John Florencio is a Filipino-American pianist and musical director based in Paris since 2008. Born in Manila, he received his musical education at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he launched his career as a soloist, vocal accompanist, musical director and educator. Since 2006 he has worked the charity circuit with Filipino-American singer Stephanie Reese in support of the UNICEF Make a Wish Foundation and of Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, an international non-profit organization based in the Philippines.
In 2012 John cofounded the American Musical Theatre Live! Paris, a non-profit association and professional training program for artists in the Parisian musical theatre circuit. This association has led to further collaborations with several new Broadway songwriters. In 2013 he directed the Paris premieres of Pasek and Paul’s Edges and of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years and Songs for a New World to critical acclaim.
We caught up with John in his Canal Saint Martin apartment to ask about his current projects and life philosophy.
What has been the biggest audience you’ve played for? What has been the smallest?
The biggest audience was a crowd of 20,000 in Vienna in 1990 with the Oakland Youth Orchestra for the 400th anniversary of the city of Vienna. The smallest audience was 10 total including the technical crew, staff, actors, and a Golden Retriever. That was on West 36th Street in New York City in 2005 for the one-woman show of a female Elvis impersonator. This show ran as an off-off-Broadway theatre production called Inside Cherry Pitz, and that performance was during a major blizzard.
What was your 2014 like?
It was fantastic but a lot of it was spent on the road. I collaborated with Lisandro Nesis who is a former American Musical Theatre Live! Paris student originally from Argentina. With Lisandro I went to Buenos Aires to create a cabaret review mixing French, Argentinian and North American artists. In addition to that show we also conducted successful musical theatre master classes. That mixing of cultures inspired me to produce my own show in Manila, Crossing Cultures: Through Music and Song, also about the blending of three different cultures.
In 2014, I composed and performed my first composition Come, Make a Little Step of Peace in Germany for UNICEF. Each year UNICEF commissions a song from a variety of genres from pop to reggae to jazz. I was asked to compose the melody and orchestrations. The lyrics were written by UNICEF chairman Heribert Klein. It was interpreted by Sophia Ragavelas (now in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats as Grizabella). Musicians were Kevin D’agostino on drums, Vladimir Medail on guitar and Hugues Lemaire on bass. They are all French musicians except for the singer.
In December I played a concert with Lisandro in New York.
What projects started the new year of 2015?
The year started out working with seasoned professionals here in Paris on productions such as Un Noël à New York at the Comédie Nation as well as the popular concert series Broadway au Carré and The Songwriters Salon at Le Carré Parisien. I continue sharing my knowledge about American musical theatre with the international community. I enjoy helping people achieve their goals in this business. That’s probably why my students say I am an effective vocal coach.
Who are some of your musical influences, both performers and composers?
The pianists Sviatoslav Richter, Arthur Rubinstein and Glenn Gould among the departed. Among the living I like Martha Argerich and Cecile Licad, among the newcomers I like Yeol Eum Son and Vadym Kholodenko. As for Broadway composers Stephen Sondheim and Michel Legrand have definitely influenced me the most. My favorite classical composers are Chopin, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Prokofliev.
What are you working on at the moment?
Well, I have a few things going on right now. Besides being the subject of a documentary by Todd Holland, a San Francisco-based filmmaker, I’m in intensive rehearsals to mount here in Paris the first production outside New York of Ordinary Days, a new musical by Adam Gwon. It will also be at theComédie Nation. In June I’m playing a recital in Luxembourg with two sopranos from the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working hard to bring a Filipino production of Marco Polo: An Untold Love Story to Paris. It’s opening at the Vingtième Théâtre on June 17 for five performances. Once again, it’s a meeting of various cultures.
With all this travelling where do you consider home?
If “home“ means where I was born it is Manila. If home means where my family lives it is California. If home means where my musical soul resides then it is New York. But if home means where I have my piano then it is Paris.