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12 February 2019

FOCAL POINT : Anne Rice, "Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis"

I FELL in love with Anne Rice's gothic fiction after seeing the film adaptation of her first novel, Interview With A Vampire, in 1994. Her writing was both sensuous and sensational, endowing her undead characters with nobility and munificence while plunging them into the insalubrious depths of horrifying and eventually tragic existence. I collected the first six volumes of The Vampire Chronicles, and stopped after moving to Israel in 2000. Physical bookstores eventually disappeared, making it tough to find the new volumes unless I went online. I never had the chance to go back to Ms. Rice.

So how thrilling it was to stumble upon Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis, in a bookstore while visiting Manila late last year. This is the 13th volume of The Vampire Chronicles . . . and possibly the weakest link in the entire saga. Lestat de Lioncourt, the ever-dapper vampire, leads us to a voyage to the mythical Atlantis. In subsequence, we're led to a brave new world of extraterrestrial antiheroes. It's no longer a dark tale: it's become a utopian epic. Lestat himself now appears more sci-fi than gothic.

For those who, like me, read Anne Rice's tales in the earlier days but failed to follow the series assiduously, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis may look and feel truly alien. I'd rather have a supernatural Lestat than an extraterrestrial one, anytime in any realm.

05 February 2019

FOCAL POINT : Michel Legrand, "Cinema Legrand"

THIS IS Michel Legrand at his purest cinematic self, back in the sixties when film music was in its most uninhibited. His youthful exuberance on the conductor's dais is matched with his vibrant training in jazz and film scores, with strings reaching up to gloriously stratospheric levels to deliver that signature Legrand sound.

Released in 1967, Cinema Legrand contains 11 tracks that run the gamut of the most memorable themes and expressions. Max Steiner's "Tara's Theme" from Gone With the Wind scales the higher realms of the imagination, and Luiz Bonfá's "Manhã de Carnaval" from Orfeu Negro haunts the deeper recesses of the mind. "One Day" and "You Must Believe in Spring" present themselves on this album in their original titles, "Norma Jean's Theme" from The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean and "The Girl I've Never Met (Chanson de Maxence)" from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

It's a travesty that Cinema Legrand has never been made available in digital form for the younger generation to appreciate. Hopefully, it gets to be re-released in the future to continue delighting and inspiring cinephiles and music lovers.

Listen below to "One Day" (Norma Jean's Theme from The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean).

EPITAPH : Michel Legrand (1932-2019)

WHEN MICHEL Legrand passed away late last month, he left a large body of music for film and television, raging from the avant-garde to the more commercial productions. His music was romantic but never banal, original but never inaccessible. His most memorable works begin low-key, almost like a whisper, and then intensify in rhythm before finally surprising us with an unexpected jump from minor to major chord. His deep-seated love for jazz buttresses the playful, rhythmic, and sophisticated qualities of his compositions.

I grew up listening to my father's collection of Legrand. Many years later, when I began collecting the music of Barbra Streisand, the hobby turned even more loving as Ms. Streisand recorded a lot of Mr. Legrand's compositions. As an adult, I still turn to Mr. Legrand for inspiration. And every once in a while, when I want to lose myself, I plug him in and imagine what I can be doing the rest of my life, north and south and east and west of my life. His passing marks a bittersweet closure of a childhood-driven chapter in my life.

Listen below to "The Picasso Suite: Summer Song" from the soundtrack of the 1969 film The Picasso Summer.

03 February 2019

The sounds of growing up, Part 3

DURING THE eighties and nineties--the latter days of his life--Papa would play classical music in his bedroom with the same passion that he had in his younger years. My brothers and I often wondered when our neighbors would finally show up complaining about the decibels. Thankfully, such moments never occurred.

In some of the more reflective moments, I would sit next to Papa listening to and talking about the one contemporary singer we shared a common liking for: Barbra Streisand. Papa owned copies of Ms. Streisand's 1970s albums, both in cassettes and in long-playing vinyls. One day, when I was in high school, I decided to keep his cassettes of Wet and Songbird, thinking he would never notice. Well, he did, and he dispatched Mama to ensure that I returned those two cassettes back to his racks!

I wasn't the only one influenced by Papa's musical tastes. My brothers and sisters were all immersed in it. Many years later, I would buy several copies of the same Streisand CD: one would go to Papa, the second one to my younger sister Carla, and the third one to my own rack.

Tons of research show that our adult behavior stems from what we experienced as kids. My childhood exposure to a variety of orchestral and vocal recordings has shaped my lifelong taste for poignant and elegant music. More importantly, it has made it easy for me to share and transmit culture as an adult.

Listen below to Barbra Streisand's "One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not A Home". It appeared on New Gold Disc, a Streisand compilation album released in the Philippines in 1975. Papa had a copy of the album, and my brothers and I played this particular track the most.

The sounds of growing up, Part 2

MY PARENTS listened a lot to easy listening music. In the seventies, when everything seemed secondary to Manila's socio-political agitations, orchestral music was the perfect metaphor: it had unpredictable moments, yet it quietly fell into the background, moving along unnoticed unless it skipped on a scratched surface. Moreover, as background music, its sophisticated character matched the formality of family gatherings. (Those were the days of sartorial elegance: people dressed up even for dinner. Mama used to attire my siblings and me in similar, unobtrusive shirts and pants—yet another case of things falling into the background!)

At home, I soaked up the sounds of strings and percussions coming from Papa's Marantz™ and Lenco™ turntables. My parents owned hundreds of vinyl records, open-reel tapes, and eight-track tapes of recordings ranging from Enoch Light Orchestra and Electric Light Orchestra to Nana Mouskouri and Nina Simone. The most frequently played sounds were the lush, sweeping melodies of Ray Conniff, Arthur Fiedler, Hugo Montenegro, James Last, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Mantovani, Paul Mauriat, and Peter Nero. The music of these orchestras all sounded the same, but since Papa played them at six in the morning and in the evenings till eleven o'clock, it became easy for me to figure out which version was playing!

Listen below to two of my favorite tracks from that era, Peter Nero's original composition "A Love That Never Ends" (1972) and André Kostelanetz's version of "Love Theme from Chinatown" (1974).

The sounds of growing up, Part 1

ONE OF the special things about growing up in Manila in the early 1970s was the exposure to the choral music of Catholic mass. As a kid, I attended Sunday church enraptured with the liturgical chant, pipe organ, and full choir of the Sacred Heart Parish Shrine, the neighborhood church that my family attended. "Tantum ergo" was my all-time favorite choral hymn: I knew the Latin words by heart, even though I never learned what they meant!

A few years later, congressional singing under Vatican II church music came into vogue. I mourned the loss of full choir's reverent melodies and harmonies, now buried under the massive popularity of guitar-driven chord structures. Suddenly, the sublime "Prayer of Saint Francis" no longer sounded beatific, and the movie song "Fill the World With Love" (from Goodbye, Mr. Chips) became the anthem of choice for communion. However, my loyalties to the choral tradition persisted: I would quietly sing the melody of the polyphonic "Lord's Prayer" while the rest of the faithful sang the prayer differently!

Listen below to Gabriel Fauré's "Tantum ergo" and Sebastian Temple's "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace (Adapted from the Prayer of Saint Francis)".