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2 foreign choirs, 1 Filipino choir win top prizes in Philippines' first international choral competition

Location: Philippines
By: Mary Louise Macanaya-Alcantara
Nineteen choirs from all over the Philippines and neighboring Asian countries, three categories, three competition days, one choral event in honor of a Filipino national artist. It was a successful first international choral competition for the Philippines.
World Vision Korea Children’s Choir, ONE Chamber Choir from Singapore, and Aleron from the Philippines, triumphed in the recently concluded Andrea O. Veneracion International Choral Festival held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last August 7-10, 2013. 
Recognized as the first international choral competition in the country, the event was a fitting tribute to National Artist for Music and Philippine Madrigal Singers founder Andrea O. Veneracion, who unfortunately passed away in July. It was also a timely gathering of local and foreign choral groups to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, whose artistic residence is the CCP.
The Festival kicked off with a simple Opening Ceremonies at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo on August 7, when the Philippine Madrigal Singers welcomed each participating choir with a song from their country or region and a sampaguita lei for their conductors.
In his message during the Opening Ceremonies, Mark Anthony Carpio, choirmaster of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, reminded the participants of four things: “Strive for excellence. Sing from the heart. Listen to other choirs. Make new friends.”
About 700 choristers and conductors from different Asian countries came to participate in the festival. The choirs represented Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines, which had choirs coming from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. 
Following the Opening Ceremonies was the Folk Music Category held on the same evening. The only children’s choir in the competition, World Vision Korea Children’s Choir, gave a stirring performance of their very own Korean folk music, besting 10 other choirs. Their impressive playing of Korea’s traditional percussion instruments by some of their members was the highlight of one of their pieces, “Han River Taryung,” arranged by Hyun Chul Lee. Their colorful costumes, sweet smiles, and disciplined singing made them win the prize. Hee-Churl Kim is the conductor of the almost 40-member chorus.
On August 8, Singapore’s ONE Chamber Choir, conducted by Ai Hooi Lim, impressed the audience with their almost flawless performance of “The Long Day Closes” by Arthur Sullivan, which made them win First Prize in the Chamber Choir Category out of 10 competing groups. Likewise, in this category, each 
choir had to sing an obligatory piece, “Three Kalingga Chants,” a newly commissioned piece by the CCP written by US-based Filipino composer and Philippine Madrigal Singers Alumnus Nilo Alcala. He dedicated this piece to the Madz Founder. It incorporated Kalingga chants and lullabies such as the 
Wiyawi, Salidummay, and Mambayu.
For the Vocal Ensemble Category, where only a maximum of 12 singers per choir are allowed to participate, the all-male ensemble Aleron from Quezon City, Philippines, stood out. Their commissioned piece, “Salita-an” by Mary Katherine Trangco, allowed them to display their virtuosity and sensitivity as a 
small ensemble. Christopher Ong Arceo conducts this promising male ensemble.
“I think that the choirs in the festival were all wonderful. The general spirit of the competition was very healthy and generous. Believe me, I have been in competitions that were not so, and this was definitely a breath of fresh air,” said Eric Banks, American conductor and composer and founder of The Esoterics.
He added: “The winners prevailed because of the high quality of their singing, and for choosing repertoire that played to their strengths. Many choirs did this, and a few could have done this better. Nilo's (Alcala) compulsory piece was a wonderful ‘litmus test’ for each of the chamber choirs, and really 
aided us in comparing the groups.”
Other distinguished members of the jury include Michael Barrett (South African conductor of the famous Jacaranda Children’s Choir), Gary Graden (renowned Sweden-based American conductor of the St. Jacobs Chamber Choir), Oscar Escalada (Argentinian conductor and composer, famous for his 
widely performed works such as “Tangueando” and “Milonguera”), and Mark Anthony Carpio (Philippine Madrigal Singers choirmaster). 
The Festival ended on August 10 with a Gala Concert of the Philippine Madrigal Singers followed by the Awarding and Closing Ceremonies. Past and present Madz members and the Indonesian group Svaditra Bandung Chamber Choir were featured in the concert. Diego, Maristela and Andie Alcudia, 
grandchildren of Prof. Veneracion, led the Madz and the Madz et al in singing the popular Barry Manilow hit “One Voice” (arranged by Madz Alumnus, Robert Delgado), followed by G. F. Handel’s “Canticorum Iubilo,” which closed the four-day CCP Festival.
Participating choirs also held outreach concerts in Manila and nearby provinces, bringing their culture closer to more audiences. CCP plans to make the Festival a biennial event.
Here is the complete list of winners per category:
Vocal Ensemble Category:
Third Prize- University of the Philippines Los Baños Choral Ensemble – Male Ensemble (PHI), Romel Lomarda, conductor
Second Prize- Koro Ilustrado (PHI), Edmund Alan Piquero, conductor
First Prize- Aleron (PHI), Christopher Ong Arceo, conductor;
Folk Music Category:
Third Prize- University of the Philippines Los Baños Choral Ensemble (PHI), Romel Lomarda, conductor
Second Prize- Technological Institute of the Philippines Choral Society (PHI), Joel Aquino, conductor
First Prize- World Vision Korea Children's Choir (KOR), Hee-Churl Kim, conductor;
Chamber Choir Category:
Third Prize- Kammerchor Manila (PHI), Anthony Go Villanueva, conductor
Second Prize- Paragita Student Choir of Universitas Indonesia (INA), Agus Yuwono, conductor
First Prize- ONE Chamber Choir (SIN), Ai Hooi Lim, conductor.
Cash prizes in US Dollars were awarded to the winners: $5,000, $3,500, $2,500 for the Chamber Choir Category; $4,000, $2,500, $1,500 for the Vocal Ensemble Category; and $3,000, $2,000, $1,000 for the Folk Music Category.
(All photos used with permission from the Cultural Center of the Philippines)