Another international harvest: Rag-O Duo wins chamber music contest in Bangkok

June and July have been good months for the Philippines in terms of exposure and placing in international music competitions. The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra won first prize in the Summa Cum Laude Youth Music Festival in Vienna, Austria.

Earlier, soprano Myramae T. Meneses, a scholar at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, was one of 10 finalists in the prestigious Hongkong International Operatic Singing Competition where Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Korean operatic superstar Sumi Jo were among the judges.

Tenor Mark Christian Bautista, also studying at Guildhall, finished second place at the Pendine International Voice of the Future finals of the 2018 Llangollen International Musical Eistedfodd in Wales.

And now comes the Rag-O Duo (rag-o is a deep Iloko word for “joy”) made up of pianist Gabriel Allan Ferros Paguirigan and his cousin, flutist John Owen Castro. The two won first prize in the Duo for Piano or One String or Wind Instrument Category at this year’s Princess Galyani Vadhana Ensemble Competition in Bangkok, Thailand.

Flutist John Castro and pianist Gabriel Paguirigan representing the Philippines in Thailand


Paguirigan said, “We decided to use rag-o for our name because we both find unexplainable joy in chamber music. I really hope that the chamber music scene here in the country becomes more alive.”

Their winning pieces for the final round of the contest were: Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. Op. 50 and Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Flute and Piano. Due to the musicians’ conflicting schedules and previous engagements set before they decided to join the contest, they had two weeks to rehearse and prepare before departing from Manila.

To qualify for the first round, they sent an audition video through Richard Facunda-Sy to the Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute. Out of six competitors, the jury chose three duos for the finals.

The pianist recalled, “It was a tight competition. All the competitors who joined are highly skilled. I couldn’t tell who would get in the finals to win. I got to watch the other categories, and I was overwhelmed by the high level of artistry displayed in the competition.”

Castro said he was “nervous, given that it was the first international competition I became a part of. The fact that I was competing together with my cousin gave me confidence.”


For Paguirigan it was “a more intense nervousness compared to what I felt in the National Music Competition for Young Artists mainly because I was representing the country.”

The international jury was composed of Prof. Avedis Kouyoumdjian (piano, Austria), Joost Christiaan Flach (oboe, The Netherlands), Richard Bissil (horn, United Kingdom), Gaël Rassaert (violin, France), Néstor Manuel Pou Rivera (viola, Spain), Leslie Tan (cello, Singapore) and Fiilippo Lattanzi (percussion, Italy). The criteria for judging were not disclosed to any participant.

Audience response was warm. Paguirigan said, “We were given satisfying applause. I think Thais are appreciative of classical music. They were quite shocked when Rag-o Duo was announced the winner for our category.” The second and third prizes went to two Thai groups.

Princess Galyani Vadhana International Ensemble Competition 2018 winner announcement


The duo sought out the jury members for their comments. The pianist said, “The head really liked our performance and told me he would take me in as a student in Austria without hesitation. He gave me his calling card and advised me to start learning German. I don’t think it is a scholarship though. I will have to ask Prof. Kouyoumdjian about it. We also had a masterclass with him on the last day of our stay in Thailand.”

As for a Filipino audience getting a chance to listen to their Bangkok repertoire, Paguirigan announced that the duo will play at a Steinway Boutique and at the University of the Philippines College of Music where they are students. They will play the three pieces that they performed in Thailand along with some more pieces to complete at least an hour and a half concert program. He said, “We are excited to play for you all.”

Things are looking up for the individual members of the duo. Castro leaves for Thailand again for concerts with the Ripieno Ensemble. Paguirigan will perform in a concert at Ayala Museum on Aug. 29.

Asked what they can share with other musicians who will compete internationally, Castro, who is part of several ensembles like Munimuni, an independent pop band, a woodwind quintet and the Ripieno Ensemble PH,apart from being flutist of the Selah Orchestra, answered, “Know that these opportunities are ways to humble us. The point of competing is not proving how good you are but presenting honest, sincere and meaningful music. At the end of the day, everyone wins because everyone learns.”

Paguirigan added, “Prepare well. Have faith in yourself. Try to make friends with the other competitors to lessen the pressure and tension. Pray.”

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