Mariel Ilusorio: Touched by Schubert’s music

Photograph courtesy of MARIEL ILUSORIO ‘I would not be the musician I am without Schubert’s music.’

Manila’s music enthusiasts among the senior set will surely enjoy the interpretation of Austrian composer Franz Schubert’s greatest song cycle, “Die Schoene Muellerin,” by soloist Arthur Espiritu and virtuoso pianist Mariel Ilusorio, on 22 March at 6 p.m. at the Sunshine Place, Jupiter Street, Makati.

Mariel, a piano soloist, teacher, accompanist and chamber musician, pursued her advanced studies in Julliard School in the United States and the Hanover State Academy in Germany. She has performed solo in various parts of the world including Germany, Italy, France, Indonesia, the United States, South Africa and the Philippines.

A personal friend of Mariel’s, I feel privileged to have known one such gifted lady who has remained humble in the midst of all the accolades she has received through the years. In her home in Ayala Alabang, Mariel casually receives her students without foregoing the stance of a serious, well-meaning “profesora” who expects discipline and commitment from her students. The relaxed atmosphere of her home makes learning under this sweet and gentle teacher pleasant and inspiring. That she knows her music well, especially her composers, is a fact that parents of her would-be pupils appreciate. Whether as a performer or an educator, Mariel is respected and admired by her peers in the world of concertizing and music pedagogy.

In an interview with Mariel, she shared with the Daily Tribune her thoughts on Schubert and his compositions, Arthur Espiritu and her life as a musician on and off the stage.

The following are excerpts from our conversation:

Daily Tribune (DT): How do you regard Schubert as a composer? What makes him an all-time great musician?

Mariel Illusorio (MI): Schubert is a true genius composer who, in his 31 years alive, wrote hundreds of melodies that just seemed to flow out endlessly and naturally.  He lived in poverty, and even did not own a piano.  His music was inborn and he had so much to say and to sing and express.

DT: Of his many compositions, which ones do you love to play for a solo performance?

MI: I have played some impromptus and sonatas for piano solo, but I equally love playing his four-hand work, the Fantasy, as well as his trios, violin sonatas, piano quintet, Arpegionne sonata and, of course, his songs.

DT: How would you compare him with other masters through generations of music?

MI: His music is extremely lyrical, very emotional, poetic, sensitive and intimate.

DT: What is your professional connection to Schubert? In what way has his music contributed to you as a professional musician? Any recollection of past performances of his music?

MI: Schubert’s music speaks directly to the heart. It is extremely poignant and gives comfort.  It is honest in its sadness. In sadness, there is beauty; in beauty, there is hope; and so there is a constant cycle of life and death, joy and pain; it’s the story of life. As a professional musician, his music teaches me to sing through the instrument, to communicate emotions in a sincere and simple way. I would not be the musician I am without Schubert’s music. His persona has touched my life and gives it meaning, and I believe makes this world a better place. Playing Schubert always brings joy because of its simple power to touch the heart and soul, its gentleness and cry.

DT: What can one expect from Arthur Espiritu in his interpretation of Schubert’s songs? As a soloist, what are his strong points that would contribute to an outstanding performance of Schubert pieces?

MI: Arthur has great experience being onstage of the biggest opera halls all over the world, singing dramatic and huge characters. This program allows us to see his more intimate side, the poetic side of his musicianship.  It provides contrast to his normal environment, and I believe it will be a powerful contrast, making it more special and meaningful.

DT: What do you keep in mind when you play a Schubert piece?

MI: I keep in mind the purity and simplicity of his music, the intimacy, the poetic and lyrical nature.

DT: You seem to love to perform at Sunshine Place. What makes it special to you?

MI: When I lived in Germany, I would often play for seniors in the home for the aged, and it gave me great comfort and at the same time, energy, to play for an audience with much experience in life. It gave me much joy to communicate with them through playing beautiful music.

DT: How did you prepare for this performance?

MI: I prepare by studying the poems and reflecting on them, reflecting on Schubert’s life, the connection between the text and the piano accompaniment, the role of the piano in this amazing song cycle, the message behind the songs.  It is a very spiritual experience for me.

DT: How do you unwind after a concert?

MI: I give thanks that I could share something that means a lot to me, and I could grow and develop into a better human being and musician.  But I tend to quickly detach to move on to the next projects.  I am not very good at unwinding.

DT: What can we look forward to from you this year?

MI: That I give my best to spread music and my faith in music on to my students, fellow musicians and audience

DT: What kept you busy during the height of the pandemic?

MI: The same thing kept me busy in the pandemic, and that is finding my voice through teaching and performing

DT: Where do you see Philippine arts and culture going in the current presidential administration?

MI: I am hoping for more support in the arts, to develop a huge value in cultural life and cultural education in our society, and develop the potential of the vast talent we have in this country, whatever administration there is. I believe the level of cultural appreciation deeply affects our society.  And we need this balance to be whole. We need to encourage young talents and give them a future in music in this country.

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