The coincidence is uncanny. In the early 70s, piano prodigy Cecile Licad entered Curtis Institute…
Eleven-year old Damodar Das Castillo provided a glaring visual contrast with the members of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) in a recent well-received youth concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines afternoon of July 31.
He looked diminutive compared to the seasoned adult musicians in the background but again, the self-confidence was there and there was no trace of a kid as he settled on his soloist seat.
The initial sound that opened the allegro non troppo movement of Saint-Saens’ first cello concerto was full and resonant one could not mistake it as an authoritative tone coming from a child musician. He was thoroughly in control unleashing an aggressive sweep from his instrument and thus providing a deep, highly felt contrast to the lyrical, if, meditative theme that followed.
Like it or not, the child knew the piece inside and out. His double stops in the animato passage bode that he could handle a much faster tempo with yet another theme.
How he made something of the light but haunting minuet in the middle movement was indeed a tribute to his thorough understanding of the concerto.
With themes coming from the first and second movements, Damodar provided the beautiful contrast in the finale.
It was an inspiring sight, seeing an eleven-year old wrap up a piece in perfect sync with the orchestra. It was even more daunting knowing that the piece was more than a hundred years old with its first performance at the Paris Conservatoire on January 19, 1873.
The PPO led by Herminigildo Ranera was a highly inspired ensemble in this concert.
The student audiences came from different schools and indeed it was a big treat seeing an 11-year cellist perform like a professional. It was a hushed audience intrigued and, by turns, awed by a gifted child. The applause was spontaneous coming from equally young audiences.
Two conductors figured in this young people’s concert.
Yoshikazu Fukumura -- who took quite a while to make his entrance -- opened the concert with Rossini’s Overture to La Gazza Ladra (“The Thieving Magpie”).
The funny moment was that the audience mistook the entrance of the snare drums as a prelude to the national anthem and they stood up. Gradually, they took their seats realizing their musical faux pas.
The highlight of the concert was the introduction of the different instruments with some student volunteers getting to conduct the orchestra.
In the end, the national orchestra dazzled with Arturo Marquez’s Danson No. 2 under Fukumura.
The good news is that Damodar is headed for an outreach concert at the Nelly Garden in Iloilo City. It is a unique concert venue opened by no less than Cecile Licad in November last year.
The concert is a tribute to the late cellist Miguel Lim Cornejo who was a former member of the Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO). He happens to be the son of former Tourism Secretary Narzalina Lim.
The last time Lim saw her son Miguel in Australia, she was struck by the blueness of the sky and sea. “The colors were intense and so was the light. I thought of Miguel and his own quiet intensity which found outlet in his music, his letters, journals and long hours of fishing which he told me, were occasions to meditate.”
The young Damodar through his father Alvin Castillo said he is happy to dedicate the Iloilo concert to another outstanding cellist who gave so much of himself to his music and his cello students.
A first prize winner of the International Competition for Young Artists in Estonia (Eastern Europe) and presently a scholar of the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Damodar is just as lucky getting his dose of mature nurturing from his father.
For one, Alvin makes sure the child does not feel extra special with all the prizes he won at a young age and getting his share of audience adulation. “I make sure he knows there is more reward in remaining humble and making God the center of his universe.”
There is no doubt in the father’s mind that his child has far more grasp and understanding of his young life as an artist.
“He knows the value of discipline at a very young age. He does not want to perform any piece if he is not ready. If I don’t stop him, he wants to practice six hours a day. Now it’s down to just 3-4 hours a day. I have to remind him there is a lot to know and study other than playing the cello,” Alvin said.
(The August 17 Iloilo concert of Damodar Das Castillo at the Nelly Garden with pianist Dingdong Fiel is presented in association with the Miguel Lim Cornejo Scholarship Fund and Richmonde Hotel Iloilo. For inquiries, text 09065104270 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org)