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.
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.