By José Abeto Zaide
He should turn 70 tomorrow. But because the Julian calendar has only 28 days in February (except for the leap year), Dr. Raul M. Sunico who was born on 29 February is, mathematically speaking, still only 17 years old going 18.
Aniceto Sobrepena, VP of Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co and president of Metro Bank Foundation, and his wife Anna booked Le Parc for friends and fans to honor Dr Sunico.
The organizers of the event last Saturday were led by Dr. Sergio “Gerry” Cao, president of Manila Tytana Colleges and former chancellor of UP Diliman. He was assisted by Dr. Lydia Echauz, former FEU president, and Dr. Criselda Abesamis, DOH director Dr. Gerry himself has under his belt several concert performances with Raul.
I caught part of the quiz show where friends were tossed a number and challenged to connect it with Dr. Raul Sunico – 6, 22, 50, 75, and 1986. (Winners who guessed correct answers won a Sunico CD.)
The correct answer to the first quiz, “6” – is the number of academic degrees earned by Dr Sunico (not including a Teacher’s Diploma in 1969) – Bachelor of Music, BS Math, Master of Statistics, Master of Music (Juilliard School), PhD (Piano Performance), NYU, and Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, FEU
22 – is the number of countries where he has performed.
50 – is the number of CDs he has released. (Actually, more than that).
75 – is the number of minutes he has played his longest piece (Busoni Piano Concerto for piano and orchestra).
1986 – is the year Dr. Sunico received the TOYM award.
In the latter part of the afternoon program, Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara, the first woman dean of UP College of Engineering at UP Diliman and now DOST undersecretary (she is also finishing her PhD at the UP College of Music), assisted in a different quiz show. She would play a few notes and we had to guess the song. There were several who guessed on the 3rd or 5th note.
I actually guessed correctly on the 4th note the title of the song “Until the Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis. (But I hesitated to raise my hand – not because it would reveal my age…but, worse, I would have been challenged to sing the first few bars.)
Our claim to fame to be seated at Table 11 with the glitterati and literati is that my wife Meng and I had the privilege to atttend impresario concert performances of Dr. Sunico during our tours of duty in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris
To recall one such, en guise des hors d’oeuvres and in anticipation of our celebration of our 110th Independence Day, Dr. Sunico gave a standing ovation performance on 29 May 2008 at the Cathédrale Saint-Louis des Invalides in Paris. Mme. Christine Helfrich, musical director of the Invalides Museum des Armée, situ of Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb, gushed on Sunico’s virtuosity, “Une bijoux!” (a jewel!). Msgr. Francesco Follo, the Vatican observer at the UNESCO, readily concurred. Listening to Chopin, Grieg, Respighi, Liszt, Debussy, Ravel, Kreisler, and Rachmaninoff played without notes, ASEAN Ambassadors Le Kinh Tai (Vietnam), Soustakhone Pathammavong (Laos), and Saw Hla Min (Myanmar) marveled at the promethean memory… only to be astounded by the anthropologist Nicole Ravel’s revelation that our math major artist has even better memory for numbers. The genetically loquacious multilateralist Ambassadors to UNESCO Pastor Hernandez (Cuba), Mubyi Alkateedb (Iraq), Van Nga Dung (Vietnam), and Khamliene Nhuyvanisvong (Laos) were at a loss for words. Sunico tugged at Pinoy heartstrings with his arrangements of Francisco Buencamino’s Ang Larawan and Ernani Cuenco’s Bato sa Buhangin. But the most stirring was his interpretation of Constancio de Guzman’s Bayan Ko ala Rachmaninoff.
TOUR DE FORCE. We were not the only privilege persona in the foreign service. Dr. Sunico has generously indulged requests from our envoys. This year he has a musical journey as Ambassador of Goodwill with engagements with four of our embassies – May 4, Doha, Qatar (impresario, Ambassador Alan Timbayan); June 2, Ottawa, Canada (Ambassador Petronila Garcia); June 15, Oslo, Norway (Ambassador Jocelyn Garcia); and June 24, Lisbon, Portugal (Ambassador Celia Ann Feria). No translation needed: Dr Sunico’s fingers do the talking.
OHRWURM. Last Saturday evening, a lady of consequence Tetta Agustin and Christian Beauver invited cultural nabobs to their San Juan residence. Dinner was cordon bleu as usual and everyone was welcome to duet or trio with songstress and keyboard artist. A serendipity was Peachy Veneracion, 1977 (our first) Mutya ng Pilipinas, singing chansons with her blossoming daughter Emmanuelle… “La vie en rose,” “Memories,” etc. Even Peachy’s sister Chiki was prodded to sing her own signature number. Their mother and Grande Dame Madz founder Andy Veneracion must be beaming from upstairs at her legacy. We left earlier, only because we had borrowed our son’s car and driver who would have to take grandchildren to a 6:30 a.m. date next morning. But with the wine flowing and the music baying, surely Ambassadors Luz Palacios and Cristina Ortega, the peripatetic Manny Baldemor, Henri Ortiz, Louie Cruz, and everyone else would warble on or trip the light fantastic.