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Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra strikes gold, bags grand prix in Europe

Just a few days after their sendoff concert in Manila last June 27, the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra (MSJO) under the baton of Jeffrey Solares was awarded the gold prize plus the Grand Prix in the 13th Bratislava International Youth Music in Slovakia July 4.

Jul 5, 2024

Pablo A. Tariman

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5-minute read

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Just a few days after their sendoff concert in Manila last June 27, the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra (MSJO) under the baton of Jeffrey Solares was awarded the gold prize plus the Grand Prix in the 13th Bratislava International Youth Music in Slovakia July 4.

Jeffrey Solares with MSJO citations during the awards ceremony July 4.

The ranking: first, Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra; second Fire Choir, United States; 3rd. St. Margaret’s Anglican Girls ‘School Choir and fourth, Afrikaans Hoër Meisieskool Pretoria.

Over 50 youth participants from 13 countries attended the 3-day festival for youth choirs and orchestras presided by the festival’s artistic director Prof Milan Kolena.

Distinguished musicians from Slovakia, USA, Australia and Italy formed the jury.

Of the 17 ensembles in the festival, only two were given the Grand Prix, one for choir- the Afrikaans Hoer Meisisskool Pretoria from South Africa, and one for orchestra, the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra from the Philippines.

A first-timer in the Bratislava music festival, the MSJO got the Grand Prix which is given only to participants who garnered 97 points or higher. The MSJO scored 99 points.

The MSJO performed a 20-minute program at the Slovakian Radio Symphony Hall consisting of Stephan Koncz’ A New Satiesfaction, Antonin Dvorak’s Scherzo from Serenade for Strings, Ernani Cuenco’s Nahan arranged by Cyro Cloui Bon Moral, and Tagu-Taguan by Ryle Nicole Custodio.

The Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra in their winning moment at the Bratislava concert hall.

Earlier during the week, the MSJO already performed concerts in Budapest, Hungary and Salzburg, Austria.

On July 6, MSJO travels to Vienna to participate at the 2024 Summa Cum Laude International Music Festival where they won first prize in 2018.

The MSJO is not new in the Vienna youth festival.

In 2021 at the height of the pandemic, they bagged the gold medal on the basis of videos submitted to the festival jury. The competition turned online because of the pandemic.

Of their initial Vienna conquest in 2017 in the 11th Summa Cum Laude International Youth Festival, the MSJO became the first Filipino orchestral ensemble to set foot in the famous Golden Hall of the Musikverein, considered one of the best concert halls in the world.

MSJO made its Vienna debut on July 6, 2017 in the hometown of Mozart in Salzburg. They performed Mozart’s Divertimento in D, K. 136 from his set of “Salzburg” Symphonies written in Mozart’s hometown.

They bagged the top prize in in 2021 winning over 140 orchestras from 33 countries participating.

One jury member remarked after MSJO’s 2021 performance: “I have seen so many great orchestras perform in this hall, but your orchestra has a different warmth in your sound. Vienna is envious of the Philippines because we don’t have the sea. We can feel the waves of the sea while watching you perform.”

In their sendoff concert at the Apolinario Mabini Hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs last June 27, the MSJO was greeted with a rousing standing ovation.

This year’s MSJO contingent consists of 40 musicians (20 girls and 20 boys) and they registered in the Vienna festival as early as November 2023.

Solares noted: “It is an uncanny coincidence that in all our tours since 2017 have exactly 50-50 ratio between boys and girls. Almost half are new members and are on their first tour while the other are back for their third or second tour. This time we also have five international scholars studying abroad. The youngest is nine and oldest is twenty-
six. “

Their main sponsor, the Standard Insurance, covered all the expenses (hotel, airfare, meals). “That is the reason why we were able to focus on the artistic preparations instead of having to do fundraising,” said Solares.

MSJO conductor Jeffrey Solares and coach Sara Gonzales with other music directors of winning orchestral ensembles.

The conductor shares lessons from the first two competitions. “What we have learned is that given enough support and committed teachers, Filipino musicians have great potential to reach levels of excellence at par with the best in the world. Musicians from Europe recognize our natural instincts and innate musicianship, and all we need is a sustained and systematic support and a culture of excellence.”

Solares remarked on the morale of the youth orchestra. “Everyone was excited, everyone was grateful and all were eager to give their best. There was some pressure in matching our achievement in 2017 and 2018 but we are just happy to have the opportunity to just go back.”

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