Arturo Molina

Assistant Professor, Strings and Chamber Music Department
College of Music, University of the Philippines, Diliman

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Arturo Molina grew up in a family that is well immersed in music – his father was the nephew and personal secretary of the Dr. Antonio Molina, the National Artist and composer of probably the most famous Filipino composition for the violin- the Hating Gabi. His older brother Augusto is also a violinist and is presently the concertmaster of a professional orchestra in Canada while his sister, Regina, is also an accomplished cellist and was for a time a member of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO). His cousins Rosario, Clarinda and Victoria are all professional orchestra musicians and teachers.

It is not only in the field of orchestral music where the Molina clan made their presence felt. An uncle, the late Exequiel “Lito” Molina is one of our country’s pioneering jazz artist and music critic, while another cousin, the tenor Pablo Molina, has extended the presence of the Molina clan in world of the opera, together with his wife, Camille Lopez, one of our country’s top sopranos.

Early Training

Arturo had his first formal lessons at around age six from Adriano Garcia, a violist of the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in the 1960s. His made rapid progress in his training that soon he auditioned and received a scholarship from the MSO to study with Prof. Oscar Yatco, who was at the time MSO’s music director. During those years the MSO’s nursery of young musicians was the University of the East Student’s Orchestra under Col. Antonino Buenaventura, where Arturo had his early experience of playing in an orchestra. Soon however Yatco would emigrate permanently to Germany, and the young Molinas’ training was passed on to Prof. Basilio “Billy” Manalo, MSO’s concertmaster.

It was from Prof. Manalo that Arturo would make steady progress, coursing through the etudes of Dont, Kreutzer and Rode, through the concertos of Wieniawski, Lalo, Mendelssohn, Vieuxtemps and Saint Saens. It was also from Manalo that Arturo would inculcate the sense of discipline and dedication to the craft of a violinist. Manalo would visit the Molina’s home along Singalong Street (located just behind St. Scholastica’s College, the present home base of MSO since its revival in 2001) to give Arturo and his brother Augusto their regular violin lessons. On summer holidays he would take the boys to his hacienda in Bacolod and give them an intensive violin boot camp- he would give each of them a room in the hacienda to practice while they take turns having lessons from him for hours on end. Soon the boys would be good enough to join the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) which Prof. Billy Manalo helped to establish at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Training in Moscow and Kiev

In 1984, under the CCP Orchestra Development Program, Molina, together with pianist Greg Zuniega and cellist Wilfredo Pasamba were given scholarships to study in the famed conservatories of Moscow and Kiev. At the time the Russians were producing some of the top artists in the music world. Molina would pursue an intensive violin program in Kiev under Alexander Yegerov, a protégé of the great David Oistrakh.

Under Yegerov, Molina’s violin technique was given a thorough overhaul and his repertoire was further expanded. He would have individual lessons three times a week, and, after two years of this intensive program, he emerged as the top winner in the String Competitions that the conservatory organizes annually. This gave him the opportunity to be presented in a concert at the famed Bolshoi Theater.

Return to the Philippines

In 1987, Molina returned to the Philippines where he promptly joined the PPO to fulfill his service obligation due to thescholarship he had received from the CCP. Later on, he was handpicked by Prof. Sergio Esmilla to join and eventually become concertmaster of the Manila Chamber Orchestra (MCO), then based at the PCI Bank Building in Makati.

Much of his time and talent however, was spent beside his old mentor, Prof. Manalo, then engaged in nurturing the young musicians of the Philippine Research for Developing Instrumental Soloists (PREDIS), which Manalo founded earlier in 1985 and which was aimed at preparing musicians for a career in orchestral music. Molina, although at first reluctant to play the role of a teacher, would soon find himself awash with students eager to imbibe whatever insights he had learned from his Russian training.

Due to his increasing responsibilities as violin teacher, and the demands of being a concertmaster in the PPO and the MCO, the main beneficiaries of Molina’s musicianship on the violin would not be the general public, but his students. In spite of this however, he had opportunities to be featured as solo violinist in the Bamboo Organ Festivals in the early 1990s and with the newly formed Manila Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO), an offshoot of the PREDIS. With MYSO he performed the Brahms’ Double Concerto with cellist Wilfredo Pasamba and Lucio San Pedro’s Violin Concerto at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Maestro San Pedro, who was present at the said concert, heartily congratulated his performance and declared that it was so far the best interpretation he had heard of the concerto.

A Mentor of Violinists

Although it was evident early on that there were a lot of differences between the teaching of Prof. Manalo, who gained his pedagogical ideas from his studies with the legendary Ivan Galamian in Juilliard, and that which Molina brought from his studies in Russia, this never caused even the slightest problem in the working relationship between Prof. Manalo and Arturo Molina. There was strong mutual respect between them, and this resulted in a fruitful collaboration and partnership. Those of us who had the fortune of studying from both of them were enriched, rather than confused, but these differences. When Prof. Manalo would eventually retire from teaching due to ill health, he would entrust all of his pupils to the care of Arturo Molina.

Some of those who had studied with Molina in the early days include Mary Grace Martinez, former concertmaster of the MSO and now a concertmaster of an orchestra in Vancouver, Canada; Justin Texon, who pursued further studies at the Hochschule Hans Eisler in Berlin and is now a member of a major orchestra in Nuremberg, Germany; Jeffrey Solares, who upon graduation became a violin teacher in Cebu but is now his associate conductor and executive director in the MSO; Dino Decena, who is now the associate concertmaster of the PPO; and Jareena Inacay, who pursued further studies in Switzerland and is now a successful violin teacher in Germany. Many of his students would win major prizes at the National Music Competitions for Young Artists (NAMCYA) including: the Saraza brothers Diomedes and Ivan, Regina Buenaventura, Denise Santos Hwang, and present MSO members Sara Maria Gonzales, Rey Casey Concepcion, and Karlos Gilyermo David.

Molina is not the kind of teacher who only selects especially talented students to teach. He does not go about offering himself or advertising himself to violin students that he finds especially gifted. He is effective in teaching exceptional students like Dio Saraza or Regina Buenaventura but is equally capable of bringing out the best in all those who come to him for instruction. He particularly enjoys the challenge of teaching students that other teachers have already declared “hopeless.” What he seeks in students is commitment, discipline, hard work and eagerness to learn.

Molina’s Teaching Approach

Each violin teacher is unique, and opinions as to which particular school of violin technique is superior or not can only be done in a loose or imperfect manner- effective teaching is not anchored on any particular method but on the particular teacher using whatever method he finds useful to achieve his purpose.

Arturo Molina as a teacher does not come off as espousing any particular pedagogical approach- in my seven years under his tutelage I have never even heard him speak of being a teacher of “the Russian School” or any of the sort- what is important is that whatever you do in the lesson ends up making the student a better artist. We can however mention specific features of his teaching approach that explains his immense effectiveness as a violin teacher:

Simplicity: Molina has the ability to convey important ideas using the simplest analogies, the fewest words, using everyday, common terms rather than overly technical jargon and would sometimes resort to articulating his analogies on the vernacular for stronger effect- “parang tubig,” “galing sa malayo, papalapit,” “relax, suabe, malambot.” He does not pepper students with a myriad of overly detailed instructions that tend to paralyze the student rather than allow them to go forward. He gives the student the “big picture,” and allows the student himself to discover how he can achieve the best results. What is important is that that the student learn, rather than the teacher to appear as being learned.

Soft Approach: “The violin has a gender- it is a lady. We must therefore treat it with gentleness and care.” Grace, finesse, the minimal effort, allowing rather than doing too much or pushing too hard, are all classic hallmarks of his teaching that seem to echo what Kung Fu masters talk about when they declare, following Lao Tzu, “that water is stronger than stone.”

Socratic Method: Molina avoids saying “do this, then do this and this,” or “this is the right way, and that is the wrong way.” He does not like giving lectures that dictate the truth to students but rather engages the student to discover, to seek, rather than to merely follow. What he does is similar to what western pedagogical tradition refers to as the Socratic method, alluding to approach of that Ancient Greek philosopher who refuses to fashion answers but rather asks the students a series of questions until the student arrives at a truth that he himself has discovered.

Trust: he believes that students achieve more when you trust that they can, and thus he frequently challenges students with assignments that seem to be beyond their technical capacity, and this stretches the skills of the student and therefore allows them to grow and discover what they are actually capable of. The student then develops a sense of empowerment and self confidence rather than becoming discouraged of not being good enough to do difficult things.

From Mentor to Conductor

It would seem only natural that Molina, with his vast experience as concertmaster and his growing importance as a violin teacher and a close associate of Billy Manalo, would naturally progress to becoming a conductor. Looking at the history of the conducting profession in the Philippines, we can observe that most of them started off as violinists- Oscar Yatco, Redentor Romero, Julian Quirit, Basilio Manalo, Sergio Esmilla- all were masters of the violin and bow before they took up the baton. However, as he would always claim, Molina never ambitioned nor desired to be a conductor. Like teaching, conducting was something that was almost forced upon him, thanks partly to his inability to say “no” to his mentor Billy Manalo, who was on the other hand convinced that Molina possesses all the requisite talent and potential to become a conductor to whom he can entrust the future of the PREDIS and the MYSO.

Molina’s natural musical instincts, his ability to clearly express the score through his gestures, his presence and his expression would more than make up for what he felt he lacked in terms of extensive formal training in the craft of conducting. Musicians playing under his baton would remark at the ease and clarity by which his gestures communicate musical lines, phrases and colors, making lengthy explanations at rehearsals almost unnecessary and superfluous. The same qualities of simplicity, trust, sincerity, naturalness and sensitivity that informs his violin playing and teaching were all brought into his conducting and leadership style. In 2001, during the concert that re-launched the Manila Symphony Orchestra, Billy Manalo ceremonially handed over the baton to Arturo Molina, symbolically entrusting to him the leadership and the future of this newly formed orchestral ensemble.

In the decade that has passed since then, Molina’s growth as conductor became closely intertwined with the development and progress of the newly formed orchestra under his care. Under his leadership, the MSO has methodically tackled the major symphonic programs, slowly building a solid repertoire and dishing out performances that soon gained the attention and respect of audiences, concert organizers and fellow musical artists alike. In the end, Molina’s vast experience as violinist, as concertmaster and his effectiveness as a violin teacher is all put into good use by his role as conductor and leader of the highly talented breed of orchestra musicians who now continue to carry the legacy of musical excellence of one of Asia’s first symphony orchestras. (