A Philippine choir does it again!
Kammerchor Manila (KM), under conductor Anthony Go Villanueva, bagged the Grand Prix and the Best Conductor Prize in the recently concluded Queen of the Adriatic Sea Choral Festival and Competition in Italy.
Their winning piece was Dan Forrest’s “Entreat Me Not To Leave You.”
The competition was streamed online from June 4 to 6, and saw the Philippine choir beating participants from equally excellent choirs from Armenia, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Poland, UK, USA, and Russia.
"Of course, we are happy and excited," conductor Villanueva said.
"It is an honor to be the first choir to get the grand prix during the pandemic. I recall the sacrifices of training and coaching them online, with the internet not always reliable. It is tough what we went through," he added. "It is no joke to virtually train them individually with bad internet connections. You can't really hear their sounds individually. And the most frustrating part is that you can't harmonize virtually."
A University of Santo Tomas (UST) graduate major in piano and choral conducting, Villanueva has guest conducted in various choirs like the Hangzhou Philharmonic Choir in Hangzhou, China in 2018. He was also a guest lecturer in a series of choral workshop in China and Korea.
The Philippine choir earlier won in two categories (Sacred Music and Popular, Folk, Spiritual/Gospel Choirs), which allowed them to qualify in the grand prix category.
The conductor shared his life honing a choir during the pandemic: "Choral conducting is a mixture of passion, creativity, and more passion and commitment. There are many frustrating moments in this work involving 38 singers. But it's fulfilling when you get to see them as your own sons and daughters that you have to nurture and teach, and help develop into the best they can be."
"When you see the result, all the difficult moments teaching them become totally rewarding. I delight in realizing that I have also become part of their growth in choral music."
KM was founded in 1992 by Prof. Fidel Calalang, who is also behind the internationally acclaimed UST Singers.
Calalang said KM was one of those choirs he founded while he was discovering his love and passion for choral music.
"After full-time teaching at UST which left me very little time for the choir, new directors took over. Anthony (Villanueva), who was my student at UST and member at UST Singers from many years, took over 2011 and brought the Kammerchor to greater heights and high level of artistry by winning prizes in international competitions," he said.
On the side, Calalang said the UST Singers have just released two albums on Spotify and come July, they will release virtual videos featuring his new works for choir and soprano. "It is a totally new exciting project."
Choir director Vilanueva said he owes a lot to KM founder Calalang. "He is my biggest inspiration as I strive to be good in what I am doing. He instilled discipline during my days with UST Singers and always admonished us to put our hearts in all our performances," he said.
Before the pandemic, KM participated in various choral festivals and competitions in Asia and Europe.
In 2017, it won the Grand Prix at the 1st Leonardo Da Vinci International Choral Festival on top of being the category winner for Mixed Choir; Modern and Contemporary Music; and Popular, Folk, Gospel, Barbershop, Jazz, and Modern Ensemble.
The choir also won a gold diploma and placed second in Sacred Music, as well as the Audience Prize. It was recognized in 2016 and 2019 by the National Commission for Culture as the recipient of the Ani ng Dangal Award. It was also hailed as Absolute Winner during the Grand Prix round competition at the 42nd Festival of Songs in Olomouc, Czech Republic in 2014.
This year, for the first time, the competition had to be conducted online, with participating countries sending filmed entries. Thus a new category was born called "virtual choirs."
Festival director Andrea Angelini said the festival was conceived to give equal opportunity for mutual exchange between different cultures.
Meanwhile, the conductor is determined to keep the choir anchored to its pillar which translates into a commitment to excellence in music, friendship, and service to God.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")