Arts & Culture

After Rostropovich and Wen-Sinn Yang, Damodar Das Castillo reprises the Dvorak cello concerto

. Damodar Das Castillo at 16. He has outgrown instinctive music making during his boyhood days

Cellist Damodar das Castillo has a tough act to follow when he interprets the Dvorak cello concerto May 4, 7:30 p.m. with the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Finnish conductor Sasha Makila at the Samsung Theater in Circuit Mall, Makati.

Late last year, the same concerto was performed by Swiss cellist Wen-Sinn Yang with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under Gregorz Novak and was received with a shouting ovation.

The Swiss cellist was earlier described as “a worthy successor to Mstislav Rostropovich” by a Frankfurt newspaper after performance of the Shostakovich concerto.

Filipino audiences had a taste of the Shostakovich concerto when distinguished German cellist Alban Gerhardt performed it with the PPO under Oscar Yatco back to back with Cecile Licad’s Bartok piano concerto.

Rostropovich himself was soloist of the PPO in the performance of the same concerto in 1982 after which he received a standing ovation and shower of rose petals and another award as International Artist of Distinction.

Earlier, young artists like PHSA music scholar Victor Michael Coo performed the Dvorak concerto with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under Rodel Colmenar and was declared by a music lover as a young “Filipino Yo -Yo Ma.”

Damodar rehearsing with conductor Sasha Makila.

While Castillo is only 16, he has made music history  when he won five first prizes in international competitions among them the 2017 First North Competition International Music Autumn (online), the 2nd Talinn, Estonia 2018 Competition for Young Artists, the 3rd International Artur Rubinstein Competition in Dusseldorf, Germany (2020), the 4th Young Ludwig International Music Competition in Berlin, Germany (2020) and the5th Musica Goritiensis in Gorizia, Italy.

At one time, Damodar also received a special prize (silver) in the 3rd Vienna International Music Competition.

One of Damodar’s well-received outreach concerts was at the historic Nelly Garden in Iloilo City in 2019 shortly before the pandemic.

A commissioned piece by this writer (based on a popular Ilonggo folksong also popular in Bicol) drew ripples among the Ilonggo crowd and somewhere midway into the music, the piece had some parts of the crowd singing.

Indeed, the popular folksong, Ohoy Alibangbang, left many Ilonggos teary-eyed and it was a double surprise that a 12-year old played the piece with so much poignancy.

The 12-year old Damodar at historic Nelly Garden in Iloilo City.

The cello version of Ohoy Alibangbang elicited a standing ovation led by Sen. Franklin M. Drilon and more deafening applause. They have not heard that piece in a long, long time and when it was resurrected as a cello piece, the senior citizens in the crowd retreated into mass nostalgia. Many in the audience admitted the encore number was a lullaby sang by their parents to put them to sleep.

The most apt pacifier was the third encore, Saint-Saens’ Dying Swan, which capped an evening of pure cello magic.

Within hours after the recital, the cello version of Ohoy Alibangbang was on the internet posted by excited concertgoers.

The response from netizens tripled the excitement.

“That long-forgotten piece left me in tears and brought back memories of innocence and the simple joys of yearning just to be,” said actor-director Bibeth Orteza.

“What a poignant song! No wonder there was pandemonium in the audience,” posted writer Babeth Lolarga on FB.

Poet Marne Kilates said upon hearing the encore piece on FB, “That boy is special and his playing brought out the harsh beauty of memory I couldn’t help crying.”

The late Ilonggo music lover Ric Mendoza who didn’t attend the concert but heard the encore number on FB in his New York apartment. “That piece brought back memories of childhood. Strange that it brought about sudden melancholy.”

The Manila Symphony Orchestra.

After all the prizes and well-received homecoming concerts, Castillo took a break from his Mozarteum studies for other music interests outside of classical music.

At 16, Damodar says he is focused on his music career and not just in the area of classical music. “There are other things I wanted to do. Now I want to write songs. I want to have a music career not just classical music. But let’s see what happens. Now I also enjoy learning some sound editing, song writing and earning on the side.”

He says performing now at age 16 is better than making music during his precocious boyhood years. “It is easier now because I know what and how to do study the pieces.”

Damodar is still in touch with his teacher, Prof. Barbara Lübke-Herzl with whom he studied in 2018  during his pre-college years. “When I left Mozarteum, we begged her to still teach me through online classes. She doesn’t like online classes but she agreed on a weekly online class. My teacher is like my mother in music.”

His advice to young musicians: “Just pursue your goals, never give up and just focus.”

Damodar is using a 2020 Cello made by Georg Gerl from Austria courtesy of Standard Insurance.

(The May 4 concert is a part of the 2024-2025 MSO Concert Series: In Pursuit of Excellence presented by the Manila Symphony Orchestra Foundation and Standard Insurance in partnership with The Embassy of Finland in Manila.  For ticket reservations, contact Ms. Coeli at or via Viber +639174613374. 

After his May 4 MSO concert, Damodar will have chamber music engagements at the Manila Pianos Showroom Saturday, May 25, 2024, 7 p.m. with pianist Mariel Ilusorio and violinist Sarah Maria Gonzales.Program: Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65 and Piano Trio in G Minor Op. 8.  For tickets, call 0920 954 0053 or 0918 347 3027.)