CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AT THE VILLAGE. A structure placed at the Rose Garden of the Burnham Park that welcomes promenaders to the European-inspired Christmas Village thereat. (PNA photo by Pigeon Lobien)

BAGUIO CITY – Baguio residents swarmed the Rose Garden of the Burnham Park Sunday night to see the city's European-inspired Christmas Village and watch the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) perform.

"We are so happy with the crowd," said the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president Nick Lizaso as he basked at the monstrous crowd estimated to be around 15,000.

It was an effort worth it, said the theater-trained Lizaso who squeezed in the PPO's busy schedule Baguio to open the Christmas Village at the Burnham that unofficially kicked off the Christmas season in Baguio.

“It is why we chose today, since we cannot be here on the first day of December,” said Lizaso after the record setting 15,000 people who came in to watch the orchestra play Filipino songs, classics, Christmas tunes and popular including the Fab 4 or Beatles, that served as encore to their one and half hour performance.

Lizaso said the 15,000-crowd broke the 12,000 they recorded in Bacolod, as the orchestra played to the delight of the record crowd who called on them to stay after the encore to play more songs - which they did.

Lizaso squeezed in their schedule Baguio since they will not be able to come on December 1, the traditional opening of the Christmas season here since they have an engagement in Boracay.

He brought in the cultural dancers Friday to perform at the University of the Cordilleras (UC), the ensemble also performed at the Rose Garden Sunday night for the Christmas Villages' soft opening.

"There was a request for the orchestra and we accommodated the mayor and (lead organizer) Gladys de Vera since we already have the dancers here, so up they came para minsanan na lang (so it can be done at the same time)," Lizaso said.

The PPO opened with the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini, followed by the Nutcracker Suite by Peter Ilyicj Tschiakovsky then the Nicanor Abelardo, Angel Pena arranged “Mutya ng Pasig”. Then soprano Nerissa de Juan took over with the orchestra taking a break, which came back to play Ryan Cayabyab's “Kumukutikutitap”, The “Way We Were” that was arranged by Orlando dela Cruz and “Ilocandia again” by national artist for music Cayabyab.

The Nightingales then took center stage who performed for 15 minutes then the orchestra came back with Broadway “Tonight” by Bruce Chase, Cayabyab's version of Iloco classic “Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing” and Jose Estrella's “Ang Maya”.

Soprano Bernadette Mamauag came in for an intermission prior to the orchestra's Leroy Anderson rendition of the “Christmas Festival” and “Sleigh Ride” followed by “I Will Follow Him” made popular by the movie Sister Act and composed by Franck Pourcel and Paul Mauriat, and arranged by Adolfo Mendoza and Derrick Atangan.

The Nightingales came back anew as the PPO took a breather to prepare for the closing Beatle's Christmas “Tune Medley” with the singers.

Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong congratulated the organizers and thanked the artists for a well-received performance at the Village saying he will have the stage remain so that future performances will be staged at the Rose Garden.

“As you can see this was a great performance and I congratulate those who organized this event and I thank the PPO and the CCP for coming here to perform," said Magalong, who was bursting with glee after the closing ceremony of the Ibagiw Festival at the Diplomat Hotel at Heritage Hill some three kilometers away where he saw artistry at its finest.

Magalong vowed full support of arts as he said the former Diplomat Hotel will be the "artists/creatives" home and its upgrade will be a priority for the city.

"I am giving them two weeks, no say three, to come out with a proposal that will see the improvement of the former Diplomat Hotel," he told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) after the PPO performance.

Magalong said he wants to see year-round activities in the city with the creatives and artists behind it.

"I want to see monthly performances or festivals with the full backing of the city government," he said.

The Burnham performance is one of the initial activities prior to the 37-day Christmas in Baguio festivities called "An Enchanting Baguio Christmas".

It will officially kick off on December 1 with the Children's Mardi Gras in the morning and the Saint Louis University led Lantern Parade.

From there, the Christmas lights, trees along Session Road will be lit and the Light Show at the Malcolm Square.

It will be followed by a fireworks display.

Weekly performances will be staged at the Christmas Village including the Nutcracker that will see a smash-up by the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) silent drill and ballet.

Other events include the gift-giving of 100 indigent children with their "Kuyas and Ates" as a guide on December 14.

Meanwhile, the 46-year-old Silahis ng Pasko will be launched on December 1 during the Children's Mardi Gras.

Weekly events include the search for the Lucky Christmas Family, indigent families one each from Baguio and nearby Tuba was given a royal treatment and gifts on December 7 and 8, the Special Olympics for Special People (blind, paraplegic, deaf and mute) on December 15.

On December 22, it will be a day with very sick children at the Baguio General Hospital; followed by the selection of the Christmas Baby on December 25 at the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC); the “Tala” and “Kislap” awards for the elderly and athletes on Dec. 30 and search for the new year baby on January 1. (PNA)