Victor Asuncion to hold pay-it-forward concert on Sept 25

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A concert dedicated to the kindness of friends and strangers

A concert dedicated to the kindness of friends and strangers

By Cristina DC Pastor

Classical pianist Victor Asuncion has this burning mission. He wants the world to know that Filipinos are excellent classical musicians and not just your after-hours Karaoke yodelers. He meant no shade. He was just stating that when it comes to music, Filipino talent runs a wide spectrum — from Broadway to pop to ‘kundiman’ to classical.

On September 25, Victor, 45, will have a solo concert at Steinway Hall on Sixth Avenue to sort of reintroduce himself as a classically trained pianist. “I call it my pay-it-forward concert.”

He had a promising start as one of the young prodigies of the Philippine High School for the Arts created by Imelda Marcos in the 1970s. He became a sought-after accompanist for singers and bands in the years that followed. Despite his commercial success – he was teaching piano, playing with orchestras, and making his own money – he felt there was something missing.

“I was already established in Manila but I felt I wasn’t growing as an artist,” he said in an interview with The FilAm.

He decided to come to the U.S. in 1993 as part of the Madrigal Singers tour on the urging of The Madz’s Andrea Veneracion, his mentor.

“She told me to leave the Philippines because nag-iistagnate na ako. Hindi na ako nag-iimprove. I was accepting all kinds of gigs and playing for the money,” he shared. “I felt stuck.”

In the U.S., he went right back to school. He completed his Master’s Degree (Piano Performance) at the Manhattan School of Music in 1999, and later his doctorate in Musical Arts (Collaborative Piano) at the University of Maryland at College Park in 2007.

Along the way, he met good-hearted friends and strangers who helped him logistically and boosted his morale as he focused on finding his place in America’s classical music scene. One of them is the family of Benny and Anita Jongco of New Jersey. They promoted his concerts, sold tickets, and treated him like their own son. He is dedicating his Steinway concert to all of them.

Playing with friend and classical cellist Lynn Harrell, the former Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.

Playing with friend and classical cellist Lynn Harrell, the former Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute.

“The Jongcos took me in and treated me like their own son. I call them my foster parents,” he said. “They introduced me to their friends. I would be giving piano lessons to their children and playing at their weddings. We were in each other’s lives.”

A family divided
It was the kind of support absent from his father when Victor was growing up. His father, who worked in the Middle East, did not entirely approve of piano as a serious pursuit for his youngest son. All five Asuncion siblings played the piano, but it was only Victor, the youngest, who made a life’s passion, and a profession, out of it.

“He only watched two of my concerts,” he shared from a distant memory.

At age 11, Victor decided to go for it and became a Makiling scholar. His mother was his biggest “accomplice.”

Apart from notable pianists Cecile Licad and Rowena Arrieta, there are other Filipino classical musicians out there trying to make a name for themselves, said Victor. “At Juilliard alone I know of three Filipinos who graduated from classical music.”

When he created the FilAm Music Foundation early this year with the intention of providing support to unheralded classical musicians, he thought of his early beginning in the U.S. Not all of the musicians are lucky to have Jongcos in their lives.

“I came up with the idea of starting a foundation that focuses on promoting Filipino classical musicians through scholarship assistance, and performance opportunities,” he said in the foundation website. “While other cultures are clearly well-represented in the classical music field, there is a dearth of Filipino representation, even if there is a huge talent pool waiting to be tapped.”

Right now, Victor lives in Chicago where he continues to perform and runs his foundation. His husband Ariel Porcalla, 50, works as a medical director at a pharmaceutical company. They wed in December but have been together almost 20 years, catching each other’s eye right after Victor’s 1999 Carnegie Hall concert.

“He’s my biggest supporter,” he said. “We keep encouraging each other to go after each other’s dreams.”

© The FilAm 2018

Victor and husband Ariel Porcalla with friends and benefactors (top) Benny and Anita Jongco, and (below) Vivian Talambiras Cruz.

Victor and husband Ariel Porcalla with friends and benefactors (top) Benny and Anita Jongco, and (below) Vivian Talambiras Cruz.



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