Manila Symphony Orchestra counts down to 100th year 2
The MSO, now on its way to its 100th year by 2026. Handout

Manila Symphony Orchestra counts down to 100th year

Founded in 1926 by the Asociacion Musical de Filipinas with Alexander Lippay as its first conductor, the MSO has risen from its early challenges to become a symbol of resilience.
Leah C. Salterio | Mar 22 2024

Not everyone might be aware of this, but one of the oldest orchestras in Asia is here in the Philippines. It is also the county’s longest surviving artistic institution -- the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO).

Founded in 1926 by the Asociacion Musical de Filipinas with Alexander Lippay as its first conductor, the MSO has risen from its early challenges to become a symbol of resilience.

Today, the MSO embarks on its momentous “Road to 100,” a journey few institutions can claim in their existence. As it looks toward its centennial, the MSO continues to embody a legacy of artistic achievement and nurturing future generations.

For nearly a century, the MSO has echoed the dreams and aspirations of its founders, who dared to envision a future, where the symphony of the MSO would continue to grace generations of listeners. 

At present, the MSO’s music director is Marlon Chen, with Jeffrey Solares as executive director and associate conductor.

During the recent pandemic, the MSO experienced challenges that affected the orchestra. It came to a point where the orchestra became financially challenged and the musicians were not getting paid regularly.

Solares became the MSO’s executive director in 2009. “Especially in the pandemic, the MSO couldn’t do concerts,” Solares told ABS-CBN News. “We were affected financially, as well. In the first few months, we just had to get donations. But that didn’t last.

“Our savings also didn’t last. So, I talked to every musician and told them, ‘Starting this month, I think that was May of 2020, we just had to do it on a per project basis. So, if there is something that comes up, we have to distribute the money to everybody.

“I want to commend everyone for staying. We did it until last year. We told everyone, ‘We are returning you to your regular salaries’.”

In August 2022, the MSO performed at the Ayala Museum with all 35 members of the orchestra, plus some guests.

Then, the MSO went to Tokyo Opera City in October 2022. “We were chosen as one of the three Asian orchestras to be featured in the Asia Orchestra Week,” said Solares. “We were one of the first foreigners to re-enter Japan.

“They haven’t even opened Japan yet to the world. We were on a special arrangement at that time. The entire orchestra was there for only four days. Since then, we have only done our concerts locally.”

Jeffrey Solares, MSO's executive director and associate conductor. Handout
Jeffrey Solares, MSO's executive director and associate conductor. Handout

For 2024, the MSO will start its season concert, its main project. “We do it starting in June and we end January or February the following year,” Solares disclosed. “We distribute the concerts, invite guest artists, feature our musicians also guest artists or local talents.

“For this year, the orchestra will feature our local singers, some local talents and young cellist, one of our Junior Orchestra members who got a scholarship in Salzburg, Austria. He studied there for about three years and returned two years ago.

“He will be featured in our season concert as a soloist. His name is Damodar Das Castillo. The concert will be held at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater.”

The MSO has 35 regular musicians to date. “They are on regular salary,” Solares said. “Symphonic repertoire and classical music, even the romantic music of the 19th century will require at least 60 musicians.

“We have to get the support of our core free lancers. There are several of them. For the Puccini opera, there will be about 50 artists performing the works of Giacomo Puccini this March at the Areté Theater at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“We will have season concerts and national tour that will bring the MSO to the provinces (Batangas, Cebu, Bacolod and also Las Piñas). 

“We have very active social media. We have YouTube, we’re starting Spotify, we have our Facebook page, with audiences in these platforms. We’re engaging people through these platforms, as well.”

Ballerina Liza Macuja is bringing in Russian conductor Alexander Vikolov. “We always collaborate with him [Vikolov] whenever we play with Ballet Manila,” Solares said. “We are also presenting violinist Diomedes Saraza, Jr. early next year.

“We consider this year already a part of the 100th year celebration,” added Solares. “We don’t wait for us to arrive there. We are already on the road.”
In July, the members of the MSO Junior Orchestra with 35 members, ages nine to 22, will perform.

“We are traveling to Europe this year,” Solares proudly said. “This July, we are going to Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and Bratislava.”

The MSO will also present its returning student, the scholar who studied at the Julliard School of Music in New York. “She will be our soloist at the Brahms’ Violin Concerto.

“The next one is in October, with Russian conductor Alexander Vikolov, who will conduct a Filipina soloist, Mariel Ilusorio.”

Solares has expanded the activities of the MSO. “Aside from just playing in the season concerts, we opened a ‘Rush Hour’ series eight years ago at the Ayala Museum,” Solares said. “That is ongoing up to now.

“We also have outreach programs. The Makati City Youth Outreach Project in partnership with the City of Makati. That is regularly happening, as well. Then, we have our youth orchestra. 

“That helps for the future of the orchestra. There are future musicians and the junior orchestra, established ten years ago. We have artists at young as nine years old all the way to 22 years old.”

Admittedly, since MSO cannot afford to pay a lot, in order to attract foreign talents, Solares insisted it is better for them to just train musicians. 

“Our local musicians will just rise to the level of all these international artists,” Solares said. “It will take a long time, but I think it’s worth it because we are really cultivating our own human resources.”

Aside from concerts, the MSO will also do workshops. The MSO is also working on a coffeetable book for its 100th year. “To document all the highlights,” Solares said.

That people continue to support the MSO is very fulfilling for Solares. “Even if we don’t have government support right now, in the history of the MSO, it has always been a private initiative.

“The government has not been active in supporting the MSO, since it has the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines).

“We would like to get some support from the government that was why we applied for a five-year grant. The government has actually approved a law designating a successful applying company to become a national performing arts company.”

They will provide funds, title of the national orchestra for non-government organizations. “That will greatly help us at least for the duration of the grant, which is five years,” Solares said. “The winning arts company will be awarded a P10 million grant annually.”