Filipino conductor conquers international choral competitions with sacred, ethnic, folk music
Anthony Go Villanueva, 37, has recently won the Best Conductor award at the Second Ken Steven Choral Festival in Indonesia. His entry choir—the Malabon Concert Singers—has also emerged as the Grand Champion in the Open Choir category.
The choral competition was only one of several international tours for Villanueva, and the first ever for the Malabon Concert Singers, who bested 10 other contenders from Southeast Asia.
Villanueva won his first Best Conductor award at the online Queen of the Adriatic Sea Choral Festival and Competition in Italy last year.
Passion and commitment
"The audience in Indonesia did not understand our language," he said. "But they were moved by the music itself. And I assume it's the passion and the heart of the Filipino that translated the language for the foreigners."
The Malabon Concert Singers choir is new in the music industry. Villanueva formed it during the pandemic in April 2021. But in just one year, it has already taken home three championships. It won the Virtual Christmas Choral Competition of the Soul Sounds Academy in Sri Lanka in 2021, and the 5th Binan National Choral Festival "Para sa Bayan" in February 2022.
"I think every choir in the Philippines is a good performer," Villanueva said. "What makes the Malabon Concert Singers different is their being passionate and committed. Not every member of the group is well-off. Most are students. Some are even not employed. But I was really surprised that they pulled it off on an international stage."
Villanueva believes that even when a person is not abundantly gifted with musical talent and is caught in a financial situation, the person's passion and commitment will eventually usher him to shine.
"If you love what you do, you will make every effort to become the best," he said. "You will do everything for me. And I saw it in them."
The multi-awarded musician sees music as something that touches the deepest part of the human person that enriches him in effect.
"Music plays a big role in our society," he said. "It communicates with the soul. When a person sings praising God, it makes him bigger than the person he is."
To him, music also facilitates people in connecting and reconnecting with one another, offering them relief as they go through challenges.
A happy pianist to a successful conductor
Villanueva recalled that he started playing the piano at the young age of five. He got so deeply in love with the instrument that he took up a Bachelor of Music Major in Piano Performance at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Conservatory of Music when he set foot in college.
"When I entered UST's Conservatory of Music, my original dream was actually to become a concert pianist. I became a concert pianist. But when I was exposed to the choir, I became more interested in it."
In 2005, he auditioned for the UST Singers, the official choir of the university, one of the oldest schools in the country and Asia.
"When I became a member of the UST Singers, my interest shifted from becoming a concert pianist to becoming a conductor."
Villanueva's exposure to choral music eventually led him to renounce his initial dream of becoming a concert pianist.
"I am happy playing the piano, but the experience is different when you are creating music with people."
The choral music also paved the way for him to showcase his musical acumen in many venues. It also opened many opportunities for him where he could shine as a musician.
"I became the musical director at Kammerchor Manila," he said.
Kammerchor Manila is a church-based choral group, founded in 1992.
But aside from the Malabon Concert Singers and Kammerchor Manila, Villanueva is also the musical director of government, private companies, and non-government choral groups.
"Currently, I have 10 choirs."
More international tours
Villanueva sees himself performing in competitions abroad in the coming year, especially in parts of Europe, as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have been relaxed across the globe.
"People are now excited to hear the music produced in different parts of the world," he said.
He is eyeing Kammerchor Manila to compete in Europe next year.
"Kammerchor Manila is my main choir," he said. "It has toured abroad and has already won in three competitions."
In 2017, Kammerchor Manila bagged the 1st prize in Habaneras and the 2nd prize in Polyfonia at the 63rd Certamen Internacional de Habaneras Y Polyfonia in Torrevieja, Spain. It also won the Grand Prix at the first Leonardo Da Vinci International Choral Festival in Florence, Italy, where it won four categories in the same year. The choir also won the Mixed Choir category at the 8th Musica Eterna Roma in Rome, Italy in 2017.
Villanueva is also the musical director at the Philippine National Oil Company, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines), the National Power Corp., and Miriam College, Manila.
He also currently teaches choral arranging and applied music (piano and voice) at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde Manila.
Music is Villanueva's first love. Cooking and planting are his second. His father had played the clarinet in a band.
Aspiring musicians are encouraged to do their best and exercise fortitude to realize their dream.
"Get inspired," he said. "Be an inspiration to other people as a musician should be."
He also reminds aspiring musicians that the road to success in the music industry is rugged, rising and falling, and full of challenges.
"Music is not an easy thing," he said. "You have to be excellent in everything you do if you dream of something. And don't just easily give up when challenges come your way. In music, there are times you are down and frustrated."
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.