by Jameela Mendoza | Feature Writer
He is a magician on stage. Every swing of his baton summons melodies. As the music director of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, Gerard Salonga leads with a love for music as loud as all the instruments being played altogether. The maestro has long grown out of being known to many as Lea Salonga’s brother, establishing a career as an orchestral conductor and music arranger. Offstage, Gerard is a father, a husband, a musician, an advocate of excellence and an approachable mentor.
1. Aside from conducting, what are your other hobbies?
I like to play golf, although recently in my schedule, I haven’t had much time. Nowadays, the time I spend when I’m not working, I’m just with my family, with my kids. That’s really just it. The thing is, being a musician is not like a job that I cannot wait to get away from. The line between music as a job and music as a hobby blurs. I spend a lot of my time thinking about music.
2. How did you meet your violinist wife, Divina Francisco?
I met her through work. I was conducting a show, and she was in the orchestra. I was still studying in the US when we met, and I came back here in the Philippines for a while to do some projects. After I went back to the US to finish my studies, I met her again in one of Lea’s concerts here. Since we’re both musicians, we never run out of things to talk about.
3. How many years have you been with ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra? Within those years, were there performances or moments that stood out for you?
The orchestra started in 2012. Since then, we have been able to do lots of performances. We’ve collaborated with people like famous Filipino pianist Cecile Licad. We’ve also had projects for the television station, teleserye themes, and soundtrack of movies.
4. Upon conducting and arranging for the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, what is the most challenging and fulfilling part when doing it?
There are basic challenges of being a conductor. I always have to be prepared and I have to set an example for my fellow musicians. Aside from being a music conductor, being a music director is like being a father, with the orchestra being the family. Aside from the music, you also have to care about the people. The most fulfilling part is the opportunity to share beautiful music with people. Not everyone is given the chance to be put in that position, and it’s not something that I take for granted. If the music is done right, it can be a life-altering moment for people.
5. What are some of the most important lessons you seek to pass on to your audiences?
A lesson I want to impart to not just the audience but also to fellow musicians who are younger is that the standard is not movable. There is only one standard, and if you think you’re not there yet, keep trying. You can’t just stop because you think the standard is lower here in the Philippines. Lowering the standards of excellence is like lowering the ring in basketball so that you can dunk.
6. What memories or things would you bring home to your family after this event?
Silvanas! Kidding aside, I would remember how the people in Dumaguete are so kind, maybe because they don’t have the jaded-kind of Metro Manila mindset. In big cities, people can have ulterior motives [when they approach you], but here they approach you just to say hello, like the other day when we went to 7/11 to buy some supplies a drunk person approached me politely to ask about who I was. We ended up taking a picture together and he said it was a blessing to meet me. Musicians in Silliman are also eager to learn; always asking questions not to show off but to sincerely learn. The kindness of the people here are not put on. It’s very genuine.
7. If you could meet any composer (who ever lived) who would it be and why?
So many. That would be tantamount to asking me who is my favorite composer, but if I had to choose only one, it would be Mozart, because his music until now is fresh; it doesn’t age. Every time you try to perform or prepare it, you see something new even if you think it has already been played a thousand times, you will find something, like a stroke of genius that’s unexplainable through standard language.
8. Who is the celebrity or distinguished Filipino artist you want to perform with on your concerts?
Diomedes Saraza Jr. He’s a Filipino violinist that studied in the States. We will perform with him in October. Also, Rowena Arrieta, a Filipino pianist who studied in Moscow, Russia. She’s a classical pianist. She also wrote the lyrics for the OPM song “Ewan.”
9. If you will play one orchestra’s instrument, what would it be and why?
I tried learning to play the violin before, but unfortunately the violin doesn’t like me back. The violin requires so much patience. You need to have the right personality for it. You will sound bad in the first years of playing it until you can sound good.
10. Where else would you like to perform and why?
Number one would be the Musikverein in Vienna. There’s a hall there called Großer Saal (Great Hall). It’s one of the best sounding music halls in the world. It was made before modern engineering and acoustics. It’s in my bucket list.
11. How many times have you been in Dumaguete? What captivated you?
It’s my third time here, the first was when I mentored for the Elements Music Camp that was held in Dumaguete last 2014. The warmth of the people, the audience. You feel welcome here. I would come here to relax. The people also seem happier, and it makes me want to spend more time in these parts of the Philippines. In Manila, it’s noisy, congested and people hate each other. You would want to go to some place where there’s still some sense of innocence left; the kind of naivety where you see others positively. I feel that here and it replenishes the goodness in my soul.
12. If Dumaguete was a classical piece, what would it be and why?
It’s a piece by Edward Elgar. It’s called Salut d’Amour. Listen to the song. What goes into your mind when you hear it? That’s how I feel about Dumaguete.