Arts & Culture

MSJO, Espiritu make music headlines in Vienna

The winners in Vienna. Photo from the Facebook page of conductor Jeffrey Solares.

The 48-member Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra under Jeffrey Solares made another history when they bagged the first prize Sunday July 8 in the 12th edition of the Summa Cum Laude Festival in Vienna.

A day earlier Saturday night, Filipino tenor Arthur Espiritu received a volley of bravos as Alfredo in the staging of La Traviata in the opera festival, Operclosterneuburg at the baroque imperial court of the monastery.

The tenor received enthusiastic applause at the end of the aria, Dei miei bollenti spiriti and I mio rimorso with a held high C at the end. “It is so much easier to sing Alfredo than Gualtiero (Il Pirata). It felt great! Audience was very much appreciative of what I’m doing. They liked our Violetta and our Germont. It was good team effort on opening night.”

The tenor said singing Alfredo after his Gualtiero (Il Pirata) at Theater St. Gallen was no problem. “It feels low for me coming from the high placement of the voice to the daunting middle range and passagiere sections of the role of Alfredo. I found it quite easy to switch from a light placement to a more substantial vocal weight of Alfredo.”

Before opening night, the Filipino tenor was surprised by the visit of the reigning king of opera, Jonas Kaufmann, in the rehearsal. “He could not come on the opening night because of his busy schedule. His girlfriend Christiane Lutz (our stage director) took him along.”

Kaufmann who earlier heard the Filipino tenor sing Elvino in La Sonnambula in Munich came during the rehearsal break and told Espiritu he was pretty good. “I was a bit speechless,” said the Filipino tenor. “So Günter (our Giorgio Germont) just said to him he knows it! Followed by laughter. He is so down to earth. The day after we spent an afternoon at the lovely home of Günter Haumer and his wife Yalile along with Christiane, Jonas and Maestro Christoph Campestrini. It was very inspiring for me to see him. He does set the bar high for us tenors.”

Arthur Espiritu as Alfredo in La Traviata at Operclosterneuburg. Photo from Espiritu’s FB page.

The tenor was all praises for his Violetta sang by Evgenia Dushina: “Evgenia is wonderful and what a powerful voice which added depth to her character as Violetta. It’s fun to work with such a naturally good artist. I felt that there was no limit with our dramatic choices, so it is working seamlessly with her.”

In the recent edition of the Summa Cum Laude Festival, the Filipino youth ensemble MSJO tied with the Jerusalem Hassadna Conservatory String Orchestra.

There was no second place with the Montreal Suzuki String Orchestra placing third and with the Nanyang String Orchestra from Singapore coming in fourth.

Conductor Solares attributed their second Vienna conquest to hard work and discipline. “We left no stone unturned to give our best to bring honor to our country,” | he told Vera Files.

The MSJO which played the last in the competition performed a program consisting of Mozart’s Divertimento in D, Dvorak’s Scherzo from Serenade for Strings, Nilo Alcala’s Dayo Dayo Kupita, Florante/Consolacion’s Handog and Castillon/Solares’s Kruhay.

Solares added they played more Filipino pieces this year and entirely from memory.

One jury member remarked after MSJO’s 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.”

Pianist Miracle Romano whose brother Misha was in the string section of the MSJO noted: “They were the only ensemble without woodwinds, brass and percussion. But MSJO came out strong because of how united and harmonious they were.”

A first timer at the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna, Romano said the hall was simply majestic. “The acoustics were incredible! Aesthetic-wise, extremely grand with all the golden caryatids surrounding the hall and the enormous chandeliers.”

LA-based Filipino composer Nilo Alcala whose piece, Dayo Dayo Kupita, was played by the prizewinning ensemble said in a statement a few hours after the MSJO triumph in Vienna: “I am overjoyed about MSJO’s victory! This is a testament to the quality of music education provided by, and strength of vision of Maestro Jeffrey and the MSJO leadership team. Congratulations to these talented and hardworking young artists and cultural ambassadors!”

In the audience providing solid support was Standard Insurance chairman Ernesto Echauz who was also in Vienna last year as MSJO’s main sponsor.

The Filipino youth ensemble is all set to perform in the Gala Winners’ concert Tuesday July 10 at the Vienna Konzerthaus.

The MSJO, composed of students aged 10-21 years old from the MSO Music Academy and qualified young string players from all over the Philippines, was formed in 2014 as the youth orchestra project of the Manila Symphony Orchestra Foundation, Inc.