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‘FASO@10’ and going strong

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Arranger-in-Residence and Vice-President Louie Ramos (left) and Musical Director and Conductor Maestro Robert 'Bob' Shroder (Photo by Rick Gavino)

Arranger-in-Residence and Vice-President Louie Ramos (left) and Musical Director and Conductor
Maestro Robert ‘Bob’ Shroder (Photo by Rick Gavino)

Los Angeles – FASO just turned gold and it has never shone brighter.

FASO (Filipino American Symphony Orchestra), the only Filipino-American symphony orchestra outside of the Philippines, recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a special concert entitled “FASO@10 (A Decade of Music, Harmony and Community)” at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, California).

The show, chaired by Claire Navarro Espina, who is a member of the FASO board made up of members devoted to keeping the orchestra alive, was a rousing event and a fitting celebration of the Fil-Am cultural institution’s 10th anniversary milestone. Board president is Arlene Ferrolino.

The show opened with the orchestra and a combined choir (Holy Family Chorale and Philippine Chamber Singers) doing “Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, arranged by Eberhard Kraus with orchestration by FASO’s arranger-in-residence and Vice-President, Louie Ramos.

We also loved the rendition of Maria Christina “Kit” Navarro and Joan Cano on “Duo Des Fleurs/Sous Le Dôme épais” and Navarro’s performance of “Fruhlingsstimmen Op. 410” by Johann Strauss II. We always wondered where that powerful voice was coming from that petite body of Navarro whose voice can make one transcend the environment and bring you to an idyllic location, a tranquil place filled with her melodious voice or make you get up and dance the waltz.

The excerpts from “Karim At Jasmine,” the first original Filipino musical opera in the US, composed by Dr. Ramon Sison Geluz, arranged and orchestrated by Naldy Rodriguez and performed by the dynamic trio of Christopher “Pete” Avendano, Cano and Navarro was also one performance that made us proud of the Fil-Am talents.

The first standing ovation went to Avendano whose powerful rendition of “Granada” deserved praise and attention.
To celebrate the 100th birthday of the late Dr. Lucrecia R. Kasilag, FASO performed “Festival,” one of the composer and educator’s works.

For us, one of the highlights was the “Patriotic Fil-Am Medley” which Louie Ramos arranged and which was performed by Nayah Damasen, Mikaela Bautista, Erwin Andaya, and Gelo Francisco.

Ramos explained that the medley “consists of patriotic songs from the Philippines and from the USA in order of appearance: “God Bless The USA,” “America The Beautiful,” “Bayan Ko,” and “Handog Ng Pilipino Sa Mundo.”

The second standing ovation of the night went to the amazing seven-year-old belter Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja who sang “Tomorrow.”

The young girl is known for belting “The Star Spangled Banner” in an LA Galaxy-Seattle Sounders game and sang the “Dreamgirls” showstopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” with no less than Jennifer Holliday herself on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

A very sweet and touching part of the show was the duet of former “Miss Saigon” stars Deedee Magno-Hall, who portrayed Kim, and her real-life husband, Cliffton Hall, who played Chris. Now married for 15 years with their own Tams (Tam is Kim and Chris’ son in “Miss Saigon”) – older son Kaeden Ryley and second son Brycen.

For Ramos, the three highlights of the 10th anniversary concert were “the mashup of the Filipino-American patriotic songs and the second was the world premiere of the winning piece from the FASO International Composition Competition for Philippine Folk Music for students. It was dedicated to the promotion of Philippine folk music. The winning piece was “Ang Pipit (An Orchestral Variation)” by student composer Adriel “Rush” Garcia. Garcia casts the song’s tiny, titular bird as the hero of an expansive musical world that mimics the workings of nature.”

The third highlight for Ramos was The FASO Children’s Ensemble, who performed “So Long Farewell” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The children are products of FASO’s Education and Outreach program. These performances are a culmination of the Vocal Workshops that they have participated in. Each school year, FASO holds a series of interactive and intimate workshops, where we develop the skill, technique and musicianship of each student musician. We teach and mentor aspiring vocalists, string, wind and brass players and most recently, songwriters. There are workshop classes for children as well as adults.”

Joey Albert, a FASO favorite, gave a sweet and moving tribute to Shroder before she performed and described the Maestro as “the dreamweaver and my friend.” She sang the holiday chestnut, “We Need A Little Christmas” (arranged by Resty dela Cruz), and the OPM favorite, “Tell Me” (composed by Louie Ocampo and arranged by Archie Castillo).
Shroder, playing his flute, also performed “Kahit Isang Saglit,” a Louie Ocampo composition that was arranged by Resty dela Cruz and originally sang by Martin Nievera, to the delight of his fans.

As for his other dreams for FASO, Shroder shared, “I would like to see someday during our time in this world, to have a place for FASO and other performing groups based here in Los Angeles – a place, a structure, we can call home. My dream is also to be able to do an outreach program to visit and have concerts in other Filipino communities – in the neighboring cities in California, to other states or maybe first, a concert tour to the Philippines. We are Filipinos, but there’s also a different Filipino culture we practice, that I think would be interesting and good to share with our fellow Filipinos, artists in the Philippines. Lastly, wherever we all are 90 years from today, I would like to see FASO celebrate its 100 years of music, harmony and community. May God help us!”

In the meantime, we look forward to watching FASO make its debut performance at no less than the world-famous Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles come August next year.

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