The piano and me
I began formal lessons in piano at age 7, but I had to stop after only a few months for reasons that were unknown to me. Five years later and without informing my parents I registered for piano lessons with Corazon Coo (née Arevalo) at the music department of the then Philippine Union College…
My time as a piano student of Stella Goldenberg Brimo
Shortly after Harout Nalbandian presented me with a fully refurbished 9-foot grand, I found an advertisement posted by Stella Goldenberg Brimo, offering piano lessons.
She would eventually become a family friend. Mrs. Brimo, as we called her, brought me up to concert level. I was her student for over 20 years until shortly before her death in 2008.
She was the daughter of Don Michael Goldenberg, son of Dr. Leon Goldenberg. The Goldenberg family were French citizens who emigrated to the Philippines in the late 1800s. Michael Goldenberg took Philippine citizenship after the WW2 (See here for a brief account of his life).
In her prime, Mrs. Brimo was said to be a “tremendously talented pianist.”
“I have always liked the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 and enjoyed the challenge it presented to both the soloist and orchestra. Stella Goldenberg Brimo was a tremendously talented pianist with excellent technique, a beautiful touch, and great feeling and interpretation. I have no idea how many times she played this Brahms with the orchestra, but it must have been considerable.”Recollections of Earl Smith Jr. who in 1945 was a clarinetist of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. Published by Lifestyle.inq. In the article, scroll down to the heading “Goldenberg-Brimo.”
Preparing and performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No.2 is an incredible story all by itself. In 1945, during one of her seven performances of the concerto with the Manila Symphony Orchestra, Mrs. Brimo related to me that the lights went off due to a blackout and the stage was thrown in complete darkness.
Pablo A. Tariman writing for “The Diarist” retold this remarkable story within a fuller account of the concert scene during the Japanese occupation and the liberation of Manila…
I am forever grateful for the years I studied piano under Mrs. Brimo. With her guidance and encouragement, I gained the motivation and courage to give solo piano recitals in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.
I also gained the confidence to dare to participate in the first Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition held 1999 in Fort Worth, Texas. That was a high point of my life in music.
Most of all, it was truly an honour to be on stage with Mrs. Brimo in a two-piano recital. Here’s a clip from that performance, the “Friska” of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2.
In 1990, Mrs. Brimo gave me a gift, an Urtext edition of Chopin’s Sonata Op.35 in B-flat minor. She wrote a dedication on the inside from cover. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to work on this composition under her guidance.
Stella Goldenberg Brimo brought me through a wide concert repertoire: from Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, from Scarlatti to Mozart to Debussy and then Gershwin, from the romance of Chopin to the bravura of Liszt and Prokofiev – and so many more. One of the last lessons she gave me was on Chopin’s Scherzo No.3 Op.39 in C-sharp minor. She passed away before all that needed to be covered was done. I tried to polish it without the much needed benefit of her artistry. I performed it finally for a small group of piano teachers and enthusiasts. It was bittersweet. One in the audience, a piano teacher herself, remarked that Mrs. Brimo would have been happy and content listening to my interpretation.
Thank you, Stella Goldenberg Brimo! My hope is to have the opportunity to pass on to others what I have learned from you.
(PS: My wife and I visited Mrs. Brimo at the hospital before she passed away. Her last words to me were: “Keep practicing the piano.”)