The Manila Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Its Road To 100

The Manila Symphony Orchestra kicks off its 98th year with a series of spectacular performances leading up to its centennial anniversary. 

Not many organizations can claim to be the longest surviving artistic institution in the Philippines, let alone one of the oldest orchestras in Asia. Yet this is precisely what the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is. The group has not only featured some of the finest talents in the country’s history—namely National Artists like Lucio San Pedro, Antonino Buenaventura, Antonio Molina, and Ryan Cayabyab—but also remains true to its mission of sharing beautiful music with the Filipino community and fostering future generations of musicians. 

The MSO in 1940/Photo from the MSO Archives

The success of the MSO is due in large part to its roster of dedicated artists and patrons, who helped keep it alive despite the challenges of a global pandemic. This is to be expected from an institution that’s survived many harrowing threats to its existence. Since conductor Alexander Lippay and the Asociacion Musical de Filipinas founded it in 1926, it has made it through a Second World War in the 1940s, political upheavals, and the closure of the Metropolitan Theater in the 1990s. 

Alexander Lippay/Photo from the MSO Archives

Today, the orchestral group embarks on its momentous Road to 100. The celebration serves as more than just a countdown to MSO’s centennial year in 2026. It’s also a blueprint for the institution’s future prosperity, made up of a strong lineup of concerts that aim to unite citizens across time and generations—hence its motto “A Symphony for the People.” 

The Manila Symphony Orchestra celebrates 98 years this 2024/Photo via Instagram @manila.symphony

READ ALSO: Strings Of Tribute: Celebrating 130 Years Of Andres Segovia’s Musical Legacy With Alexis Vallejos At Yuchengco Museum

100 Years with Puccini

The MSO kicks off the Road to 100’s inaugural year this 2024. The first concert of its 98th season will spotlight the compositions of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. It’s an apt tribute, as it happens to coincide with Puccini’s own centennial anniversary. 

“Puccini at 100″/Photo via Instagram @manila.symphony

Even a hundred years after his death, the composer’s works continue to evoke strong emotions from audiences. This serves as a testament to the timelessness and universality of his music. His oeuvre includes the beloved operas La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot

Maestro Marlon Chen

Yet it is Puccini’s lesser-known but equally masterful works, Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica that will take center stage in MSO’s double bill opera Puccini at 100. It stars renowned baritone Byeong-In Park as Gianni Schicchi and his wife, the acclaimed soprano Rachelle Gerodias-Park, as Suor Angelica. MSO’s Music Director and Principal Conductor, Marlon Chen, will be leading the orchestral performance, with stage direction by Jaime Del Mundo. 

A New Piece

Among the most exciting parts of the concert will be the performance of an unused aria. No orchestra has publicly performed it in Asia. It’s a piece that rarely, if at all, makes appearances in European opera houses.

Giacomo Puccini/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It was Italy’s ambassador to the Philippines, Marco Clemente, who revealed the thrilling news during a media conference. “For one brief, little aria that lasts two minutes, Puccini wrote an original version, which sounded too contemporary,” Clemente shares. “[He] was really thinking ahead, but he decided to scrap it, as it was too difficult, too strange. [Instead], he wrote a more traditional melody.”

“But with the help of maestro Chen and the Puccini Foundation, we got permission for the first time ever, to perform it,” he continues. “I’ve never seen it before, and it’s probably the first time in many, many countries in Europe also, because [Puccini] eliminated it from the very beginning.” 

Supporting the Next Generation

The opera gala also serves as a fundraiser for the benefit of the MSO Foundation. No cultural heritage or art can ever last without a new generation of practitioners carrying on its legacy for years to come. This is why the MSO and its partners have been hard at work, cultivating the talents of young, emerging musicians through the MSO Music Academy (which currently serves 300 students in three training centers) and the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra. 

Students at the MSO Music Academy/Photo from the MSO Music Academy website

“Failing to pass this on to future generations is a significant loss to our shared humanity and could create a cultural void,” explains maestro Chen in a press statement. “Recognizing and appreciating the past is not merely indulgence in sentimentality; it is a crucial act of preservation that ensures the richness and continuity of the human experience. We cherish the past for a reason and this gives us cause for celebration.” 

Puccini at 100 will take place at the Areté building’s Hyundai Hall in Ateneo de Manila University. Its first performance is on March 16, 2024 at 7:30 PM. A second show will take place on March 17, 2024 at 4:00 PM. Interested audiences can purchase tickets through TicketWorld

Visit the orchestra’s official website for more information on MSO’s upcoming performances throughout its 2024 to 2025 concert series. 

Banner photo and feature photo via Instagram @manila.symphony.

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