St. Joseph Parish Church in Las Piñas, which houses the prized Bamboo Organ, was once again the venue for the annual International Bamboo Organ Festival held from February 19 to 27, with this year marking its 40th anniversary.
Lauded as the oldest and most complete bamboo pipe organ in the world, the Bamboo Organ was adapted from Europe by the first parish priest in Las Piñas, Fray Diego Cera Dela Virgen Del Carmen in 1816. Part of his intent was to suit the instrument to the climatic conditions in the Philippines by using native materials.
However, years of earthquakes and typhoons rendered the organ hardly playable at the start of the 20th century. In 1972, through the efforts of the CICM priests, a contract for restoration was awarded to Johannes Klais Orgelbau of Bonn, Germany. In 1973, the entire instrument was disassembled and shipped to Germany and was restored under climatic conditions simulating those at Las Piñas.
Come 1976, a year after the return of the restored bamboo organ from Germany, a series of successful inaugural concerts were held, which gave birth to the annual festival.
For this year’s celebration, the highlights were the Gloria and Agnus Dei from the B minor Mass by J.S. Bach (Feb. 20-22), the Concert under the Trees with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (Feb. 21), two recitals by the world-famous Swiss organist Guy Bovet (Feb. 23 and 24) and a para-liturgy tagged Exodus composed by Nic Sengson (Feb. 26 and 27).
I was able to witness the stunning performance of Swiss organist Guy Bovet, who, after attending six festivals, was inspired to write the Manila Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”), with organ accompaniments for 26 popular Tagalog hymns. On the festival night, he played a set of pieces in the Bamboo Organ and another set in the brass organ, and was later honored with a certificate by the Executive Director, Leo Renier.
Bovet played some of J. S. Bach’s masterpieces including the famous cantata of the Baroque period, the “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and other more elaborate symphonies. Although “Jesu” is often used today during wedding ceremonies and in popular modern-day Babylonian traditions, its German text can be literally translated in English as (Wikipedia):
Well for me that I have Jesus, O how strong I hold to Him that He might refresh my heart, when sick and sad am I. Jesus have I, who loves me and gives to me His own, ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus, when I feel my heart is breaking.
—from BWV 147, Chorale movement no 6
Jesus remains my joy, my heart’s comfort and essence, Jesus resists all suffering, He is my life’s strength, my eye’s desire and sun, my soul’s love and joy; so will I not leave Jesus out of heart and face.
—from BWV 147, Chorale movement no. 10
Apart from the inevitable enrichment of Philippine liturgical music, one of the festival’s main missions was to expose the local population to the world of classical music. And truly, with the enchanting sound of bamboo pipe organs, celebrated classical pieces come to life anew.
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