The first time pianist Mariel Ilusorio played at Coke Bolipata’s plantation resort in San Miguel, Zambales, she was 20 years old, a fresh name on the music scene. Twenty years later, she and Coke Bolipata, who spearheads Casa San Miguel’s Pundaquit Festivals, had a reunion for the foundation’s 22nd season. “This is her homecoming,” said Coke of Mariel’s keyboard performances (Brahms, Busoni, Mendelssohn, and Liszt) with her violinist-husband Juan Luis Munoz of Chile, and the Pundaquit Virtuosi (violins, violas, cellos).
Who’d think that in 20 years Mariel, now the mother of little Anita, would go on to make music all over the world with international orchestras and chamber musicians, winning piano competitions while teaching piano and cutting CD’s from New York to Berlin, Italy to Spain, hopping from Manila to Iloilo and now Zambales. Coke, on the other hand, has nourished the growth of his scholarship program for the last 22 years on a philosophy of “playing it forward.” The multiplier effect works like this. He teaches six music students on weekends for free at the family-owned Casa San Miguel, a sprawl of hectare upon hectare of mango and other fruit trees, plus a museum and gallery, a center for visual arts run by the painter Elmer Borlongan, a bed-and-breakfast, coffeeshop, and other amenities. Each of the six students, in turn, must teach six scholars of their own.
“An Evening of Chamber Music,” as the event was billed last Jan. 24, was held in the 76-seat auditorium that surprised guests from Manila with its acoustics. With the help of a wooden stage embraced by six clusters of bamboo rods gathered at the top to make each bundle look like a tent, there was no need for microphones. “The size of the theater helps,” said Mariel. “Bamboo enhances sound, especially when the rods are stuck close together, with no air to escape between them,” said Juan.
Whatever it was, the magic of the music played by an intimate group of musicians was sweet to the ears. What a pleasure to hear every note of the piano, including Mariel’s high keys at piano and pianissimo, and every vibration of Juan’s violin strings! With artistic director Coke conducting, the group looked and sounded like happy friends gathered to socialize and have fun and spread the joy! This, I thought, is what makes an out-of-town concert so different—and so cozy—from the usually stiff affairs in theaters with seats for 300 or more, who are not expected to come in jeans and sneakers. Thank you to the Pundaquit Virtuosi: (violins) Miguel Angelo Estrada, Alleah Bastes, Gabriel Mendoza, Ezekiel Sanchez, Kianne Esteban; (violas) Jhoven Aquisap, Raf Arian Albeza; (cellos) Michael Luke Rendal, Daniel Mendoza. The featured clarinetist, Patricia Eunice Buenaventura, was a rare delight to listen to—Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt, arranged for piano, violin, clarinet, and strings—out there in rural San Miguel 150 minutes from Manila, under the quietly whispering mango trees and a crescent moon.
Feeling romantic? Coke promised a repeat concert the day after Valentine’s, yesterday. If love is in the air, so is his gratitude to the sponsors who have stood by him “all these years” to multiply the art and appreciation of music, beginning with Menchu Tantoco Lopez and her steadfastly loyal Starbucks group, Doris Magsaysay Ho for the museum, Alma Joy Cristobal of Lyric Pianos, Bea Zobel de Ayala, Gisela Gonzales, Pollie and Bubut de los Santos, Edwin and Jo-Anne Lao, and Kazu Sakai. Indeed, they who pay it forward give the scholar-musicians a chance to play it forward!
If love is in the air, so is his gratitude to the sponsors who have stood by him “all these years” to multiply the art and appreciation of music, beginning with Menchu Tantoco Lopez and her steadfastly loyal Starbucks group, Doris Ma