2 violin prodigies navigate a future in classical music in NYC and California

Bradley Bascon from Temecula, Calif.  Photo by Daisy Jane Sande

Bradley Bascon from Temecula, Calif. Photo by Daisy Jane Sande

By Elizabeth Lolarga

Teenage violinists Bradley Bascon and Jeline Oliva will not find themselves in situations wherein the slight bruise on their necks will be misconstrued as anything more than the result of intense practice. If it is in their mothers’ powers, neither will they find themselves scratching out the story of their days on their precious instruments in a foxhole in a war-torn country.

FilAm Bascon, only 14 but already a soloist who has played in top concert halls in the U.S., Europe and his parents’ country of origin, where he dazzled audiences in Makati, Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Cebu cities, is back in California. Being a nerd, too, with the highest academic average of 4.0 at the Chaparral High School in Temecula, California, he is focused on a Sibelius piece for his next performance.

His mother, Theresa Jallorina-Bascon, said her only child, who’s also with the Claremont Young Musicians Orchestra in Claremont, Calif. was elated from “teaching and inspiring young talents in Cebu. He enjoyed giving a master class to young violinists at the University of the Visayas.”

She recalled her boy’s Philippine debut at Ayala Museum in July: “The room was full. People were enthusiastic, curious, wanted to meet and listen to this ‘unknown’ FilAm violinist. I held my breath when he played. After the first song, I knew he was enjoying it. I could tell that he wasn’t scared or nervous so I breathed a sigh of relief. The heavens must have been watching. The rain stopped. It turned out to be a beautiful night.” He was the sole Philippine representative in the Beijing Violin Competition last month.

Meanwhile, Jeline, 17, received the turning point news of her life: admission as the only Filipino of 10 short-listed applicants out of 300 from all over the world at the prestigious Mannes College New School of Music in New York City.

Jeline Oliva (left) with her mother Judith. Jeline is the only Filipino shortlisted in the Mannes College New School of Music in New York City. Photo by Elizabeth Lolarga

Jeline Oliva (left) with her mother Judith. Jeline is the only Filipino shortlisted in the Mannes College New School of Music in New York City. Photo by Elizabeth Lolarga

Her mother Judith, who organized with some friends a fund-raising concert in her daughter’s behalf in late July so the NYC dream could be realized, said, “Studying in New York is expensive. Unless you’re extremely talented or very rich, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere as the song goes. It’s the center for strings, the melting spot for rising musicians. We’re thankful that Jeline passed the challenging live audition at Mannes.”

This new high school graduate is being trained by no less than Gilopez Kabayao as his form of help while sponsors for her higher education are being sought. Gina Medina Perez, another of Jeline’s teachers and Manila Symphony Orchestra concertmaster, has high hopes for the girl who she once described as palaban.

In an interview with this writer last year, Jeline said of her instrument of choice, “The violin can bring out all the emotions a person has…Maybe it’s because when it is held, it is near the heart.”

Judith said of the challenges ahead: “Honestly, we’re already losing hope. We need to raise almost $50,000 a year, excluding housing. Jose Mari Chan wants to chip in, but we still need more sponsors to raise the amount. He is concerned because the opportunity has presented itself, but financial help is truly needed. He wants her to push through with her higher studies this year.”

She never pressured Jeline to prepare her for the Mannes audition. “She was focused and determined. I asked the help of her St. Anthony School teachers who gave her special activities so she could have time for her audition—from pre-screening to the live audition. She had a supportive environment. Prayers helped a lot.”

Theresa echoed her: “After I see Bradley play solo with an orchestra, I tell myself, ‘Ok, you can breathe now.’ He has played at the Mozarteum in Austria, at Teatro Verdi in Italy. I realized that were it not for him, I wouldn’t be encouraged to see those concert halls. I’d probably just save my money for retirement.”

Both mothers not only credit the musical genes that run in their families but the prenatal period when they exposed the infants to music.

Judith said, “I was a classroom music teacher and rondalla trainor at the Department of Education in Naga City when I was pregnant. I always listened to classical music whenever I relaxed. That was the first music Jeline heard when I gave birth to her. It was her lullaby.”

Theresa recalled, “When I was pregnant, I played CDs of Baby Mozart, Baby Einstein. The ear phones I placed on my tummy area. After Bradley was born and when he’d get fussy, I played Baby Mozart or anything classical. He calmed down.”

When he was 8 or 9 years old and he was slack on his practice period, she’d threaten him: “I can sell the violin and use the money for a new car. He’d go, ‘No, Mom, please.’”

Bradley said of the 1897 made-in-the-U.S. James McCauley violin, “Mommy guards it with her life. She puts it on the plane’s overhead bin when we travel.” An admirer of Isaac Stern and Jascha Heifetz, Bradley chose to concentrate on the violin. He told his Mom: “If I learn the piano, I can’t carry it with me anywhere.”

Bert Robledo, host of DZFE’s “Bravo Filipino,” emphasizes in his program how ranking public officials must be seen in concert halls to set the example in terms of music education and appreciation. At the same time their own exposure would make them realize the excellence of Filipino talents.

Elizabeth ‘Babeth’ Lolarga is a freelance writer-editor, part-time high school teacher, mother, grandmother. She lives in the Philippine summer capital of Baguio City with her family. This article originally appeared in Babeth’s blog Brookside Baby and is being republished with permission.

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