Greg Zuniega, PHSA’s first alumnus-turned-director

By Irene de Jesus Obligacion

Our featured artist today is pianist Greg Zuniega. He graduated valedictorian of his batch at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and was consistently on the Chancellor’s List, earning the highest point average for two semesters he spent at the University of the Philippines (UP), as a Maria-CCP (Makiling Academy) scholar.

Pianist Greg Zuniega performs and lectures in classical and Filipino music.

He pursued further studies at the Tchaikovsky Moscow State Conservatory and finished his undergraduate and post graduate degrees at the Royal College of Music in London. He is also a holder of the following degrees — BS Economics (London School of Economics) and Master’s in Public Management (UP).

He has performed in North America, Europe and Asia. He has been a featured soloist of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO); Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra.

We interviewed Greg in our radio program, “Culture Carousel” aired every Saturday from 12noon to 1 p.m. at 98.7DZFE-FM, the Master’s Touch. Here is that interview.

You received the Tagere Gold Medal for Excellence by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. What was the experience like?

The Royal College of Music’s patron was the Queen and she attended our awarding ceremony, which was very exciting. I feel blessed that this special event was part of my young life as a musician, which was very challenging as I had to juggle studies with my work as a freelance musician (playing in hotels, weddings, or as a resident church pianist, and in chamber music concerts, etc.) As I was a scholar, but had to work towards my other expenses, the award was an added bonus to what I learned in London.

You graduated valedictorian from PHSA and is now its director. How does it feel to be the first graduate from PHSA and be in that position?

The PHSA has been in existence for 44 years and my appointment as its director — first alumnus to occupy such a position — means that somehow, the PHSA is in the right direction since it was mandated to develop young artists who are being equipped to become the country’s cultural leaders and to preserve and promote Filipino art and Filipino artists.

What is an excellent artist for you?

When I was young, my definition of excellence was focused on honing one’s craft, practicing toward perfection, to the point of having narrow single vision. Now that I am more mature, excellence has something to do with being able to contribute something to society — in particular, Philippine society — where there are big issues such as poverty, over population alongside little support for the arts. An excellent artist in an underdeveloped country such as the Philippines needs to educate his/her audience, especially the young generation, which does not have the proper exposure to classical performances either in music or dance.

Now that you are a teacher, what are the most important things you can advise your students to enable them to become outstanding artists like yourself someday?

We have to encourage young artists as distractions abound nowadays. Now that the pandemic is still not in full control, many of our artists have faced unemployment.

However, I believe in the resilience and creativity of Pinoys, who had to temporarily think of earning a living the unusual way such as doing online business. Discipline is a basic requirement for all artists and the determination to be heard by an audience is equally important. While artists constantly face pressure and uncertainty, it is important to have faith in God, the ultimate source of all wisdom and creativity.