A Review of “A Joyous Christmas With FASO”

A photo of "A Joyous Christmas With FASO" on Dec. 7, 2019.

by Ruben Nepales

I will state upfront that I am on the board of the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra.

But as a Filipino and a music lover, I really wish you will have a chance to hear this only Filipino symphony orchestra outside of the Philippines, if you haven’t had the pleasure of watching and listening to FASO.

While listening to FASO in its “A Joyous Christmas” concert last Dec. 7 in Los Angeles, the brilliance of the 60-piece orchestra, led by Cavite native Robert Shroder, made me hope that more people will experience FASO.

The wonderful miracle is that FASO is not composed of musicians who play full-time for the orchestra. The remarkable thing is that most of FASO’s members, who come from first-, second- or even third-generations of Filipino immigrant families, have other regular jobs. Many are musicians by passion – who have professional jobs, are students or have other careers.

But they report religiously for rehearsals when FASO has a concert. Come performance time, as in this recent holiday concert, the dedicated and talented musicians who come from various fields create lush, polished music that made me misty-eyed at the beautiful music they spun from their various instruments.

How moved I was listening to FASO again that rainy Saturday evening inside the White Memorial Church in East LA, especially in their versions of Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival,” Paul O’Neill and Robert Kinkel’s “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” Franz Gruber’s “Stille Nacht (Silent Night)” and Brian Balmages’ “Fantasia on We Three Kings.”

For me, the night’s highlight was the emotionally stirring “Patriotic Fil-Am Medley” of Jose Corazon de Jesus and Jose Alejandrino’s “Bayan Ko,” Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” Jim Paredes’ “Handog ng Filipino sa Mundo” and Katharine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward’s “America the Beautiful.”

Left to Right: Erwin Andaya, Sharon Rose Orosco, Mikaela Bautista, and Ebb Lawrence Galindo
FASO Arranger-in-Residence, Louie Ramos

With the blending of glorious voices of Erwin Andaya, Mikaela Bautista, Ebb Lawrence Galindo, Sharon Rose Orosco and the Holy Family Filipino Chorale accompanied by the orchestra at its finest, the medley moved many in the audience to tears.

Bravo to Louie Ramos, FASO board’s vice president and the orchestra’s arranger-in-residence, for the masterful arrangements that juxtaposed and blended the four different songs (but all sharing the patriotic theme) – two in Tagalog and two in English – into one very stirring piece!

I was told that it was FASO’s third time to play this medley but last Dec. 7, the medley was such an emotional and musical knockout. I have to make the manly admission that I was so moved that I just noticed a tear or two were flowing down my face. I had to discreetly wipe them away when the medley ended and the audience broke into “Bravo!” and vigorous cheers and applause.

Adding to the medley’s emotional punch was an accompanying video projection of men and women – mostly relatives of the orchestra members – who served and defended their countries, the Philippines or the U.S.

Left to Right: Christina Blay, Celine Bautista, Bryce Gomez, and Erica Delos Santos

Louie also created beautiful arrangements for voices and orchestra in Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” This time, vocalists Celine Bautista, Christina Blay, Bryce Gomez and the Holy Family Filipino Chorale, accompanied by FASO, delivered a memorable version of the holiday classic.

Felson Palad

As part of its mission of spotlighting talents, FASO performed songs with these soloists and shine these singers did in their debut with the orchestra on their respective numbers: Felson Palad (Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night” – amazing range, Mr. Palad!), Vhen Bautista (a.k.a Chino Romero) (“Sana Ngayong Pasko” by Jimmy Borja, who was in the audience and was properly acknowledged) and Deb Victa (Edward Pola and George Wyle’s “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”).

Vhen Bautista (a.k.a. Chino Romero)
Deb Victa & The Holy Family Filipino Chorale

Special shoutout to the Holy Family Filipino Chorale, with Tom Makiling as its musical director. The choir, in addition to performing the previously mentioned pieces, enlivened the concert with its collaborations with FASO, including Ryan Cayabyab’s “Kumukutikutitap,” Felipe Padilla de Leon’s “Payapang Daigdig,” Ador Torres and Manuel Villar Sr.’s “Mano Po, Ninong” and Lucio San Pedro’s “Simbang Gabi.”

Felson and Deb returned onstage for “Christmas in Our Hearts” by Jose Mari Chan, who appeared in a video and expressed hope that someday, he will get to perform live with FASO. That will be the day, Mr. Chan!

The FASO Youth Strings – a product of the orchestra’s musical outreach program – performed two numbers, including Mykola Leontovych and Peter J. Wilhousky’s “Carol of the Bells,” which they performed with the God Faith Choir.

The FASO Youth String Ensemble

At the program’s finale, “Simbang Gabi,” the audience stood up to applaud Maestro Bob, the orchestra and its guests. Of course, the audience wouldn’t let go of FASO so Bob obliged with three encore numbers, including Vicente D. Rubi, Mariano Vestil and Levi Celerio’s rousing “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit,” which is the Philippines’ unofficial national Christmas anthem.

A band version of FASO will play in the orchestra’s entertaining “Disco Night” series which takes place next year on May 30 at the Incarnation Community Center.

Save that date to finally experience or re-experience FASO – May 30.

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