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47th International Bamboo Organ Fest goes online this April

For the second year in a row in the pandemic era, the International Bamboo Organ Festival will go online to provide a continuing stream to the country’s longest-running musical event.

Now on its 47th edition, the festival is set inside the majestic St. Joseph Church in Las Piñas City featuring the 19th-century Bamboo Organ, the only one-of-its-kind musical instrument in the world which was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2003.

The Saint Joseph Parish is also known as the Las Piñas Church, or Bamboo Organ Church.

Slated from April 8 to 10 at 8:00 p.m., this year’s lineup includes world-class musicians interpreting timeless classical compositions from the Baroque era, as well as sacred music.

Taking center stage once more is Prof. Armando Salarza, titular organist of the Bamboo Organ for 28 years and the current Festival artistic director.  

Featured artists on April 8 opening are former Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra principal cellist Renato Lucas, the Manila Baroque Ensemble with violinist Christian Tan as concertmaster, and conducted by Beverly Shangkuan-Cheng, who will also perform solo on the harpsichord.

Performances swing to the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Monserrat at the San Beda College in Manila on April 9 with Salarza playing the newly installed pipe organ, along with soprano Pauline Arejola, and Villancico Vocal Ensemble, the official performing arm of the UP College of Music’s Junior Philippine Conductors Association.  

There will also be a documentary video “Visit to the Workshop of the Diego Cera Organ Builders” before the concert proper.

Las Piñas Boys Choir and Villancico Vocal Ensemble

The three-day festival draws to a close on April 10 with the Sonata for Two Organs featuring Louie Angelo Oca at the Bamboo Organ and Sr. Marie Enoch Kim of South Korea, at the organ of the St. Scholastica College in Manila.

Capping the evening show is the Concert as Las Piñas Church with Armando Salarza at the Bamboo Organ and the world-renowned and award-winning Las Piñas Boys Choir, the resident choral ensemble of the St. Joseph Parish Church founded in 1969 by Fr. Leo Renier which has been a Festival regular for the past 4 decades.

The documentary “Things you didn’t know yet about the Bamboo Organ” will be shown prior to the performances.

“We continue to mount the Festival amidst the challenges even before the pandemic struck to sustain the future of their musical frontliners whose livelihood have been greatly affected,” says Festival Executive Director Leo Renier who has been painstakingly putting together the performances in the past decade.

He also pointed out that the virtual format of the concerts also enables them to show documentaries to the public and hold simultaneous performances in two separate locations.

The musical event will be streamed on Facebook:  bambooorganfestival, YouTube:  International Bamboo Organ Festival (Official), Twitter:  @bambooorganfes1, and Instagram:  @bambooorganfestivalofficial. Platforms and channels for donations to sustain the Festival are also indicated in the said social-media accounts.

Armando Salarza, Beverly Shangkuan -Cheng, Rennato Lucas and Christian Tan

Last year’s virtual concert had some 50,000 viewers on Facebook and YouTube combined, reaching out to more people both here and abroad through the internet.

The St. Joseph Church and the Bamboo Organ were both built by Augustinian Recollect priest Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen who served the Las Piñas parish from 1795 to 1830. The organ, which has 1,031 pipes, 902 of which are made of bamboo, was completed in 1824 after 6 years of work.

Rendered unplayable for a long time due to age and various disasters, the musical instrument was shipped to Germany for a three-year restoration in 1972. For its anticipated return in 1975, the parish church and adjoining buildings were restored to their 19th-century splendor and given a bamboo-themed look by the late National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa.

Topping the herculean restoration effort of the Bamboo Organ was the Festival’s inaugural concert in 1976 under the auspices of the Cultural Center of the Philippines which showcased the artistry of the Filipino musicians and the grandeur of the newly restored instrument.

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