A Quest for a Different Kind of Harmony

Christina’s design philosophy, 11 April 2010


A Quest for a Different Kind of Harmony

Music virtuoso Vladimir Ashkenazy and his sons contribute a special night of Harmony for Peace.

Bridging the Gap

A bridge can be so many things. We all know that it links and connects distances. The dictionary defines it as a structure carrying a pathway over a depression or obstacle. It can also be a musical passage linking two sections of a composition. One can look at it at a very elementary perspective, but for the International Peace Foundation, it is their medium to promote unity and to empower dialogue, communication and collaboration among people from different nations and walks of life through science, economics, music, culture and the arts.

Facilitated by the International Peace Foundation, “Bridges- A Dialogue Towards a Culture of Peace” is a series of public lectures, seminars, workshops and performances by Nobel Laureates and distinguished artists from various disciplines. With the cooperation of several notable local institutions from the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia, the foundation has been successfully hosting “Bridges” events since 2003. Washington SyCip, founder of the SGV Group and of the Asian Institute of Management, is the Philippine honorary chairman of Bridges, and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, chair and CEO of the Ayala Corporation, is the program’s Philippine chairman. During the November 2007 to April 2008 leg of “Bridges”, three Nobel laureates visited De La Salle University and delivered lectures which covered different issues on science, economics, peace and development in a globalized world.

Last March 11, it was internationally acclaimed piano virtuoso and conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazy, together with his two sons, Dimitiri and Vovka, who went center stage to bridge the gap and bolster a different kind of harmony by performing some of the most moving pieces of Schumman, Ludoslawski, Poulenc, Schubert and Ravel at the main theater of Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Experiencing the Ashkenazy’s.

It was on a warm Thursday afternoon when we first heard Vladimir Ashkenazy laugh. It very much sounded like one of the Chopin etudes that he plays with utter precision and perfection- exquisite and heartfelt. Seated beside him were his two talented sons, Dimitri and Vovka. The look on everyone’s face every time father or one of the sons spoke was priceless. Undoubtedly, everyone present at the Ashkenazy’s press conference at Cultural Center of the Philippines’ main lobby was awestruck. Who wouldn’t be? We were in the presence of greatness.

Vladimir Ashkenazy is one of the most outstanding and exalted virtuosos of our time. Since his rise to prominence in the world of music in 1955, the internationally celebrated artist has continued to tirelessly contribute excellence in his chosen art. During Vladimir’s early years as a pianist, he bagged several prestigious awards including First Prize in the International Tchaikovsky Competition which he shared with British pianist, John Ogdon in 1966 and another First Prize during the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels in 1956. He is well known for his performances of Romantic and Russian composers and has recorded numerous albums playing the greatest works of the world’s most influential music composers of the 20th century. He has won six Grammy Awards for various categories: Best instrumental Soloist Performance (with Orchestra), Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Instrumental Soloist Performance. Ashkenazy’s burning passion for music has urged him to branch into conducting and has worked with the Royal Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, Philharmonia and Icelandic Syphony Orchestra to name a few. Recently, he joined the Sydney Symphony as chief conductor and artistic director.

During the press conference, Vladimir expressed that “It is always a musician’s goal to touch and inspire his audience. It is a combination of phrasing and harmony, of talent and intellect and of expressing and feeling.” He also stressed that it is vital for music to be deeply felt not only by the patrons but by the musician as well.

Since music has always been an integral part of their lives, it is not so surprising that brothers Dimitri and Vovka Ashkenazy decided to take the same path which their father took. Dimitri stated that “It was just natural.” as they grew up in an environment where music was not only a means of expression, but a way of life.

Dimitri is a distinguished clarinetist who has performed both as a soloist and chamber musician. He has shared the stage not only with his father and brother but has performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Deutshces Symphonie Orchester Berlin, the Czech Philharmonic and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony to name a few. His repertoire extends to contemporary works of composers such as Peter Maxwell Davies.

Following his father’s footsteps, Vovka made his debut as a pianist in 1983 with the London Symphony Orchestra. He has performed all across the world with notable conductors and musicians and has appeared with nearly all major British orchestras as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Australian Chamber and the Berlin Symphony Orchestras. Aside from travelling and performing with their father and other outstanding musicians across the globe, Dimitri and Vovka have also individually recorded and released numerous music albums.

Before ending the press conference, Vladimir Ashkenazy and his sons shared their philosophy with the musicians and students from different schools of music who were all gathered to see their icons before they perform at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo that evening. Father and sons expressed, “Music is much like conservations- it should be spiritual. It must convey a message and should always say something that evokes feeling and interest.”

On that warm Thursday afternoon, nobody left that room uninspired.

Concert for a Culture of Peace.

That night, the lights and the water playfully sprouting from the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ fountains seemed as if it was gracefully dancing to a romantic sonata. The concerto was well attended by individuals who are not only patrons of art, they are also those who are making an important contribution towards peace.

Music patrons and guests were cordially welcomed by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ President, Isabel Caro Wilson and Founding Chairman of the International Peace Foundation, Uwe Morawetz. During Morawetz’s speech, he mentioned that the foundation’s aim is “For people from all walks of life to meet in a multidisciplinary program to find creative solutions to solve problems and to achieve peace within ourselves, within our families, within social structures, peace with nature and the environment, peace between nations, cultures and religions.” He also expressed that “Peace is not something which can be left to the elite of a few, but which needs the participation of everyone…If we listen to and learn from each other; we may discover that there is not only one way to achieve peace, but there are many ways, and certainly ways we have never thought of to go”

As Vladimir Ashkenazy and his sons took the stage, the music that each of their instruments produced translated into a harmony that was not only pleasing to listen to but was much like words speaking, eliciting a plethora of reflection and emotions that can change a human’s soul.

They are right. Music is indeed, spiritual.

The programme featured Schumann’s Three Romances, Op. 94, Lutowskis Dance for Clarinet and Piano, Poulene’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 94. which were performed together by Vladimir and Dimitri, while Schubert’s Divertimento a l’Hongroise, Op. 54 and Ravel’s La Valse was played on two pianos by Vladimir and Vovka.

Immediately after the programme, father and sons came back onstage and surprised everyone by playing a rare clarinet and piano collaboration which is an original composition that they arranged together with their Russian composer. The musical piece, as per Dimitri, was inspired by a Russian fairytale about a little goat who got lost and was eaten by wolves in the woods. The clarinetist explains, “That is why the melody is melancholic but at the same time, a comical fuss.”

The trio received a much deserved standing ovation. The Ashkenazy’s delivered an excellent performance that can be best described as magical. Definitely, the artists and the International Peace Foundation were successful in achieving its goal that evening: Music did not only instigate awareness and knowledge, it was also able to unite and infect people with a much ignited passion for the culture and arts.

Bridges’ quest for Peace does not end here.

The 3rd ASEAN series of “Bridges- A Dialogue Towards a Culture of Peace” which began last November 2009 will be continuously held until April 2010 in Cambodia. Apart from Ashkenazy and his sons, this year’s contributors in promoting peace and international understanding through intellectual, scientific and cultural stimulation include 2004 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry- Professor Aaron Ciechanover, Filmmaker Oliver Stone, 2004 Nobel Laureate for Physics- Professor David J. Gross, 1981 Nobel Laureate for Medicine- Professor Torsten N. Wiesel, Jackie Chan, 2007 Nobel Laureate for Economics- Professor Eric Stark Maskin, 1996 Nobel Laureate for Peace- Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta and 2008 Nobel Laureate for Medicine- Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.