Viewing: music

Nhow Hotel Berlin

I first saw the Nhow Hotel Berlin last year while sunbathing at the Badeschiff, looking across the river Spree to Friedrichshain. You can’t miss it: it’s a distinctive piece of architecture, a giant glass box perched atop a sprawling brick building.

Nhow Hotel Berlin exterior2

Back then, I didn’t know it was a hotel. And I didn’t know that I’d find myself staying in it a year later! When my husband’s company put us up at the Nhow Hotel for a work event, I finally got to see its quirky and interesting interior, designed by no less than Karim Rashid.

Want to know what I found inside?

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An afternoon at the opera

Confession: I often feel happiest when I’m doing little old lady things. I often find myself in the company of retirees: in watercolor class, for example, or at hotels (all the young ‘uns are out backpacking). It gets to the point when I have to remind myself I’m only 30 and I should do “cooler”, more age-appropriate things now lest I find myself yearning to become a DJ at the age of 70.

Taking a guided tour of the Hungarian State Opera House was one of these little old lady things. I couldn’t imagine leaving the hotel before 3pm on a scorching afternoon for anything else, not even Budapest’s famous baths.

Built in the 1800s, the Opera House’s old-world opulence is apparent from its very doorstep. The stone sphinxes outside made me wonder what it would be like if everyone had to answer a riddle before they could come inside. No stupid people allowed!

Budapest opera exterior details

The Opera House offers guided tours in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish at 3pm and 4pm daily. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and you can tell they love not just the building, but opera itself. Our guide made turn-of-the-century Budapest come alive for me, with stories of secret lovers passing notes in the narrow smoking lounge, their rendezvous hidden amidst thick clouds of smoke…

Budapest opera smoking room

… and the royal family gliding up a special staircase reserved just for them.

Budapest opera royal staircase

I won’t tell all the tales, since it’s a lovely tour and I think you should take it if you ever find yourself in Budapest! Instead, let me show you around the Opera House and its many sumptuous details.

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Classical music on the canals

Every summer, Amsterdam holds the Grachtenfestival, a 10-day festival of free classical concerts around the historical center, particularly in the grachten, or canals. The biggest event in the lineup is the Prinsengrachtconcert, which took place last weekend on a floating stage in front of the Hotel Pulitzer on the Prinsengracht, as it’s been since 1997.

I didn’t intend on going this year, but after some errands in the center, Marlon and I found ourselves right around the corner from the Prinsengracht. So we decided to head there, and this is what we found. Crazy.

Prinsengracht Concert

An estimated 80,000 people turn up each year for this concert, and many of them show up in boats. On land, it was no less mobbed.

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Calle 13

Nearly two weeks ago at the Amsterdam Roots Festival, someone handed me a postcard advertising a gig by Calle 13 at Melkweg. I’d never heard of them before, so I decided to check them out on Spotify.

They turned out to be a really fun, not to mention Grammy-winning, reggaeton (a.k.a. Latin American hip-hop) group from Puerto Rico. Their music consists of awesome beats layered with Spanish lyrics, a language that I love the sound of. I’ve sampled reggaeton in the form of Daddy Yankee and Pitbull, but so far this is the group I’ve liked the most; they have a musicality and upbeat vibe that I’ve just been missing from the (admittedly mainstream) reggaeton acts I’ve heard so far.

The lyrics are mesmerizing enough to just listen to, and some of the quick and few flashes I’ve been able to translate have made me chuckle. Translated, some of their lyrics simply flow like poetry. Heck, in this particular verse I liked, they could very well be singing about life in the Philippines.

Tú no puedes comprar al viento,

Tú no puedes comprar al sol

Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia,

Tú no puedes comprar al calor.

Tú no puedes comprar las nubes,

Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría,

Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

You cannot buy my sun

You cannot buy my rain

You cannot buy my heat

You cannot buy my clouds

You cannot buy my happiness

You cannot buy my pain.

– “Latinoamerica”, Entren Los Que Quieran (2010)

In need of something new to listen to, preferably in a neighborhood where Latin flavor, eclectic influences and kickass beats meet? Then give Calle 13 a listen on Spotify.

Rooting around

There are so many music festivals on in Netherlands (and around Europe) now that it’s officially summer. Of the dozens of choices out there, the one I really wanted to go to was the Amsterdam Roots Festival, a week-long world music festival capped with a big, free concert at the Oosterpark. 

From what I gather, the Oost (East) of Amsterdam is where most of the immigrant and minority communities live. I’d been to the Oosterpark once before with Jon, to visit the Tropenmuseum located inside the park. Since the museum deals with the Dutch history of slavery and colonialism, I found this sculpture near the museum particularly poignant: chained slaves emerging on the other side of a portal to gain power and freedom.

Both Womad and the Roots Festival represent world music and are hugely popular events; that’s pretty much all the similarity they share. The Roots Festival is definitely bigger in scale than what we got in Singapore: five different stages compared to two. And the crowd was so diverse, which was such a pleasure to behold. No predatory expat-hunting posers in stiletto heels sinking into the grass, no boho uniforms of ethnic-print maxi dress, chunky jewelry and gold sandals. Just a laid-back vibe, lots of sunshine and good music. You could say we were pretty happy.

All around the park were stalls selling various world cuisines at affordable prices, jewelry, clothing, even art.

I was really intrigued by all the soul food and Caribbean cooking. We just don’t get that in our part of the world! The Dutch once held sizable colonies in the Caribbean, such as Surinam, a country of which I’d never heard until I moved here. Surinamese food is a big thing here.

For €4, we each sampled a Surinamese bara, which is a flavorful Hindustani-influenced fried bread made with bean flour. Mine was filled with grilled chicken and slathered with the spiciest sauce I’ve tasted since I moved to Holland, which turned my mouth into the Pacific Ring of Fire. And I mean that only in a good way; I’ve missed this kind of spice. The bara kept falling apart, but it made a real lip-smacking kind of mess, one that I’d definitely have again.

It was the best kind of Sunday afternoon. We wandered around the park, ducking into tents and drifting into crowds. We got into some Colombian funk and Portuguese fado… 

… mixed with some Dutch hip-hop. I love hip-hop, and being in the midst of the crowd who seemed to know all the songs and not being able to sing along was one of those frustrating moments when I really, really wish I spoke Dutch. I was proud of myself for understanding the words “left” and “right” in Dutch though. It made it easier to wave my hands in the right direction in a timely and thereby non tool-ish manner. Links en rechts, yo!

I’ll say it again, I really loved the crowd. I love that moms bring their babies to events like these (there is life after childbirth!), I love that people dance like nobody’s watching (because nobody does!) and I love that you can find people of all ages grooving together with such joy. Europeans must be solar-powered… because when the sun comes out they really just come alive.

Here’s me in my concert outfit: shorts with a floaty, semi-sheer, neon-dabbed top that I christened a drouse (dress/blouse). I’d been so excited for the weather to get warm enough for me to wear it, and it finally did. Yay summer!
In between acts, we would fall upon one of the park’s many sun-drenched grassy stretches to just lie down and chill. Many others had the same idea, although some were better equipped.

It was nice just to watch people go by. So many attractive people, diverse nationalities, and colorful characters. These two were my favorite passers-by: a guy with a face shaved into the back of his head (shades and a moustache!), and a fully-tattooed guy who would look kind of scary if not for his little stumpy adorable dog.

I would totally make this trip to the Oosterpark for the Amsterdam Roots Festival a yearly pilgrimage. On days like this, I just love this town!

Paris, 10 years later

Do you remember?
Do you remember waking up to days, weeks, months where all you had to think about was what you loved to do most, in the company of the people you most loved to do it with?

Do you remember sound checks and rehearsals…

Churches upon churches…

More masses than you’d ever attended in a single day?

Do you remember passing the hat for money? And being so thankful for every deutschmark, franc, guilder, peseta, tolar, lira, and much later, euro, that our voices earned for us?

Do you remember the bread broken with strangers who made the meals and cared for us, so that after those meals they were strangers no more?

Do you remember taking too long to load the bus with suitcases that got heavier at each stop…

… and laughing at the most ridiculous things that only we could find funny, together?

Do you remember the applause and the cheers, how they made your heart feel all warm inside no matter how tired you were… and smile so hard you thought your face might split apart?

Do you remember singing our joys, sorrows, triumphs, exhaustion, even our goodbyes?

Do you remember what it was like to win?

And what it was like when we had to start all over again?

That was when I wish someone had told me that in spite of everything I feared, what I loved would continue, grow and flourish.

And though the songs may be new ones…

The faces may have changed…

And although now we can only be on the outside looking in…

It looks and feels as sweet as I remember. And I know they’ll always remember it this way, too.

Wiping my eyes after the Glee Club sang for the morning service at the American Church in Paris, I asked Gutsy: “Why did we have to grow up?”

I’m not sure, but I think maybe we leave some things behind to make room, to clear space for new and different things…

… things that make new selves of us, and that assure us every day that becoming an adult is worth it.

And while we leave some things behind, some things, like laughter, music and friendship…

…are simply forever. 
“We’ll always have Paris,” goes the famous line from Casablanca. But I think we’ll always have much more than Paris. And for that I will always be grateful. 

An evening at the opera

When my sister and I were planning this Oslo trip last year, I was thrilled to learn that the dates of our visit coincided with the one-night-only concert of one of the greatest performers in opera today… the awesome Cecilia Bartoli. I had to see her. I’m the only one in my family who is into this stuff but I managed to drag them all with me.

It was a gloomy, rainy evening when we went to the Operaen, Norway’s multimillion-euro opera and ballet house. Rising out of the gray and the mist, the Operaen seemed like some mythical fortress of snow and ice. So Nordic!

But really, I was awestruck. This is easily the most stunning concert hall I have ever seen in my life.

Though I was happy to have a wide-angle lens to capture it all, the pictures don’t do it justice. It was really hard to choose photos for this post!

Built to the tune of € 500 million (PhP 30.7 BILLION, just to boggle your mind), this is nothing less than a modern-day temple to culture and the arts. Spending that kind of public money on a concert hall makes a powerful endorsement of music that musicians all over the world, particularly in a country like ours, would kill for. 
Everything from the curving walls of clean blond wood… 

… to practical considerations such as the coatroom and cocktail tables… 

… even the bathroom, spoke of everything Scandinavian design is famous for, and makes a statement about the value this society places on culture and art. If it isn’t obvious, I’m completely envious and could not want this for the Philippines bad enough.

Everything announces the importance of the experience you are just about to have: the experience of music. No usher could ever bring you as graciously or ecstatically to your seat, in anticipation of a wonderful evening, as this building can.

Which brings us to Cecilia.

I’ve always found early music to be a bit of a bore, to be honest. But not the way Cecilia Bartoli sings it. She brings such mastery, genius and spirit to early, lesser-known works, that you literally sit up on the edge of your seat and hold your breath listening to her.

She sang pieces from her Grammy-winning album, Sacrificium, which features works originally written for castrati, prepubescent boys castrated for the sole purpose of performing some of the most difficult pieces ever written for the human voice. 

And the costumes! Her knee-high leather boots, billowing pirate-type blouse, swirling cape, scarlet taffeta bustle, and giant red feathers added drama and flair to a bravura performance. Brava Cecilia!

I was so glad that my mom, who’s not the biggest fan of opera, really enjoyed it. 

Operaen is the only concert hall in the world where you can, and in fact are meant to, walk all over the building, and all the way up to the roof from the ground floor.

So after the concert, that’s just what we did. With the sunset sky in the background, it was absolutely perfect.

It’s a wonderful, welcoming space to walk, sit, play and see the city, bringing a new dimension to arts that are seen as dull and exclusive. Plus it’s photogenic with a million angles and planes to play with. Camwhores will pee all over themselves with delight. We almost did!

Marlon posed for his Fortune 500/Time Man of the Year cover.

My sights are set a bit lower. Hanggang level lang ng Lookbook and Chictopia, haha.

We took the coolest family photo ever: Marlon and I outside, and Mom and my sister inside.

And my sister took this photo of us kissing. Aww.
I feel so lucky to have been able to watch Cecilia Bartoli in such a gorgeous space. Truly the highlight of the whole trip. 


When Kate asked me if I wanted to watch Imogen Heap live in Singapore, I hesitated.

Up to that point I had only heard of her and listened to a few of her songs once or twice. I couldn’t accurately call myself a fan. After a few seconds, I figured “Who cares?” and told Kate I would love to buy tickets from her.

It turned out to be one of the best impulse purchases I had ever made, in a long history of impulse purchases that include multiple pairs of ill-fitting shoes, unwatched DVDs, hideous statement tees from Landmark, and one too many chocolate bars at supermarket checkout counters.

Kate had bought a block for second-row seats and was flying in from Manila for the concert. The tickets were not cheap — $140 each for Marlon and me — and as the concert date neared I wondered if I should be listening to Imogen (or Immi, as Kate lovingly called her) more to familiarize myself with her music.

Then I thought of two things. The first was my thought bubble when I saw a particularly annoying acquaintance announce on Facebook that he had great seats for the Coldplay concert — and that he had to rush out to buy and finish listening to all of their albums in time for the show. My thought bubble: Loserrrrr!

The second thing I thought of was that I had stopped going to concerts to discover great music. Ticket prices can be so prohibitive sometimes that we only spend on acts that we are huge fans of and thus will fail to disappoint us… music that is sure to be bankable, “worth it”, safe. What about great acts that we’ve never even heard of? Some of the music I love to this day are from artists I had never heard of till I caught them live. Take Rajaton, for example: I can’t believe I would never have heard of them if I hadn’t been performing after them in Cork, Ireland. They were totally misplaced in a choral festival, but they rocked my socks and I’ve been a fan for ten (TEN!!!!!) years now. Same goes for Club For Five.

So I left Imogen Heap alone and unplayed until Monday night. Whereupon she completely spellbound, entranced, delighted, tickled, enchanted, haunted and moved me.

With her Attack of the Forty Foot Woman dress (and height)…

Her feathered fascinator, her bouffant hair, her raccoon brooches…

Her whimsy, her charm, her candor, her wit, her lovely Bri’ish accent, her stuffed bird…

Her miked-up wrists, her tinkling bells…

Her whistling wineglass…

Her Perspex piano…

Her singing whirly vacuum tube…

Her looper and glittery synth keyboard…

Her absolute insistence on teaching the audience a round song (the harmonies for “Just for Now”) and her unflagging determination to conduct it while singing herself…

And above all, by her music, and her artistry. I don’t exaggerate when I say that this is one of the best concerts I’ve watched in a long, long, long time.

Marlon rarely has very strong emotional reactions to music, but when Immi played Between Sheets, he hugged me tight and whispered, “This is how I feel about you. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song that captured it so well.” Naturally, I cried.

You and me between the sheets
It just doesn’t get better than this
The many windswept yellow stickies of my mind
Are the molten emotional front line
I couldn’t care less I’m transfixed in this absolute bliss
Sweet sleepless, tumbling night
Oh, and the morning on the your skin and loved up light
Tracing patterns in the maze of your back
Softly, softly the goose bumps like that
And then a kiss…
Maybe another,
And another one

When we got home, he insisted I download it, that we listen to it again, and could it please be officially our song. That really surprised me. Naturally, I agreed.

Soothe me

so i could blog about the epic mcdonalds delivery fail that took 3.5 hours to reach my house. but i have wasted far too much of my saturday on them as it is, and i really need something to bring my temper down to a nice normal level again.

good think jett shared the latest arrangement by eric whitacre, one of my (and acs’s) favorite choral composers, a setting of rudyard kipling’s “the seal lullaby” for female voices. 
have a listen, it’s beautifully haunting and lush. i must have listened to it at least half a dozen times today.
i looked up the words of the complete poem, and reading it is just what i needed to lay this long and at times frustratingly pointless day to rest.

Seal Lullaby by Rudyard Kipling
Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, O’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow.
Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, no shark overtake thee
Asleep in the arms of slow-swinging seas.

thank goodness for pleasures like music, and friends who love to share, and discovering poems. we all need things like these.

and after just one more night’s sleep, marlon will be home :)

More firsts (A 7-Month Roundup)

i promised myself i would take this weekend to do a roundup of everything i’ve been up to during the past seven months. it was one of the things i looked forward to all this hectic week. now i’m happy just to be curled up in bed, with the aircon on and a scarf thrown over the lamp, finally taking time for myself to just write. i can hear marlon watching wrestling in the next room, and i know my cat is lying in the hallway watching both our doors! all is good :)
my last post before i sank into radio silence last january was a list of all the ‘firsts’ i had last year. i had fun doing that — so that’s what i’m going to do to fill you in on the last seven months!
i got my first tattoo! this was the long-delayed mutual wedding gift marlon and i had agreed on.
i went to boracay with marlon for the first time. i had been there twice previously — first as part of my freelance stint with the philippine star, and the second time to be a bridesmaid at julien and eena’s wedding — but i had always wanted to go with marlon. it was his first time to go too!
i went parasailing for the first time. fifteen glorious minutes riding the wind, hovering over the sea amidst a glowing dusk. it felt like being in a fantasy novel. 
i made my first attempt at skimboarding. this resulted in a grand buttwhacking on that fine boracay sand, which was, i realized, the first sports-related injury of my brief but sedentary life.
i appeared as an extra in one of my own promos! this was for a series of vignettes for season five of “the office” on universal. 
i dragged marlon into the shoot as well. 
his friend allan was a great casting find for this — he was hilarious, with a perfect sense of comic timing. 

i saw wolfgang live! i know, i know, this is not a first, but it was just such a huge event for me! okay, it’s the first time i’ve seen them in 10 years! is that better? 
basti *swoon*
i went to vietnam for the first time! hanoi was the minibreak of choice for holy week. hanoi’s chaos and energy reminded me of manila, yet it also seemed like a city that manila could have been. 
halong bay, a dead ringer for neverland

luon cave, a surreal chunk of outer space carved into one of halong bay’s many islets

spiced truffle fritters at our best discovery of the trip: the green tangerine restaurant

last afternoon having vietnamese coffee overlooking hoan kiem lake

first time to visit phuket, too. sorry, no pictures — our beloved lumix died a few hours after we landed.
… to be continued