Starweek Magazine

A thousand voices lifted in song

Michele T. Logarta - The Philippine Star
A thousand voices lifted in song
Vocalista Harmonic Choir ISI from Yogyakarta, Indonesia

MANILA, Philippines — Like Filipino beauty queens, Filipino choirs are among the winningest in the international arena and, like basketball courts in town plazas, are popular fixtures in churches and schools across the nation.

Choral concerts draw the biggest crowds to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The concerts of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, popularly known as the Madz, the CCP’s resident choral company and Asia’s most awarded choral ensemble, fill up the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) that has over 1,800 seats. At a Madz concert, you’ll have screaming fans, CCP artistic director Chris Millado attests.

Every two years since 2013, the CCP has been the scene of fever pitch excitement and lively competition among choirs from all over the country and abroad as they converge for the Andrea O. Veneracion International Choral Festival (AOVICF). Named after the founder of the Madz, the competition honors National Artist for Music Veneracion and continues her mission of nurturing the passion and love for choral singing.

This July, the atmosphere at the CCP promises to be even more electric as the CCP holds the fourth edition of the festival on July 18-21 and the very first Asia Choral Grand Prix (ACGP) on July 21.

The Grand Prix is the only one of its kind in the region and is modelled after the European Grand Prix where winners of the six most prestigious choral competitions in Europe – Tours (France), Tolosa (Spain), Varna (Bulgaria), Maribor (Slovenia), Debrecen (Hungary) and Arezzo (Italy) – compete for the plum.

The men and women behind the Asia Choral Grand Prix

The Madz, led by Mark Anthony Carpio, Veneracion’s chosen successor, has the singular distinction as the only Asian choir to have won the European Grand Prix not once but twice – truly an unparalleled feat and definitely something for Filipinos to crow about.

“It is fitting for our country to spearhead the Grand Prix because the Philippines is really known for its talent in choral singing. This is proven by the many Filipino choirs who have joined and won international competitions,” says Melissa Corazon Mantaring, festival director, head of CCP Artist Training Division and in charge of CCP’s music programming. 

In 2017, the CCP initiated meetings in Manila with representatives of two important Asian choral competitions – the Bali International Choir Festival and the Singapore International Choral Festival – to discuss the prospect of organizing a regional Grand Prix, and a memorandum of understanding was signed in September.

“The Grand Prix is a true competition of champions. You have to be the best of the best,” Millado says.

Singapore International Choral Festival associate artistic director Yong Chee Foon and artistic director Lim Ai Hooi; Bali International Choir Festival artistic director Tommyanto Kandisaputra; Philippine Madrigal Singers choirmaster and artistic director Mark Anthony Carpio; AOVICF festival director Melissa Mantaring; Philippine Madrigal Singers executive director Alfred Samonte; CCP vice president and artistic director Chris Millado.

The top two winners of the Philippine, Bali and Singapore festivals will compete in the Grand Prix that will be held every two years. The next Grand Prix will be in Indonesia in 2021, then in Singapore in 2023. 

Bali International Choir Festival (BICF), an annual choral event organized by Bandung Choral Society whose mission is to develop choir life in Indonesia, is increasingly recognized as one of the finest festivals in the world and continuously attracts outstanding and enthusiastic choirs to participate.

Held in Denpasar, Bali, it provides an international event for choirs in Indonesia and all over the world to perform their music and share the beauty and culture with others, Tommyanto Kandisaputra, president of Bandung Choral Society says.

“We promote not only singing movement but peace movement, bringing people and nations together to build friendship, networks and understanding among nations,” Kandisaputra says.  

The Singapore festival was established in 2014. Festival director Lim Ai Hooi in her welcome message for the 2019 SICF said that “there is nothing better than choral music to bind a community and serve as a bridge between generations.” 

Lim observes that the Singapore choral scene has been very active in its own limited space (within Singapore). The ACGP, says Lim, is “a good collaboration among the Asian choral festivals. Put aside our differences and learn from/work with each other. Hosting in different country will show the different characteristics and cultures of the country.”

For this first ACGP, six choirs are in competition; five Indonesian and one Filipino. Quite remarkable is the big presence of Indonesia. 

Kandisaputra says that singing is a culture in every tribe and place in Indonesia. “We have huge sources of melody and different ways of singing. Sacred music developed in church in the 1950,” he explains.  “The choirs from Indonesia have been working hard to present wonderful performance in the Asia Grand Prix. They commissioned new pieces and dig more from our beautiful culture to show.” 

Vocalista Harmonic Choir ISI Yogyakarta (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) and The St. Louis High School Choir (Surabaya, Indonesia) represent the SICF while Paduan Suara Mahasiswa Universitas Padjadjaran (Bandung, Indonesia) and e Deum Voice (Medan, Indonesia) represent the BICF. For the AOVICC, it is The Brawijaya University Student Choir (Malang, Indonesia) and the UP Los Baños Choral Ensemble (Laguna, Philippines), the lone Filipino choir.

UPLB Choral Ensemble has just returned victorious from Europe where they won 2nd place in the Cantarode Competition in Netherlands and 1st prize in the Marktoberdorf competition in Germany. As one of the top two winners of the 2017 AOVICC, they earned a slot to compete at the 1st ACGP.

Conductor Roijin Galauran Suarez recalls preparing for the 2017 AOVICF as “quite challenging especially that we also had another competition abroad 10 days prior to AOV. Moreover, the contest piece “Daluyong” added a different level of difficulty to both its technical and emotional aspects. But the song itself helped unlock our emotions even more which made our experience more meaningful and made us see the hope ahead of us.”

To prepare for the ACGP, Suarez says they continue with their regular rehearsals to learn the songs for the competition. “But since we got accepted to two competitions in Europe (the Netherlands and Germany) late last year, we saw this as an opportunity for our growth in preparation also for the ACGP. It was pretty challenging, especially in searching for funds for the tour and for the needed vocal workshops and choral clinics. In addition, the members also are expected to do well in their academics. So there are a lot of things to juggle, but we know we have done our very best in preparing for the ACGP.”

A distinguished jury will select the winners for both competitions.  The judges are: Werner Pfaff (Germany), Jason Max Ferdinand (US), Mark Anthony Carpio (Philippines), Digna Guerra (Cuba) and David Squire (New Zealand).

“The jury invited to adjudicate the competitions of the AOVICF are the best in the choral field,” Mantaring says. “We make sure that they come from different parts of the world.” 

For the AOVICF, 12 choirs will be showcased: Don Bosco Makati Boscorale, Chór Pueri et Puellae Cantores Plocenses (Poland), Chorus Vocales Philippines, Far Eastern University Chorale, Gloria Patri Singers, Miriam College High School Glee Club, Philippine Normal University, Kalibnusan Chorale, Philippine Vocal Ensemble, St. Paul Pasig High School Chorale, Technological Institute of the Philippines Choral Society, University of Baguio Voices Chorale and the Voice of Satya Wacana Christian University (Indonesia).

 Tickets are available at the CCP Box Office (832-3704) and TicketWorld (891-9999). For schedules and other details, visit www.culturalcenter.gov.ph

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