Filipino Guitar Heroes

These guitarists love to fondle their instruments. (Photo stolen from the CCP website. Sorry.)

By Anthony O. Alcantara

It is my first time to watch a guitar concert at the CCP. I am alone in my row. My seat number is N 13, and it’s smack in the middle of Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, or the CCP Little Theater.

The cameramen know that sweet spot, too. Fortunately, they have placed their two huge video cameras in the row just behind me. If I raise my hands and wave in the middle of the show, my hands would surely be labeled in the archives as the “Hands of the idiot on N 13.”

It’s a nice thought. Probably a good title for a novel. But I am there for the “Men with Guitars” concert of Ramoncito B. Carpio and Arthur Erskine M. Basilio. I don’t know them. I just love guitar music and it’s just the perfect opportunity to watch live classical guitar playing.

Carpio won 1st prize in the 2011 Philippine International Guitar Competition, while Basilio won the special prize “Best Filipino Guitarist” in the same competition.

Accomplished musician

As the lights dim in the theater and the audience suddenly goes quiet, Basilio enters the stage. He is wearing a white long-sleeved shirt, black coat, black slacks, but no tie. He takes the seat at the middle of the stage and fixes the unbottoned cuffs of his shirt, making sure they don’t get in the way of his playing.

Basilio is a well-accomplished musician. He studied guitar under Prof. Ruben Reyes at the University of Sto. Tomas. He won the UST Guitar competition in 2000, and he was 3rd Place in the 2006 NAMCYA Guitar Competition – Category C.

He writes music for the guitar, too, and has explored jazz, rock, and theater music. He is a member of the guitar faculty at the UST Conservatory of Music.

Basilio now takes his time fixing his clothing, and I take my time admiring his guitar, a splendid work of art by Filipino luthier Armando Derecho. The guitar is immaculate and beautiful. It’s something I would have wanted to caress myself. Basilio now fixes a wedge-like guitar rest. Maybe he doesn’t like using foot stools. He takes some deep breaths, fixes his sleeves a few more times. The ring on his right ring finger sparkles. I’m not sure if it’s a diamond, but it sure looks expensive. Then he examines the fingers of his right hand, as if contemplating to get a nail file to buff his fingernails. Too bad I didn’t bring mine.

Warming up

Suddenly he unleashes a flurry of notes. Wow. The sensuous way he fingers his guitar is awesome. The first piece, Capriccio Diabolico, sounded diabolic indeed. But there were bumpy parts.

He eventually warms up into his jazz pieces, and he becomes noticeably more fluent and relaxed. His genius comes into view. He becomes more natural as he plays the One Note Samba, whose music he arranged himself.

Finally, he performs his last piece Dawn of the final day by Francis Kleynjans. The haunting sounds make a few strands of hair on my arms stand. I expect more eeriely beautiful sounds from his beautiful guitar. But it’s the end of the piece.

A string of awards

It’s Carpio’s turn after the break. He wears basically the same outfit as Basilio. I learn from the program that Carpio earned his Bachelor of Music degree in Guitar from the University of the Philippines under the tutelage of Prof. Lester B. Demetillo, whose enviable reputation in my circle of friends precedes him.

Carpio also won 2nd Prize at the 2009 National Music Competitions for Young Artists, 3rd Prize at the 2010 Bangkok International Guitar Competition, and 3rd Prize at the 2011 Singapore International Guitar Competition.

He writes music for the guitar, for the stage, and for short films, and websites. He is taking his Master’s degree in Guitar at the Philippine Women’s University under Prof. Benchito Carino, whose reputation is a mystery to me, owing mainly to my limited network and ignorance.

As Carpio takes his seat, I notice the beauty of his guitar. Could this be the Yuichi Imai? Could this be the US$12,000 guitar that he won in the competition early this year? I confirmed later that it was so.

Beautiful tone

Upon hearing the first notes of his piece Fantasia by Francisco Tarrega, I savor the beauty of his tone. Could it be the guitar? My doubts about this virtuoso quickly vanish when I hear him play his other pieces, Allegro Assai by Johann Sebastian Bach, Variation Mignonnes by Johann Kaspar Mertz, Elegia por la Muerte de un Tanguero by Maximo Pujol, and Stele by Phillip Houghton.

His tremolos are even, reflecting his superb technique. His speed and finger dexterity look effortless. He appears to fondle his guitar, caressing his instrument and his music, coaxing both to stir the emotions of the audience. The audience responds with hearty applause.

I clap hard too. I think of raising my arms in delight but then I remember the cameras behind me.

Fitting crescendo

The last part consists of a guitar duet of Vistas de los Angeles by Laurindo Almeida. The sight of two great guitarists playing with verve and passion delivers a fitting crescendo for this night of world-class guitar music.

The crescendo doesn’t stop there, though. They still play an encore piece, Rosas Pandan, a folk song from the Visayas. I feel like singing. I know the song.

When I went home that night, I asked myself why I hadn’t been watching guitar concerts at the CCP more often.

Why indeed? I guess the “Idiot at N 13” has finally learned to be a little more cultured that night.

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