proponent and coordinator.
The title concocted from the Tagalog words palabas (showing) and panglabas (for the outside, or exterior), “Pa(ng)labas: Architecture + Cinema” is composed of a traveling exhibition, lecture-forum and a film showing “which will to examine both the medium of film and the form and style of architecture as they relate to the development of film media, architecture and urban landscape.”
The exhibit will have laid-out archival photographs of buildings, film stills and accompanying text “that dramatizes the juxtaposition of the built environment and imaginary environment of the cinema and at the same time probes the transformation of Filipino space as visualized and mediated through the camera lens.”
On the other hand, the lecture forum will have an architect-academician who will provide a historical and theoretical overview of the discursive link of architecture and cinema in both global and national context, and a film scholar who will address issues of cinematic representation of architecture, landscape and urban form.
The film showing will have works “chosen for its architectonic qualities spring-boarding from the same curatorial trope employed in the didactic exhibition.” The films are grouped into “Screening the Celluloid City” (Geron Busabos, Manila by Night, Bulaklak ng Maynila, Maynila…sa Kuko ng Liwanag, Ikaw Lamang Hangang Ngayon, Kanto Girl); “Projecting the future: Science-Fiction and Futurist Space” (Tuko sa Madre Kakao); “Imagined Kingdoms: Orientalism and Moro-Moro Movies” (Aladin, Ibong Adarna, Prinsipe Teneso, Haring Solomon at Reyna Sheba, Engkantada, Florante at Laura); “Designing Suburban Modernity” (Feng Shui, Seksing-Seksi, ROTC, Octavia, Jack and Jill, Big Broadcast); “Nostalgia for Nation: Guerilla Film and Postwar Reconstruction” (Dawn of Freedom, 48 Oras, Victory Joe, Oro Plata Mata. Manila: Open City, Anak Dalita, Return to the Philippines, The 26th Cavalry, Intramuros, Candaba); “Slumming Utopia-Urban Dystopia and Informal Settlements” (Pila Balde, Insiang, Bona, Jaguar, Babae sa Bintana, Kalyehera); “Styling the Screen: Movie Musical and Screen Deco” (Giliw Ko, Tunay na Ina, Pakiusap, Mutya ng Pasig, Bituing Marikit); “Imperial Imaginary: Colonial Urban Reformation and Travel Film” (Escenas Callejeras, 1898; Panorama de Manila, 1898; Manila Queen of the Pacific, 1938; Castillan Memoirs, 1938; Intramuros, 1930); “Atlas of Emotion: Melodrama and Domesticity” (Biyaya ng Lupa, Higit sa Lahat Malvarosa, Portrait of an Artist, Tanging Yaman, Ina Kapatid Anak); “Vernacular Splendor: Cinematic Nativism” (Zamboanga, Banaue, Badjao, Igorota, Kalinga, Ifugao); “Noir Architecture” (Itim, Sigaw, Huwag Kang Lilingon, Blackout, Ibulong mo sa Hangin. Cofradia, Bahay ni Lola); “Tall Stories and New Building Forms” (Condo, Working Girls, Despatsadora); “Colonial and Feudal Landscape” (Noli Me Tangere, Sisa, Gitano, Sawa sa Lumang Simborio, MN, Dambanang Putik): “Inhabited Panorama” (Parola, Temptation Island, Isla, Babae sa Breakwater, Himala, Silip); “Residual and Tight Spaces” (Scorpio Nights, Serbis, Ang Lihim ni Antonio, Lalake sa Parola, Burlesk Queen); and “Cinema Dream Palaces: Death of the Stand-Alone Cinemas” (Bellevue, Life, Galaxy, Avenue, Lyric).
“Pa(ng)labas” is set to be mounted from Feb. 9 to13 at Cine Adarna, Aldaba Theater, University Theater of the University of the Philippines; from Feb. 16 to 20 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines; and from Feb. 23 to 27 at the University of San Carlos in Cebu. After the tour, a CD-ROM compendium with a supplementary monograph containing the lectures, virtual and film excerpts is planned to be published.
While “Pa(ng)labas” is set for Luzon and the Visayas, the “Walai-Vernacular Architecture of Mindanao” is for Mindanao. This exhibit of architectural drawings and photography will feature the vernacular houses of Mindanao culled from the Walai Pangampong project, to be mounted at the Sarangani Capitol. It will be complemented with a lecture series on vernacular architecture, selected ritual dances, including that of the Blaan, craftworks associated with house building and construction like those of the T’boli, replicas of selected indigenous structures, and an interactive video of the Walai Pangampong project. This is slated from Feb. 1 to 6.

Cinema from the regions
The Committee on Cinema will hold the “Sinerehiyon,” showcasing the nascent cinema from the regions. Lectures and workshops were regularly held in the regions, and holding their own films festivals were encouraged to show the fruits. For the NAM, the committee will gather these works for grand film showing. The members are setting their eyes on Baguio, where there is an active Cordillera film collective group; the Bicol region, led by animation graduates of Ateneo de Naga University; Bacolod City, with its Negros Summer Film Workshop; Cebu, with its various associations of filmmakers; Cagayan de Oro; and Davao. This will be from Feb. 17 to 19 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Literary arts, the gathering
The Committee on Literary Arts and the Filipinas Institute of Translation will hold Taboan: Philippine Writers Festival, which is envisioned to gather for three days both the younger and the older generations of writers who have been recipients of grants from the NCCA and who have made and are making their mark on the Philippine literature; and to be composed of a conference by and for writers below forty years of age, conversations with writers or writers group, lectures by writers on topics of their own choice, craft workshops, book launches, and literary readings and performances.
This is will be a celebration of the word—written, painted, sung, or performed—and will assemble writers from all the regions and across generations who will interact with one another and with their audience on issues pertaining to their craft or the situation of writing in the country, or read from their new works.
The conference will have writers below forty years old talking about topics such as getting started in writing, effects of writing workshops on their art, difficulties of being a young writer, furthering one’s career as a writer, etc. The conversations will feature panel discussions involving three to four young and older writers who may come from the same region or from different regions talking about issues on craft, publishing, mixed media work, etc. Lectures by individual writers will be on specific issues, literary or otherwise, involving criticism, biography or history, etc. The craft workshops will be mini workshops on different literary genres.
Projected to be an annual event, the Taboan is slated for Feb. 11 to 13 at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Ateneo de Manila and Cubao Expo.

The strata and strategy of music
The Committee on Music and the Bagong Lumad Artists Foundation will hold “Organik Muzik” a series of four concerts showing the metamorphosis of elements of Philippine music from village roots to urban manifestations. The performances will have annotations by and interaction with musician Joey Ayala, the participant-director. Repertoire will range from the Cordillera musical traditions to Kadangyan’s world music, from Leyteño siday to Junior Kilat’s Visayan reggae, from GAMABA Awardee Samaon Sulaiman’s virtuoso kutyapi-playing to the hard-driving neo-ethnic rock of Popong Landero, from flights of Balagtasan to the acid-jazz rants of Lourd de Veyra and Radioactive Sago. These will be shown in a shopping mall milieu “in the hope that demonstrating the connection to native human creativity through both traditional and innovative forms may stimulate a resonant creativity in the urban kamalayan, and a realization that we are all contemporary natives (bagong lumad).”
“Organik Muzik” will happen on Feb. 7 at SM Baguio, Feb. 14 at SM Cebu, Feb. 21 at SM Davao and Feb 28 at SM Mall of Asia.

Dance and prance
The Committee on Dance and the Halili-Cruz School of Dance will offer “Sayaw Pinoy,” a touring dance concert that aims to bring together different dance forms and features local dance troupes of the host cities and municipalities performing back-to-back with the different professional dance companies in the country.
Now on its sixth year, the Sayaw Pinoy aims to “initiate the youth towards creative activities, provide the public access to quality dance performances and encourage continued interaction among the dance artists, directors and dance groups/companies and the youth in the communities.”
Dance workshop/interaction will also be conducted to the youth through the Sanguniang Kabataan and a dance concert will be staged featuring local dance troupes and professional dance companies held at the public plaza of each venue.
This will from Feb. 6 to 9 for the Visayas (Oton, Iloilo, Palo, Sta. Barbara, Ormoc, Tolosa) and NCR regions; from Feb. 13 to 16 for Mindanao (Butuan, Cabadbaran, Sarangani, Koronadal, General Santos, Surigao and Sultan Kudarat); and Feb 20 to 23 for Luzon (Quezon City, Batangas, Tagaytay, Los Baños, Olongapo and Bulacan).

Luzon in the limelight
The Committee on Dramatic Arts will have Tanghal! The Third National University Theater Festival, to be hosted by Colegio de San Juan de Letran-Calamba. The event will feature university-based theatre groups from Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and NCR in cooperation with the Lusong Luzon Arts and Culture Network.
The Tanghal festival was launched in February 2007, hosted by the University of San Augustin and the Teatrokon Western Visayas Theater Network in Iloilo. This was followed by the second Tanghal in 2008 at Zamboanga City. This third one will focus on Luzon and will be composed of an interactive play festival, in which six productions (one each from the Visayas , Mindanao and NCR and three from Luzon) will be staged and in which artists and audience give feedbacks on the aesthetic processes, form and content in an interactive forum; a conference including papers on how a university theater responds to the three-fold thrust of the university, that is, research, instruction and extension work, and discussions on strengthening theatre network and linkages and the thrust of the university theatre in developing Philippine theatre; and workshops and fringe performances, in which short courses/workshops on the different areas of theater or use of the production as studies for production will be conducted.
This will happen from Feb. 10 to 14 at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Calamba, Laguna.

Visual display
The Committee on Visual Arts will hold the Philippine Visual Arts Festival, which will be a convergence of selected Filipino and international artists from the different regions of the country.

Opening and closing
Book-ending the NAM is the opening and closing ceremonies, projected to be big events in themselves. The NAM is projected to open in three main ways: launching on television via a noontime variety program, at the Sining Gising program of NBN 4 and at the Concert at the Park at Rizal Park. There will also be simultaneously launchings in major sites in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. On the other hand, NAM will close with an appreciation dinner and performance.

Works old and new
Aside from the flagship projects, the NCCA also provided grants to projects all over the country for the celebration of NAM. Some are new ones while the others are remounting or restaging.
The new works include “Kyusi ang Galing” and Alsa Balutan:First Philippine Monodrama Festival in Luzon; An Bugsay ni Jayme in the Visayas; and Ako Ug Ikaw, Kitang Duha: A Festival of Monologues and Tandems in Public Spaces, Kung Aduna Pay Timailhan, Panaghugpong: Xavier Arts Festival, Performing Women: Monologues of Women by Men in Mindanao.
Previously staged productions include Aning Musika sa Bikol, Pegaraw (Da Musikal), “Pagsambang Bayan,” “Viva Marinduque” Ani ng Sining 2009 and Panagbenga: Baguio Poetry Reading for Arts Month 2009 in Luzon; and Ani ng Sining sa Davao Oriental in Mindanao.
NAM also sees to it that works by the country’s National Artists are relived or used or there are tributes to them. This year, “Rio Alma: Buhay at Sining;” Something to Crow About, musical based on Alejandro Roces’s short story; “Saludo!” a tribute to Daisy Avellana and Jovita Fuentes, will be held.

For information, contact Rene Napenas, head of the NCCA Public Affairs and Information Office through mobile phone number 0928-5081057 or Vanessa Marquez, NAM deputy festival director, through mobile phone number 0918-6380412. Also, call 527-5529 or 527-2192 loc. 508, 612 to 615, e-mail or, or log on to or