The Vienna Boys Choir is one of the oldest choirs existing in the world with a history dating back at least 500 years. Illustrious musicians like Mozart and Salieri have worked with the choir, while Schubert and Haydn have actually sung with the choir. It was really fortunate that the boys performed at the Plenary Hall of the Philippine International Convention Center for a one-night only concert on November 11, 2016 as the final stop of their Asian tour this year. The last time this famed choir performed in Manila was back in 2004.
The show opened with the Philippine and Austrian National Anthems sung by the girls and boys of the Hail Mary the Queen Choir from Cubao, decked in bright and colorful Muslim-inspired costumes. The young current principal of Xavier School, Fr. Aristotle Dy, SJ delivered his opening speech, followed by the Ambassador of Austria to the Philippines, Dr. Josef Muellner. Their speeches reminded us that this concert not only celebrates the 60th anniversary of Xavier School, it also celebrates the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Austria and our country.
The members of the Vienna Boys' Choir were mainly from Austria, but over the years, more and more boys from other countries have joined. This present visiting group (the Bruckner group) was multi-racial. There were at least four Asians in the group, including Yu (from China), Ryusei (from Japan), Jeong-Min (from Korea) and Lance (from the Philippines). Lance So is the first Filipino member of the choir. He is the son of Mr. Eric So, a member of Xavier School batch 1992 who was responsible for bringing the choir over in cooperation with the Embassy of Austria. Their current choirmaster (since 2008) is the youthful and energetic Italian pianist and conductor Manolo Cagnin.
Lance So delivers his speech
with Maestro Manolo Cagnin beside him
The first half of the program was dedicated to classical choral pieces by Vivaldi, Schubert, Verdi and Strauss. Two rather unique pieces stood out and were most well-applauded. The first was the amusingly rhythmic "Capricicciata a tre voci" and "Contrappunto bestiale alle mente" (from Adriano Banchieri's farce "Festino", 1608) where the boys sang with sounds of a dog, a cat, a cuckoo and an owl. The second piece was the strange but delightful "Cat's Duet" compiled by Robert Lucas de Pearsall (using melodies from Gioachino Rossini's 1816 opera "Otello"), where four boys sang nothing else but meowing sounds the whole time. The main boy soprano Robert (from Ireland) offered a stirring solo performance of Schubert's "Ave Maria" to the country.
The second half of the program after a short 10-minute break featured an eclectic mix of more familiar songs. It opened with the Rosemary Clooney ditty "Mambo Italiano" (Bob Merrill, 1954), then Enrico Caruso's Neapolitan barcarolle "Santa Lucia". More popular songs followed with some boys showing off their talents on guitar, violin and percussion: "O Sole Mio'", "That's Amore," "Nella Fanstasia," "Amazing Grace" and "Volare". For me, the most beautifully-rendered song of this set was the quintessentially Austrian "Edelweiss" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Sound of Music." Their final song on the program was "Blue Danube" by Johann Strauss II, Austria's so-called "secret national anthem".
The impressive Sopranos whose soaring voices defined the VBC sound
The Hail Mary the Queen Choir came out again and sang the Ilocano folksong "Pamulinawen" together with the boys. After that, another soloist Matthew (from New Zealand) came forward to render the very popular Mandarin standard song "Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin (The Moon Represents My Heart)" to the delight of the Chinese members of the audience. The boys generously entertained the calls for a few more encore numbers (including a Christmas song medley) until the concert of angelic voices finally came to an end. We had just heard one of Austria's national treasures sing for us live, and that was an extraordinary experience to cherish.