An Enchanted Evening with Michel Legrand
When Maxi-Media finally clinched the deal to have the Oscar and Grammy-award winning French composer Michel Legrand perform in the Philippines, the company’s President Felix Co wasted no time announcing its "latest coup" to the press early this year. Legrand, after all, is one of the few remaining living legends of contemporary music – and his premiere performance in the Philippines was no ordinary matter.
After his two-night concert at the PICC during the last Valentine weekend, one can only agree that the very presence of this man, whom Ryan Cayabyab referred to as "music royalty" was enough to make us grateful to be treated to such a soul-enriching experience. Not that Legrand himself was conscious of this fact. After all, his self-deprecating humor often belied his distinguished stature in the music world. This notwithstanding, Michel Legrand – composer, singer, pianist – is as good as it gets.
It only took the first few bars of his opening number, The Summer Knows (from the Summer of ’42) which he started as piano solo to rouse his audience that first night. By the time the strings came in to fill the halls with their melancholic sound, Legrand had us in the palm of his hands.
Clad in a shimmering cobalt blue gown and with her long cascading hair behind her, Kuh was every inch the diva that she was and is. One could surmise that no other performer could have stood head-to-head with a man as "big"as Legrand with such ease and elegance and self-confidence as Kuh. "We knew that even if other performers were to perform with Legrand, we wanted someone like Kuh Ledesma to match his grandeur," explains Jeffrey Cal, Maxi-Media’s VP, "and just as expected, Kuh lived up to the challenge with flying colors." Kuh was, without any doubt, perfect for the part. Their first number together was the Patti Austin-James Ingram duet How Do You Keep the Music Playing which was composed by Legrand for the movie Best Friends (the song, like many of his other compositions, became bigger than the movie).
Then the duo launched into a suite of Michael’s first movie musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a Jacques Demy film which starred the ever-beautiful Catherine Denueve. The most famous tune in the suite was I Will Wait For You which drew thunderous applause from the rather "mature" audience. Michel and Kuh played it out like a musical, in their roles as star-crossed lovers singing "anywhere you wander, anywhere you go, in your heart remember that I love you so…"
The number may be rather tearjerky but it was nevertheless enthralling. I have watched Kuh in concerts and TV shows before, but I’ve never seen her this good. She came prepared to share the stage with "greatness" and she was in top form when that moment came to pass. Kuh was simply at her best.
Although it was not previously announced, there was a second guest that evening – the young and tremendously talented Bituin Escalante. While many have speculated about the circumstances surrounding her "last minute" inclusion in the show, Maxi-Media relates the show originally had three divas in the line-up, each doing about five numbers. When the other two artists were unable join the show due to some reason or another, Kuh was left with all of the musical numbers assigned to the guests. During their first meeting with the Legrand management team on the week of the show, Michel’s group intimated that no singer, no matter how good, will be able to learn all of those numbers in just two rehearsals.
Since they thought it was not fair to demand that Kuh learn all the songs, they suggested inviting another singer to whom some of the other songs could be assigned so as to lighten Kuh’s load. This would allow her to concentrate on the more difficult duets and suites, while retaining the original line-up of songs for the show. Thus the inclusion of Bituin, who was so elated to have been invited to perform in the show, Legrand being a personal favorite of hers as well.
Bituin turned out to be another excellent choice. With her soulful, almost "black" sound, Legrand changed his treatment of her songs, giving them a more torchy, jazzy feel to match her voice. The three "relatively lesser known" songs, which Bituin learned practically overnight, became all hers that evening. She was awesome.
Legrand followed up this segment with two of his best known music. First was from another one of those certified flops whose theme music has certainly outlived the movie itself. The film was called The Happy Ending. The song was What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?. Then, Legrand introduced another highlight in the show, surely one of the most-awaited number in the concert – The Windmills of Your Mind which he sang in French (Les Moulins de Mon Coeur), giving the song a fresh context and texture. It was not an ordinary number too. The composer was reworking his masterpiece on the spot, or so it seemed. Going from ballad to jazz to classical and then back to ballad, he hammered the piano keys in a frenzy of passion and emotion. It was pure genius at its finest.
Michel closed his premiere performance in Manila with a medley of songs from his last Oscar-winning film, Yentl. He sang alternately and together with Kuh such favorites as Papa Can You Hear Me?, The Way He Makes Me Feel and A Piece of Sky. The rousing finale prompted the audience, composed of Manila’s well-heeled set – high-profile business magnates, socialites, showbiz luminaries, and music afficionados – to give the master a long standing ovation, much to his surprise. He exited to the sound of deafening applause and cheer. The audience would not let him go so easily, and when the members of his orchestra started stomping their feet, he came back onstage for his encores.
He, along with Kuh, obliged the audience with a duet of The Summer Knows and Summer Me, Winter Me, which ended in the second and final standing ovation for the evening.
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