A concert pianist is born

As we all know, most young girls who celebrate their 18th birthday with a lavish ball are called debutantes. Jenna Aziza Salliman, daughter of Basilan Governor Jim Hataman Salliman and his lovely wife Annie, made a different kind of debut. Having turned 18 already, Jenna didn’t need to make her formal entrance to society. What she did was make a stunning entrance into that rarified sphere of classical pianists. She recently took center stage in her premiere recital at the auditorium of the College of Statistics in UP Diliman.

By: Ayunan G. Gunting

Pretty in her long white dress, Jenna still managed to look every inch the debutante as she took the stage.  She made her entrance with a minimum of fuss or drama. She walked straight to the grand piano and went right into business with her first piece for the evening: Johann Sebastian Bach’s lilting Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp major BWV 848 and Prelude and Fugue in F major BWV 856.

Bach’s exuberant yet soothing melodies seemed so apt for the young lady performing it. There is a youthful and playful vigor in her performance.  She did seem to have a great love for this masterpiece. She played it effortlessly, it’s as if she was playing with a childhood friend.

Jenna was only 6 years old when she began taking piano lessons. Her mom Annie had acquired an upright piano and all her children took lessons from Mrs. Jennifer dela Cruz. During the reception following the recital, the mentor marveled over the talent of the Salliman children. “She also has an older brother who is very good and he’s attending law school now. But it was Jenna who really stood out. She showed real promise,” she said.

Jenna later took master classes with the esteemed piano pedagogues Ng Chong Lim, Fr. Manuel Maramba OSB, Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz, Roberta Rust, and Adam Kent, among others. She is presently under the tutelage of Professor Anthony Yu Say of the University of Sto. Tomas Conservatory of Music. (He is currently the president of the Piano Teacher’s Guild of the Philippines Foundation.) For the past 10 years now, Jenna has been a participant of the annual public recitals of both the Piano Teachers Guild and the UST Conservatory of Music.

She also took part in the 2013 Opusfest held in Antipolo City, the 2018 International Taipei Maestro Festival, and the Manila International Master Class Festival. She won 1st Place in the 2017 Piano Teacher’s Guild Sonata and Sonatina Competition, and 3rd Place in the recent Bach and Baroque Competition, Category B2.

It could easily be surmised that after finishing high school, Jenna would enter the UST Conservatory of Music. As Prof. Say put it, her capability as a pianist is already at conservatory levels. But much to our surprise, Jenna is currently a freshman student at the UP College of Statistics! (Hence it was the venue of the recital.) Because she is a graduate of the Philippine Science High School, she is bound by law to major in pure or applied sciences, mathematics, or engineering.

According to Mrs. Jennifer dela Cruz, people who excel in mathematics tend to be just as talented in music. She cited the eminent concert pianist Raul Sunico who graduated from UP Diliman with degrees in Music and Mathematics, and Masters in Statistics.

in full force
In full force: Jenna’s dad, Basilan Governor Jim Hataman, cousin Amina Umara Turabin-Hataman, ARMM First Lady Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, and yours truly

Jenna’s proud daddy Governor Salliman said she at first wanted to take up medicine. “But piano became her passion and she hopes to eventually pursue a degree in Piano Performance,” he said.

When it became obvious that Jenna’s talent would extend from numbers to musical notes, her parents bought her a grand piano. During her recent recital, Jenna showed the audience that her parents did right by giving their complete support to their daughter’s passion for classical music. They beamed with pride as Jenna tackled the works of Ludwig van Beethoven (Piano Sonata No. 6), Claude-Achille Debussy (“L’Isle Joyeuse”), and Francisco Santiago (“Souvenir de Filipinas”).

Her final piece for the evening was Charles-Camille Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 Op.22 in G Minor. For this performance, she was joined by noted collaborating artist Mary Anne Espina. Composed of three movements, the piece usually requires an orchestra to accompany the pianist.   Espina served as the collaborating pianist instead. The three movements are characterized by a series of emotions, with the first movement being dominated by melancholy. The second movement is lighthearted and energetic while the final movement is fiery. The two pianists were up to the task as they responded to each other with much fervor.

The audience was mesmerized, especially since Jenna beautifully captured the spirit and emotion of the music. For one so young and yet to be so cognizant of the soul of the timeless works of the great composers is amazing. Jenna plays it with élan yet she makes it seem easy. And she wasn’t one to rely on emoting or theatrical antics to impress the audience.

In fact, this piano virtuoso is so unpretentious. She was also too modest to accept the bouquet of flowers offered to her after the performance. This down-to-earth attitude is a testament to the way she was raised by her parents. Her astounding talent, on the other hand, is a reflection of the genes she inherited from them.

Nevertheless, we were compelled to ask the Honorable Governor what he was feeding his overachieving children when they were growing up!


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