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From Renaissance to pop

Madz concert transcends musical boundaries in Winnipeg

by Oscar Pantaleon Jr.

Madz 2 Ira Alejo
The Madz debuted in Manitoba with two concerts at the Winnipeg Art Gallery featuring an eclectic program
of songs from the Philippines and around the globe. (Photo by Ira Alejo)

The Philippine Madrigal Singers left audiences spellbound in their Winnipeg debut. Led by choirmaster Mark Anthony Carpio, the Madz, as they are fondly called, delivered two high-calibre choral concerts at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium of the Winnipeg Art Gallery last May 5.

The program commenced with Ryan Cayabyab’s Metropop-winning piece, Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika (How Beautiful Our Music Is),immediately showcasing the qualities that have brought the choir to worldwide acclaim. The singing was refined, controlled, and effortless. The layering of voices and motifs was expertly executed.

A pair of 16th century madrigals featured the deft musicality of the Madz in ensemble performance. Giovanni Gastoldi’s Cantiam, lieti cantiamo for double choir evoked characters leaping out of a Renaissance painting inviting the audience to sing and dance with them. The conversation between a young girl and an old man in Orlande de Lauss’s Dessus le marché d’Arras for six singers was a masterclass in blending, balance, intonation, and accuracy.

The Madz’s success and popularity also lies in the diversity of its repertoire and proficiency in storytelling. For this concert tour celebrating the 75 years of Canada-Philippines diplomatic relations, the choir brought with them Andrew Balfour’s Omaa Biindig (Here, inside) with text in Ojibway, a medley of Indian love songs, Broadway favourites, a Eurovision entry from Spain, and hits by British bands, The Beatles and Depeche Mode.

Folk, avant-garde, pop, and novelty songs comprised the concert Filipiniana. Perhaps the most entertaining number in the program, DJ Alvaro’s cheeky Papa Ka Ba? was gamely delivered by the female section that had the audience in stitches. The ballads Bituing Walang Ningning and Ikaw ang Lahat sa Akin were such a huge hit that the mere mention of artists who popularized the songs (Sharon Cuneta and Martin Nievera, respectively) sent the crowd into a swoon.

“Their performance in Winnipeg has been a long-awaited event,” said Liesl Puentespina whose sister, Risë Fullon, is an alumna of this multi-awarded performing group. Hearing this new batch of singers brought back memories to Puentespina. “I grew up hearing the choir in concerts and rehearsals, courtesy of a Madz sibling. They still sound as heavenly as the Madz of my childhood,” she reminisced.

“The Madz is a brilliant choir performing with such a high degree of musicianship and artistry,” observed Philip Lapatha, Maples Collegiate choral director. “The singers presented a wide range of repertoire, opening hearts and minds to the incredible breadth and depth of choral art,” he added. Several of his colleagues also attended this historic music event. Some of Manitoba’s other choral leaders in the audience were Jorrel Camuyong, Elroy Friesen, Scott Reimer, Kimberly Lapatha, and Dorothy Dyck.

For the Madz, Carpio said, “Our first time in Winnipeg has certainly been a memorable and happy one. Our concerts in the wonderful space and acoustics of the WAG were made even more special by the wonderful audience we had in both. We definitely felt the warm hospitality extended to us by the Filipino Canadians who took really good care of us while we were in Winnipeg.”

In addition to their two WAG concerts, the Madz sang at various places around the city. A day after their arrival, the group teased diners at The Forks Market with a preview of their repertoire. A few days later, the resonant halls of the Manitoba Legislative Building reverberated with the Madz sound. The choir was welcomed by Notre Dame MLA Malaya Marcelino.

Winnipeg choral artists also got up-close with the visiting artists in workshops around town. Ace Espino invited choir members from local churches for one at the Fort Garry Community Centre. Espino said, “This activity was meant to improve and develop their singing skills as choristers.”

Under the Winnipeg 150: City of Song initiative, the Winnipeg Arts Council sponsored a workshop at the Judy Silver Student Commons of Maples Collegiate jointly presented by the Manitoba Choral Association and Musica Singers. Jenny Steinke-Magnus, MCA executive director, was delighted with the turnout of workshop participants.

Dyck, who co-directs the choir program of Maples with Lapatha, felt that the workshop “was a wonderful experience.” After the event she said, “I found it very powerful seeing people of all ages working side by side to learn music together. There was a beautiful energy in the rehearsal process.” To this, Lapatha added, “Our choral students and Winnipeg choir enthusiasts were truly inspired by the Madz workshop.”

Celebrating their 60th anniversary, the Madz tour of Canada is bringing Philippine music not only to Filipino communities but to new audiences as well. The Madz itinerary includes three choral festivals across Canada during their three-month visit – Cantando (Edmonton), Podium (Montreal), and Harbour Voices (Newfoundland & Labrador).