UP’s ode to joy: The UP Symphony Orchestra performs Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the UP Community

| Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

The UP Symphony Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on December 7 at the Abelardo Hall in honor of the great composer’s 250th birth anniversary. A second performance—free for the UP Community—will be held on December 12 at the UP Amphitheater. Photo by the UP Symphony Orchestra from the UPSO’s Facebook page


In 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven was born and baptized in Bonn, in the Holy Roman Empire. He would grow up to become one of the greatest composers of all time.

In 2020, the world will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. In anticipation of this, the UP Symphony Orchestra (UPSO), under the musical direction of Prof. Josefino “Chino” Toledo, the chairperson of the Department of Composition and Theory, UP College of Music, held its run-up to Beethoven’s birth anniversary with “Canticles of Joy: Proclaiming the Joy of the Season with the Complete Monumental Beethoven Symphony No. 9 and the Works of Prokofiev and Alcala”, which was held on December 7, 2019 at the Abelardo Hall Auditorium.


The UPSO performing in “Canticles of Joy” in the Abelardo Hall Auditorium. Photo by the UP Symphony Orchestra from the UPSO’s Facebook page


“Canticles of Joy” was a massive production organized by the UPSO, the UP College of Music and the UP Office of the President. It is a fitting tribute to the composer who created the iconic symphony, also known as “Ode to Joy” after the poetic fourth and final movement. Aside from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the UPSO also performed “Troika” from Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite, and the Magi’s Journey (Composer’s Notes) by Nilo Alcala, then led the audience in singing four traditional Christmas carols after the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

With members of the UPSO hailing from various UP constituent units, the production was a UP System-wide collaboration. Aside from the UPSO, the performers included four vocal soloists: soprano Angeli Benipayo, mezzo-soprano Michelle Mariposa, tenor Malvin Macasaet, and baritone Jeconiah Retulla; as well as four UP choirs in the chorus: the UP Madrigal Singers, led by conductor Prof. Mark Anthony Carpio; the UP Concert Chorus, led by Prof. Janet Sabas-Aracama; the UP Singing Ambassadors, headed by Dr. Ed Manguiat; and the UP Staff Choral Society, headed by Mr. Chris M. Reyes. Joining the chorus were UP College of Music students from the chorus classes of Prof. Aracama, Prof. Carpio and Prof. Beverly Shangkuan-Cheng.


With the chorus in the back, the soloists perform for the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 [from left to right]: Jec Retulla, baritone; Malvin Macasaet, tenor ; Michelle Mariposa, mezzo-soprano; and Angeli Benipayo, soprano. Photo by the UP Symphony Orchestra from the UPSO’s Facebook page


And while “Canticles of Joy” had limited seating due to its venue, this performance of what could be considered Beethoven’s grandest opus will be offered for free to the UP community and the greater public in an open-air concert dubbed “Liwanag ng Pasko sa [Ka]Diliman: Musikang Handog ng Orkestra ng Bayan”. This free concert, organized by the UP Office of the President, the UP Diliman Office of the Chancellor and the UP College of Music, will be held on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, 6:00 p.m., at the University Amphitheater. It will feature Jourdann Petalver as pianist and Lara Maigue as singer. In addition, the performing choirs, which will include the UP Cherubim and Seraphim, will serenade the audience with their own spot musical numbers.


Photo from the UPSO Facebook page


Ang Orkestra ng Bayan

The performance of this classical opus marks the UPSO’s second Christmas offering to the UP Community. Tagged as the Orkestra ng Bayan, the UPSO was established by the UP Board of Regents as the official UP System-wide orchestra in its 1337th meeting on August 30, 2018.

“For us, the UPSO, this is going to be our first complete symphony performed,” Prof. Toledo said in an interview during rehearsals at Abelardo Hall for the “Canticles of Joy”. “The UPSO was started only a year ago, so it’s a rather young orchestra. In spite of that, we’re trying to do a big piece of work ,” he added. Of course, being a young orchestra does not mean the UPSO is short of talent, brilliance, and experience in handing complex musical works. “Challenge-wise, we’ve played more difficult pieces; so we’re used to performing complex musical works. But it’s always different. We’re going to perform a longer piece of work, so it’s a little harder in terms of the clean-up of lines, in terms of narrative. But in terms of complexity, we’ve performed many, more complex pieces before.”


The UPSO during rehearsals for “Canticles of Joy.” Photo by Celeste Llaneta, UP MPRO.


For Prof. Toledo, the UPSO’s function is three-fold: “One is to promote Filipino music, especially composition that’s written by UP composers. And this is going to be a laboratory orchestra of young conductors, and a repertory orchestra of the musicians. The problem is, when musicians go to bigger orchestras, even here and abroad, they need to have a certain amount of training and repertoire familiarity, so I think we can provide that kind of solution to that very big gap.” The UPSO maintains a roster of 65 members exclusively from within the UP Community, including alumni, students, faculty and staff from all UP campuses. Aside from providing the training ground for both composers and musicians, the UPSO serves as a representative not only of the University, but also of the country on the worldwide stage. The UPSO aims to mount at least six major concerts in every season.

Ode to Joy

Since it was first performed on May 7, 1824, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has been considered one of the best known works in common practice music, one of the greatest achievements in western music history, and one of the most often performed and recognizable symphonies in the world. “This is something that we don’t get to perform often,” said Prof. Mark Carpio.

“It’s also a rest from the annual performance of  Handel’s Messiah, so this is something new to the ears. And we believe it’s something that everybody should listen to at least once in their lives,” Carpio added.


The chorus waiting for their turn to sing during rehearsals for “Canticles of Joy.” Photo by Celeste Llaneta, UP MPRO.


Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is also significant in other ways. It is longer and more complex than any symphony to date, and requires a larger orchestra. It is also the first “choral symphony”, and Beethoven the first major composer to incorporate voices in the final movement, with four vocal soloists and a chorus singing the words of Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy”.

“It’s always challenging to make several choirs sing together, because when several choirs join together, it becomes a totally new choir,” said Carpio. “We have more than a hundred singers and we are only given a few rehearsals with the orchestra.”

Prof. Janet Sabas-Aracama also considers the piece itself challenging. “It’s really so wide, and while we are all talented here in UP, we also have many young singers in the choirs, so their vocal ranges are being somewhat stretched. But they are very diligent in studying the pieces, so I think we will overcome,” she added with a smile.

UP College of Music Dean La Verne C. de la Peña notes that the musical performance is a labor of love for the musicians and production crew involved. “We are self-funded. Of course, the UP Symphony Orchestra is receiving funding from the UP System, but that’s only good for the musicians’ allowances.” Not included are the meals for the musicians, chorus members and production crew for every rehearsal, which Dean de la Peña considers the biggest challenge. Another challenge? “Looking for time to rehearse, because rehearsals and the performance also coincide with Hell Week, the Music students’ recitals and all that. So you can imagine how challenging it is for many of our students.” And because the Symphony also includes people from other campuses, some coming from UP Manila or as far away as UP Los Baños,  attending rehearsals means braving the horrendous Metro Manila traffic, going home late, then having to wake up early the next day to go to work or to class. “This is the life of a musician in our Community,” de la Peña remarked.


UP College of Music Dean Verne de la Peña giving a few words during “Canticles of Joy.” Photo by the UP Symphony Orchestra from the UPSO’s Facebook page


A joyful offering for Christmas

But for the performers and audience members alike, these sacrifices are well worth it the instant the majestic strains of Beethoven’s opus fill the air. As Carpio put it: “This work has a nickname, which is ‘Ode to Joy’, and it is about finding joy in everything that we do, and especially in uniting everyone.”

This December musical concert “is an annual offering that we do at the College of Music,” said Dean La de la Peña. “We used to present Handel’s Messiah, but now we’re trying a new thing because for one, it’s Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. The nice thing about Beethoven is, unlike the Messiah, which is really more sectarian, the message of ‘Ode to Joy’ is more inclusive, more universal.”


Photo from the UPSO Facebook page


“Canticles of Joy” is also the UP College of Music’s final offering for the Abelardo Hall Concert Series, or the AHA Concert Series, for 2019. “I think we had about six offerings for the first semester of 2019, and about six as well from January; so this closes the season,” Dean De la Peña said.

“Also, the UPSO is celebrating its one-year anniversary. Their very first concert was also last year around this time; so we’re very excited about how the UPSO has developed, and it’s really attracting a lot of audiences. All of the UPSO’s performances are always sold out, just like this concert is sold out.”

He invites everyone to come to the free, open-air concert, “Liwanang ng Pasko sa [Ka]Diliman”, on December 12, to be held the day before the UP Lantern Parade. “We did this last year, too. This is the new tradition we are establishing for the UP community: An open-air concert for the entire UP. We’re very excited about that as well.”

He also announced more productions from the Abelardo Hall Concert Series and from the UPSO in the coming year. “The UPSO has a lot of plans for next year. They have standing invitations to China and to the Middle East, and of course, we are going to the different UP campuses, to UP Mindanao in February and probably UP Baguio sometime after,” he said.

As for the AHA Concert Series, Dean De la Peña said that the UP College of Music can still do around six concerts for the second semester, from January to May 2020, before the much-needed renovations on the Abelardo Hall Auditorium begin in earnest. “So look forward to that,” he finished with a smile.


Maestro Chino Toledo rehearsing with the UP Symphony Orchestra for the December 12 performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, dubbed “Liwanag ng Pasko sa [Ka]Diliman: Musikang Handog ng Orkestra ng Bayan.” Photo by Celeste Llaneta, UP MPRO.