A cello prodigy astounds

Damodar Das Castillo. A music scholar in Vienna at age 11. Photo from the FB page of Jeffrey Solares.


The coincidence is uncanny.

In the early 70s, piano prodigy Cecile Licad entered Curtis Institute in Philadelphia at age 11.

In 2017, cello prodigy Damodar Das Castillo passed the audition at Mozarteum in Vienna at age ten.Now age 11, he is the probably one of the youngest Filipino cello prodigies ever to be seen in the recital circuit. He begins formal studies in Vienna this month.

Meanwhile, he will appear in a recital at the Ayala Museum on Thursday, October 25, 6:30 p.m. with pianist Dingdong Fiel.

Looking at the program which includes a Vivaldi sonata, a Saint-Saens cello concerto and Paganini Variations on a Theme from “Moses in Egitto,” who would think an aspiring cellist at age 11 would touch these technically demanding pieces?

When the young Damodar played with the prizewinning Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra in Vienna last year, the music judges were all eyes and ears on the young cellist who is youngest orchestra member at age 10.

The audition process was quick and swift and result known to father and son in no time at all.

But first he has to brush up on his German to qualify.

As it turned out, he passed the audition and on top of that, he passed the music theory requirements without a hitch.

Damodar Das Castillo in recent performance with MSJO under Jeffrey Solares. A cello prodigy is born.


Before he could commence studies, he already appeared in a recital in the cello class of Prof. Barnara Herzl.

Earlier on YouTube, one heard him play Saint-Saens’ Dying Swan, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee and who did he remind one of?

Cecile Licad of course.

Although the country has a share of good cellists, no one so young made an astounding impression.

After hearing the young Castillo in one of the first recitals streamed live on FB, one can say here at last is another potential candidate for cello stardom which eluded us for many years in the era of Chino Bolipata, Renato Lucas and Wilfredo Pasamba, among others.

Playing the Haydn cello concerto in C with the string section of the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra and the Saint-Saens cello concerto with pianist Dingdong Fiel, you discover a potentially great cellist trapped in a ten-year old body.

His tones and musicality were way beyond his years and indeed how lucky this country is to produce great talents showing great promise at an early age.

Recalls MSJO conductor Jeffrey Solares who is a teacher of Damodar’s mom (Hannah Bartolay) who studied violin at UST. “His mom heard about the MSJO and brought him to me to see if he could join. At age 6, he was much younger and many of the MSJO members were 10 years old and above. Although I could hardly hear his sound due to the small cello he had then, I could tell by just watching him play that he was special. He quickly learned the cello parts of the orchestra pieces we were studying and soon I was featuring him as soloist of the orchestra.”

Solares notes that the cello prodigy behaves like any other normal child but shows a different temperament when it comes to music. “But when it comes to music he is very mature, he knows what he wants and he knows how to express it to me when I accompany him with the orchestra.”

Alvin Castillo, the prodigy’s father, was a cello student of Renato Lucas in UST. A few lessons the boy also had with cellist Anjo Inacay. Later, he got once a month lessons from Lucas.

By the looks of it, the father was the main teacher who taught him beyond solfege and music theory.

Damodar Das Castillo in the cello section of the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra. Super passionate about music. Photo from Jeffrey Solares FB page.

Solares recalls that at one point, the father had to stop working to be able to respond to his son’s demand for daily lessons (music theory and solfege exercises). Because of his son’s special needs, father became full time tutor. The lessons from Lucas had to be given free not only because they couldn’t afford it. The cello mentor recognized the kid has something special.

Luckily, father and son found a special patron in Ernesto Echauz and Standard Insurance. They joined the MSJO in Vienna and one of the Mozarteum professors took notice of Damodar which led to an audition and participation in the summer master classes.

The MSJO conductor is convinced that the cellist’s dad was the prodigy’s secret weapon. “He is a very simple man but he responds very well to the needs of his super talented son.I tell you he is very unassuming and doesn’t behave like a typical stage parent. I guess you help nurture a talent like that with a lot of support not just from the teachers but from the family itself.”

How do you explain the dedication and hard work that this young kid shows?

Cello icon Yo Yo Ma probably has the answer when he said: “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks.”

(For inquiries on the October 25 recital, call Ticketworld (891-9999)and CAEO 782+-7164 ot 0918-347-3027)

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