Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Philippine Madrigal Singers in Seoul: From Pop...To Sublime...To Divine!

I almost missed this concert because it wasn't publicized in English. I had to write '필리핀 마드리갈 싱어즈 ' (which translates to Philippine Madrigal Singers in English) in the search engine in order to find out where and when they will be performing in Seoul.

                             (A drink before the concert)

Luckily, I found the venue and date of their Seoul concert in a Korean website, which was later confirmed by a friend Nancy, whose two former students are now members of the best choir in the world.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers (or the Madz) were in South Korea as guests at the 2013 Busan Choral Festival and Competition, and they told me they had to travel for five hours by bus from Busan to Seoul just to hold a one-night concert. I know how tiresome and boring traveling for hours by bus could be, and those who attended their concert last October 18 were simply lucky that these singers made the sacrifice.

By some weird coincidence, President Aquino was also in Seoul for a state visit and was scheduled to hold a reception with the Filipino Community at Lotte Hotel in Myeong-dong on the night of the concert, but since I was belatedly invited, I had to decline the invitation. It would have been interesting to hear what the President had to say, but I was more interested to hear what the Philippine Madrigal Singers had to...sing!

So, last Friday, at the beautiful Seoul Angelican Church, which was just across the City Hall, Joy, Archie, Vangi, Chris and I joined the locals in filling up the church with our KRW 30,000 tickets! I thought this was a bargain just to listen to the live music of the best choir in the planet. We were seated a few rows from the altar, but at the center, where I thought the acoustics were at best.

And when everyone was settled in a few minutes after 7PM, the 20-member choir was introduced, who then entered the church amidst the welcome acclamation from the audience. One by one, they walked up the elevated platform right before the altar; I think the platform was installed just for this performance. And once they all took their seats, everything quieted down and silence filled the church for a few moments before it was broken by what sounded like whispers followed by voices in pianissimo which gradually, note by note, became louder with the soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices overlapping each other and finally getting together in harmony producing an incredible sound, which no one else but only this group of talented and dedicated singers, can produce. That opening number, Doxologia, was divinity set into music. It gave me goosebumps. (Gosh, that bass was really, really low!)

And it was like this all night: amazing mastery and execution of their very difficult pieces, which also entertained us with their own fun interpretation of some songs. They sang eight songs during the first part, and after a 15-minute break, they came back and sang eight more songs wearing a different costume of black ternos for the ladies, and dark grey barongs for the men.

Aside from Doxologia, the other songs I also liked were Sarasvati and Kawayan, and since I like pop music, I enjoyed their interpretation of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time and Whitney Houston's Queen of the Night, which was opened by a soprano singing a few bars like it was an aria. Her top notes were so high, they must have been heard as far as the City Hall that night. The locals especially loved the more popular William Tell Overture and the slapstick-y Italian Salad.

I'm not sure though whether the local audience realized that they were in the presence of a world-class choir that night. Although each song was met with loud appreciation of an applause, I was distracted by the Korean ajumma in front of me, who was just busy sorting out business cards in her bag while the concert was going on; and seated next to her was presumably her grown-up son, who on the other hand, was busy reading his emails in his smartphone. They both disappeared before the second part of the concert, proving my hunch that I was seated behind uncultured people. And since I was already inside a church, it was easy for me to say a prayer of thanks that these two left. 

After the last song, Queen of the Night, once more, the church was filled with loud applause and I joined a few locals in giving a standing ovation. Although my friend Joy also stood up for a few seconds, I remained standing in the center of the nave directly looking at the singers to show my appreciation of their talent and music. They must have spotted me standing as they later told me they thought I was Korean. I told them I was from Bacolod. Ha-ha-ha! (I remember the last time I stood alone to give an ovation was during the 2006 Busan Choral Festival and Competition. Among those seated at the center, I was the only one standing after the grand prize winner, the University of the East Chorale, gave their encore as the champion.) 

After the concert, I was able to chat with some of the singers, including Riva and Cel, who are former students of my friend Nancy, who, by the way, introduced me to her preferred pearl vendor at Greenhills Shopping Center last Christmas. I also bought one of their CDs from Chi-Chi, at the back of the church as a souvenir for this concert. 

As of 2018, the Philippine Madrigal Singers is the first of only five choirs in the world to have won the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing twice, and tonight, everyone truly understood why one juror at that competition described the choir's music as 'the most beautiful sound on earth.' 
                         (The Madz greeting the audience members 
                                    after the concert)
The Philippine Madrigal Singers are celebrating their 50th year, and we're happy that they included Seoul in their tour this year.

To the Madz, from my friends and I, congratulations and here's to listening to the most beautiful sound on earth and in Seoul for another 50!

                                      (My Madz CD)
                                       (Say 'kimchi'!)


  1. Pinoy pride! The church looks great on the photos.

    1. Yes, the church was beautifully made. Thanks!