Pinoy orchestra’s debut is hot-ticket event

By Ruben V. Nepales
LOS ANGELES—For the cultural and social cognoscenti or just plain music lovers among the Filipinos living in Southern California, all roads tomorrow evening, May 17, lead to the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, where the first Filipino symphony orchestra outside the Philippines makes it historic debut.

fasoIt promises to be an exciting gala night. Bob Shroder, the Cavite-born and -raised musical director and conductor of the Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra (Faso), told us that the orchestra has grown from the original plan of 40 to 45 to about 60 members. It will be an unprecedented moment—a theater stage in the US brimming with 58 Pinoy musicians, from talented teenagers to accomplished veterans, who will play Filipino classics, pop and Broadway gems, and classical music.

“I’m very, very excited,” enthused singer Joey Albert, who’s one of the guest performers (the others are Stephanie Reese and Pete Avendaño). She wrote via email, “I’m looking forward to finally be able to sing my hit songs with a full orchestra. But, I’m more excited for Bob, who’s a dear friend. This has been his longtime dream. Someone as dedicated to Filipino music like Bob deserves an opportunity like this.”

Bold decision

“Any philanthropic endeavor is always a bold decision,” Joey declared about Bob’s undertaking, especially in these tough economic times. “I applaud Roger and Cora Oriel for creating Faso. This most uplifting event will make every Filipino-American proud.”

The Oriels, who are outstanding leaders of the Fil-Am community, are the publishers of Asian Journal and Balikbayan, a glossy new magazine distributed in the US and the Philippines.

The singer told us, “I will be performing three OPM tunes and two English songs, including a most unconventional surprise number, originally arranged by Louie Ocampo for a string quartet. I’m looking forward to a most uplifting evening filled with pride in Filipino artistry and the oneness in art and soul of Fil-Am artists.”

Having worked with Bob before, Joey knows that the orchestra is in good hands. “Bob is one of the most dedicated and disciplined musicians I know,” she shared. “Both his music and life are inspiring. His quest for musical fulfillment is no different from his successful quest for his father. Both were guided by an invincible sense of determination and dedication. This is how Bob found his father, as well as his dream concert.”

“I pray that this does become a permanent institution,” Joey said of Faso. “We’ve all seen good orchestras come and go in the Philippines, shattered by economic, political and personal conflicts. I hope that everybody has finally learned that pride and ego do nothing but destroy good and beautiful things—and that, to make a good thing last, everybody has to truly come together and make sacrifices for the bigger cause. This is one Filipino artistic endeavor I pray will stay.”

Unity and pride

Tagumpay “Pi” de Leon, son of National Artist Felipe Padilla de Leon and Iluminada Mendoza, an accomplished pianist who plays the contrabass in Faso, is optimistic. “I’m very excited,” Pi said via email. “I feel that something good will come out of this, in terms of lifting the spirits of our people and, hopefully, instilling in them the feeling of unity and pride as Filipinos.”

Pi, who described himself as “an engineer by profession and a musician by avocation,” champions rondalla music in Southern California. He teaches rondalla courses at UC Riverside (he also taught the first ever Philippine string ensemble at UCLA). “I’ve never played in an orchestra,” he wrote. “I’m more of an aficionado as far as playing the bass is concerned. It’s gratifying to know that I can contribute in some way to a wonderful and successful concert.”

“Bob is really doing a good job, considering that he has to manage individuals with different levels of experience and ability,” Pi said of their orchestra leader. “Overall, I believe he has the right temperament and patience to lead it.”

Pi is confident that a bright future awaits Faso after it makes its hot-ticket gala night debut tomorrow evening at 6. He explained: “The ultimate goal of Faso is to establish itself as a legitimate institution that nurtures Filipino talents and promotes the beauty of our culture, particularly in music. I’m all for it. I believe that, as Filipinos, we should continually strive to make people aware of our heritage through the musical medium.”

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