Rest in peace, Ruggero Barbieri, you will be missed

To many Filipino music enthusiasts, his name is most likely the first to come up as the conductor of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO). Maestro Ruggero Barbieri held the baton for eight years, from 1996 to 2004, long enough to create a niche in the Philippine music scene. Then, he would annually come back to the country to conduct the PPO at Christmas time, during the traditional Christmas Concert at the Pen, always an occasion to look forward to for the many friends he had made here. It is hard not to make an instant connection between the orchestra and the man.

That connection is now just a memory. The Maestro died due to aneurism in the brain on March 20, 2022, at the Pope John XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, Italy, the land of his birth. He was 60.

Maestro Barbieri was born in Bergamo on May 5, 1961. He studied at the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Milan; the Conservatory of Music in Bergamo; and the Conservatory of Music in Vienna. His mentors included acclaimed European conductors such as Aldo Ceccato, Franco Ferrara, Alceo Galliera, Mario Gusella and Julius Kalmar.

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In 1989, from among a hundred from all over the world who applied to study under Leonard Bernstein at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, Barbieri was chosen as one of the six Conducting Fellows. He also served as assistant conductor of Maestro Ceccato in Madrid. Thereafter, he took his post as musical director and principal conductor of the PPO, the resident symphony orchestra of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

As the first foreign conductor to hold the post for two terms, Maestro Barbieri had done a lot for his beloved orchestra. He organised and conducted its first European concert tour in 2001, taking the PPO to milestone performances in Madrid and several cities in Spain, Klagenfurt in Austria and Prague in the Czech Republic.

He also received several recognitions in his years of musical conducting, foremost of which is the Cruz de Isabel la Catolica, the highest honour for Spanish artists, conferred on him by King Juan Carlos I of Spain.

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Aside from the PPO, Barbieri also worked with the Pundaquit Virtuosi Orchestra founded by the famous violinist Coke Bolipata for underprivileged children with musical talents. Maestro Barbieri was its guest conductor for its European tour in 2019, organised by the Department of Foreign Affairs Manila. Bolipata credits the Maestro for “some of its [the Pundaquit orchestra] its most memorable moments”. Barbieri was, in fact, set to be the resident conductor of the Pundaquit in 2020 but then the pandemic came. “[This] was one of the opportunities robbed us by the pandemic,” Bolipata says.

When his long stint with the PPO ended, Maestro Barbiero went home and became the guest conductor with several orchestras in Italy and the rest of Europe, including being the principal conductor of the Bergamo Music Festival’s Gaetano Donizetti Orchestra.

His European schedule was, of course, always broken in December, which he reserved for the PPO’s Christmas Concert at the Pen—halted only in 2020 with the pandemic. He was scheduled to come again this year for the Christmas concert, but it was not to be.

Maestro Barbieri is survived by his son Piolo, 21, and his two sisters, Daniela and Federica.

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