When a teener grows up with music

EJ Villarin in performance. A natural musician growing in an encouraging environment.

One of the top winners of the Fil-Kor Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition is 15-year violinist Emmanuel John Villarin who won his first NAMCYA competition at age 9 and has performed in Vienna and neighboring countries as member of the prize-winning Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra.

Music is Villarin’s life. He started lessons at age four and went on to perform his first Mozart concerto in Baguio and Bali (Indonesia) four years ago. “The rigorous practices and performances I went through taught me the value of discipline, perseverance and commitment. At the same time, music inspires me to keep my passion for learning new things. My young life is what it is now because of music.”

Villarin is all set to perform in special outreach concerts in Baguio City October 18 and 19 with pianist Dingdong Fiel.

Presently a music scholar of the Philippine High School for the Arts, EJ -- as he is known to friends -- got one of the top prizes after playing a movement from the Tchaikovsky concerto.

Another 15-year old Jeanne Rafaella Marquez won third prize after playing a movement from the Sibelius concerto. Clarinetist Franz Jensen Andra placed second. Grand prize winner was pianist Jaemin Irene Lee who won over four finalists.

EJ said landing second among the top prizes was still a big shock to him. “I didn't really expect that. But then I realized all my hard work, effort, and sacrifices paid off. I can only thank my teacher, Sara Gonzales, for guiding me and to my beloved parents for all their love and support.”

Gonzales didn’t notice anything special about EJ in the beginning. He could pick up tunes but so did other young students who were starting to learn the violin through the Suzuki method. She added that as a Suzuki violin teacher herself, it is an accepted philosophy that talent is not inborn and that it can be nurtured given the right surrounding in which to grow like a proper environment, support and encouragement from parents among others. “It was only years later when I started assigning him an etude (part of technical exercises) or two to be memorized every week that I noticed his great attention to detail, precision, and his ability to learn and master pieces faster than most students. This led me to encourage him to join his first ever NAMCYA competition in 2013 where he won second place and he was just nine at the time.”

EJ Villarin with teacher, Sara Gonzales.

EJ’s first competition stint at age nine was a big encouragement and has since then showed commendable progress.

“EJ is a very consistent student and never misses lessons. Whatever you assign him, he will comply the following week and he is always ready. It is such a joy teaching him and witnessing him grow as a musician,” Gonzales pointed out.

From the very beginning, teacher and pupil worked on good intonation which is one of EJ’s good assets. “The clarity of his tones is also remarkable. He produces very rich and resonant tones but does not force the sound but rather responds to what the instrument can offer. He is playing on an Amador Tamayo Violin that he got in 2014.”

Gonzales also noted EJ’s composure. “Another important skill that you would not see in most young musicians is good composure. He makes challenging pieces look effortless, and that is not easy!” she said.

The Fil-Kor Youth Orchestra was a collaborative project suggested to MSO executive director Jeffrey Solares by Hyun Joo Lee, president of Korea Women’s Association (KWA) and co-founder of Clarion Chamber Group.

Lee, Solares said, wanted to celebrate 70th anniversary of Phil-Korean diplomatic relationship by organizing the Fil-Kor Youth Orchestra composed of young Filipino and Koreans residing in the Philippines and with the MSJO (Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra) as the core of the string section. In the Fil-Kor competition jury were flutist David Johnson, violinist Juan Munoz, Aija C. Lee (pianist and chairman of Korea Women’s Association), and Dr. Chi- Ying Hung (pianist).

Pianist Dingdong Fiel who will be EJ’s collaborative artist in Baguio City said music is felt rather than discussed while preparing for the concert. “I noticed the first time I accompanied him a few months back that he reacts to all the musical tidbits you throw at him. I am referring to things not written on the sheet music like color, volume and many other details even as he is used to practicing and playing a certain passage the same way for hundreds of hours. For another, he is very open to ideas and suggestions. He is very chill as a person but intense onstage. A rock star personality, in my opinion.”

After working with several young artists among them the phenomenal 12-yer old cello prodigy Damodar Das Castillo, Fiel is sure about his impressions. “The thing is when these prodigies play, they play like there’s no tomorrow. Their whole being is dedicated only to the music. I love it! I have yet to work with a prodigy who cares too much on how he looks onstage or if the audience will react positively to his performance. They just don’t care about anything else, just the music. When playing with EJ, I try to understand all the details the composer has written on his music and making sure that I am on the same page down to the smallest detail with the artist. If it’s clear in our heads, it will be clear with the audiences as well.”

The Fil-Kor Youth Orchestra with winners of the concerto competition. A fitting way of celebrating 70 years of PH-Korea diplomatic relations. From FB post of EJ Villarin.

EJ with Fiel will perform in a matinee concert at the Baguio Central School October 18, 3 p.m. Another concert follows October 19 at Canto on Kisad Road, Baguio City. Cocktails begin at 5:30 p.m., performance at 7 p.m.

The program highlights music around the world in celebration of United Nations Month and includes Scott Joplin’s “Ragtime Music,” Kreisler’s “Caprice Viennois,” “Tambourine Chinois” and “Danzas Espagnole,” Gilopez Kabayao’s transcriptions for the violin of traditional Filipino folk songs, Massenet “Meditation,” among others.

The Baguio outreach concerts were made possible through the support of Enrique Zobel Foundation and Smart Communications Inc. For ticket reservation, call CAEO at 0920-954-0053, 0918-347-3027 and tel. no. 8782-7164.)


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