Damodar Das Castillo, 13, made music history when he won his fifth first prize in international music competition.
A scholar at Salzburg Mozarteum, Castillo won first prize (category C) in the Musica Goritiensis International Music Competition in Italy held May 29 to June 2, 2021.
The competition based in Gorizia, Italy was supposed to be live at Theater Kulturni. But the sudden upsurge of COVID-19 changed the plan of the competition organizers.
At the last minute, qualified contestants had to submit videos instead of flying to Italy.
Castillo submitted a video of him playing Auguste Franchomme’s Caprice no. 9 in b minor Op.72, a second movement from Francois Francoeur’s Cello Sonata in E Major and the first movement from Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Opus 85.
Slovenian cellist Sifrara Ivana and Austrian cellist Kolloros Maximimilan took the second prize while another three Slovenians tied for the third prize.
Now in his pre-college studies, the cellist said he was just asked to prepare for the Tchaikovsky competition in October and he ended up testing the waters in Gorizia.
"The next thing I knew, I won."
He said his teacher -- Prof. Barbara Leubke -- was very encouraging.
"She is always there during rehearsals and concert to give support and advice."
In the jury were distinguished cellists and music teacher Wilfried Tachezi (Austria), Federico Magris (Italy), Igor Mitrović (Slovenia), Branimir Pustički (Croatia) and Carlo Teodoro (Italy).
Tachezi toured with the Vienna Soloists and the Austrian String Quartet through Europe, the USA, Japan, South America and the Orient. In 1969, he taught a cello class at the Mozarteum University Salzburg and in 1972 he became a member of the Capella Coloniensis of West German Radio. In 1980 he became a professor and from 1983 to 1997 he was head of the string school at the Mozarteum University Salzburg.
Magris completed his studies under the guidance of M° Mike Shirvani and graduated with full marks at the Conservatory “A. Casella” in L’Aquila. His concert activity has led him to perform throughout Europe as a soloist and in chamber ensembles, participating in seasons and festivals such as “Perugia Classico” and “Festival Barocco” in Viterbo.
Mitrović started learning cello in Belgrade and studied in Ljubljana and Basel with Miloš Mlejnik, Antonio Meneses and Walter Levin (LaSalle Quartett). During his studies, he also took part in summer master classes with Daniel Shafran, Janos Starker and Boris Pergamenschikov among others. In 2005 he became a profesor at the Carinthian State Conservatory in Klagenfurt, Austria.
Cellist Branimir Pustički graduated from the Zagreb Academy of Music under the guidance of Valter Dešpalj, and later studied with Reinhard Latzko in Vienna and Jakob Kullberg in Stavanger, Norway. He is the winner of numerous national and international competitions and awards, including the Young Musician of the Year award of the Zagreb Philharmonic and American Express, the first prize and audience prize at the International “J. Brahms” competition in Austria and the first prize and HDS award at the “Boris Papandopulo” competition in the chamber music category.
Among the competitions where he won the top prize were 2017 First North Competition International Music Autumn (online), the 2nd ||Talinn, Estonia 2018 Competition for Young Artists, the 3rd International Artur Rubinstein Competition in Competition in Dusseldorf, Germany (2020), the 4th Young Ludwig International Music Competition in Berlin, Germany (2020) and now the 5th Musica Goritiensis in Gorizia, Italy.
Damodar also received a special prize (silver) in the recently concluded 3rd Vienna International Music Competition.
Ernesto Echauz of Standard Insurance is a consistent patron in all the cellist’s studies and competition requirements.
Behind winning international competitions, the prodigy lives a normal life.He plays table tennis, basketball and football and is keen on playing heavy metal music on his cello.
The cellist’s father, Alvin Castillo, said his work as guardian is limited to processing competition applications and finalizing hotel bookings.
"I just remind him about the competition date and I leave it to him to practice or not. I am not really that concerned if he wins or not. I am only concerned about how he will handle results of his preparations."
As a kid, it was just natural that his son would be lured by gadgets and video games.
"When he started regular school last year, he lost interest in music and with very little time to practice. Then I told him if he wants to stop regular schooling, it’s up to him. Then he slowed down on gadgets and now he enjoys playing music again and back to being a happy kid."
Father and son have practical approach to coping with the pandemic.
"For us, it’s just a virus. So I just make sure our immune system gets stronger by eating all the healthy food and doing regular exercises. For us, we really don’t mind, because it is just a virus. But I make sure our immune system get stronger like eating all the healthy foods, exercise. And just follow what the government thinks will help like wearing mask. I still like to think that a good immune system is better than the vaccines," Alvin said.
But the teenage prodigy’s concerns might just go beyond music.
He is in search of the absolute truth and may yet start a new spiritual life beyond Bach and Beethoven.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)