Monday, August 7, 2017

Victory in Vienna

The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra at the Brahms Hall of the Musikverein where they had their warm-up before entering the Golden Hall for the competition

The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra (MSJO) capped its first-time visit to Europe by winning the second prize “With Outstanding Success” at the 11th Summa Cum Laude (SCL)Youth Music Festival held July 8 in Vienna, Austria. Thirty-four MSJO members, led by conductor Jeffrey Solares, performed before a jury and an audience that broke into non-stop applause after they finished the competition piece, Mozart’s “Divertimento No. 1 in D major, K. 136,” at the Musikverein’s Golden Hall.

Solares said there were six contestants in the strings category: two from Australia, two from Taiwan, one from Denmark, plus MSJO. The first prize went to Chin Ai String Orchestra whose members are from an indigenous group from a small village in Taiwan.

The MSJO went on to fulfill five concert commitments after the contest. The first was held July 9 at the Muth concert hall; followed by July 10 at the Kolpinhaus Wien-Leopoldstadt; July11 at the Winner's Gala Concert at the famous Konzerthaus after which there was an awarding ceremony at the Vienna City Hall. On July 13, they performed at the Rudolfinum Theatre in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Final concert was at Munch Festsall on July 15.

Interviewed online while in Vienna, Sara Maria Gonzales, violin/viola coach of the three-year-old MSJO and associate concertmaster of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, recalled the excitement of the day before the performance: “The entire morning happened so fast. We left the hotel at around 8:30 a.m. and went straight to Musikverein. We had little time to bring out the instruments and tune them. We went to the Golden Hall and waited outside for 15 minutes before we could go to the Brahms Hall to do a 20-minute warm-up. There were not enough music stands for everybody, but we managed to rehearse because the kids already memorized most of the pieces.”

Before their rehearsal, the MSJO was led to the Golden Hall to watch the Thai Youth Orchestra. Gonzales rated them as “very good. They played a piece that their late King wrote. All groups watch the performance of the previous orchestra and the orchestra after us.”

When the MSJO was called in, she said, “Everything happened so fast. We didn’t feel nervous. I played with the viola section. Most of the kids were excited to play at the Musikverein. I guess we were already very much prepared. We’ve played our repertoire on many concert occasions already before coming here.”

The jurors like Saul Zaks also expressed happiness, singling out the MSJO soloists who took turns in playing the solo parts for the Bartok’s “Rumanian Folk Dances”: Micah Pecson (orchestra concertmaster), Emanuel Villarin and Luigi Torres.

It is not the first time a Filipino group joined the SCL Festival. In the past, the Musikito String Orchestra from Malabon participated in the fest in 2010, but Gonzales said, “What is more appropriate to say is that this is the first time that a young Filipino string orchestra bagged a major prize at the prestigious SCL Festival.”

The MSJO at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

She described a peculiarity of the announcement of winners. “The announcement of results did not happen publicly at the Golden Hall. It was by a private phone call to the artistic director of the SCL, Mr. Jürgen Partaj. We were instructed to call him at 9 p.m. Our competition was at 10:55 a.m. After we performed, one of the jurors spoke to our group to welcome us and give comments. He waited for some time because the applause of the people was prolonged. He thanked us for performing and noted that the entire jury appreciates us coming all the way from the Philippines and having prepared well for the competition. They also gave a special commendation to the soloists of our orchestra.”

The festival also features events involving choirs and bands apart from orchestras.

To prepare for the SCL Festival, the MSJO had a two-day workshop with European conductor Thanos Adamopolous, a frequent Manila visitor. He was impressed with the group. Gonzales said, “That is why I felt that we were ready for the competition. I did not have expectations because I did not know the level of our competitors. So when I learned that we are in second place, I was happy. We asked our tour manager to make the call. The kids were so happy they ran up to the hotel rooms and informed everyone. They were screaming and crying with joy. They were hugging everybody. Even the parents were happy. We are a big group--69 all in all, 37 musicians. The receptionist had to go up to tell us to be quiet.”

The group earlier made a pilgrimage to Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart. Gonzales said, “Being in these places is like seeing what the great composers saw during their time here. It gives us a stronger connection and understanding of classical music and how it came to be. Europe is a beautiful place. The composers have so much inspiration to draw from in here. Yesterday we attended a Mozart Misa Brevis at the St Stephen Cathedral. There was a live orchestra and choir. Just being inside that church is an emotional experience for me and hearing the beautiful music of Mozart during mass is heavenly. It makes me think of great things, great plans, ideas. I am inspired from all of this. The Philippines is far from the culture they have here. Experiencing their culture definitely will influence my understanding of classical music.”

The MSJO returned to the Philippines July 17. Solares and Gonzales proceeded to Paris to join five of their students participating at the Copain Du Monde Camp. A victory concert is being organized.

The MSJO at Nussdorf am Attersee, near Salzburg, during their first concert in Europe. Conductor Jeffrey Solares stands at right.
Photos from the Facebook page of the MSJO
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