– Marco Carvalho
More than a dozen and a half choirs from seven countries and territories will take part, starting from today until Sunday in the fourth edition of the International Choir Festival of Macau. This year’s edition of Cantata Macau brings together seventeen choral groups from nations and territories such as Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Globally speaking, more than four hundred singers, conductors and musicians will perform on the 2019 edition of the Festival, an event created four years ago by the Saint Augustine’s Choir with the aim of changing Macau’s image: “Macau being named as a gambler’s destination created a certain discomfort, given the Catholic history and the spiritual background of this place,” Father Jijo Kandamkulathy told O Clarim. “Calling Macau a casino city represents neither the history, nor the aspirations of the people here. When I was sharing this discomfort, Mr Barrie Briones, the choirmaster of Saint Augustine’s Choir, suggested the idea of a Choir Festival in Macau and we started planning the event with some other well-wishers from Macau,” the Claretian priest says.
The fourth edition of the International Choir Festival of Macau begins today, in the early afternoon, with the competition for the Sacred Music category being held in the Church of Our Lady of Fatima, starting from 2 pm. The temple will also host, at 6.30 pm, a concert with some of the groups that take part in the competition. On Saturday and Sunday, the Festival changes facilities to Saint Paul School auditorium.
Starting from this year, for the first time ever, the big winner of the choir contest takes home a prize money worth 50,000 patacas. The competition will also crown the winner of each of the four categories on the program and reward both the best conductor and the choir that impresses the public the most: “From this year onwards the festival also has a competition segment with a Grand Prix award of 50,000 MOP. The competitions will take place under Children’s choir, Folk Songs, Open and Sacred Songs categories. There are also two guest performances with a string ensemble and a modern acapella,” Jijo Kandamkulathy explains. “We also have introduced an electronic facility to vote for the most popular choir through mobile phone to give the audience the opportunity to participate. The result will be immediately available and declared on the awarding ceremony with a special price,” the minister says.
The “Gensan Youth Choir,” the University of Cebu Choir, the “Quorists,” the Anima Christ Choir, the Unima Choir, the Saint Gabriel Vocal Ensemble and “The Harmonics” are some of the 17 choirs and choral groups that will perform in the fourth edition of the International Choir Festival. Two local choral groups, the Choi Ng Choir and the Rui Cunha Foundation Choir, will once again represent Macau in the Cantata. The Rui Cunha Foundation Choir will compete in the Festival for the third year in a row: “The Cantata is a very interesting project that involves several groups, some more professional than the others. All of them, nevertheless, share a very similar characteristic, which is the focus on the most beautiful of all the musical instruments, the voice,” Elias Colaço – one of the members of the Rui Cunha Foundation Choir – told O Clarim. “The Rui Cunha Foundation Choir was created about four years ago and this is the third year it participates in the International Choir Festival. The Choir brings together people who are keen and eager to sing. Our goal is to work for the benefit of Macau society,” he says.
Constituted by three dozen amateur voices, the Rui Cunha Foundation Choir rehearses twice a week, on Friday night and Saturday morning, under the choral direction of Barry Briones, co-founder of the International Choir Festival. To a classical repertoire, the choir adds a more modern flare, performed in various languages and the desire to spread their music all over Macau: “We sing the classical repertoire, but we don’t stick to it exclusively. We sing Sinatra’s My Way, one of the songs of Gilbert Bécaud, Chinese and even Filipino songs. We are very multicultural in that sense. Barry Briones had the good idea of introducing various musical styles and a more modern sound,” the singer ascertains. “Our purpose is not to confine ourselves to the Foundation and to take our music outside. We want to bring a little joy to nursing homes, to charities, even to the Coloane Prison. This is what defines the social character of the choir ,” Mr Colaço claims.
Supported by the Diocese of Macau since its inception, the International Choir Festival of Macau benefits also from the institutional support of the Macau Foundation, the Cultural Affairs Bureau and the Macau Government Tourism Office. The initiative started to be prepared in early Summer by an organizing committee that brings together about twenty people, who are now joined by another two dozen volunteers: “We are over 20 people and we have been working in the background for the last 4 months or so. Over 20 other volunteers and supporters will work along with us during the three days of the Festival. But this event is also supported by a lot of well wishers and friends, in and outside Macau, who are strictly not part of the team. We cannot ignore the support given by the Macau Foundation, the Cultural Affairs Bureau and the Tourism Office,” Father Jijo Kandamkhulaty explains. “In the international choral circuit, the International Choral Festival of Macau (MICF) is a recent venture. In general standards it is not yet time we catch the international attention. However, because the winners of other international choral festivals have consistently participated in the event, the Cantata has already been noticed by the international choral festival circuits. It will not be long before the Festival gets a berth in the big leagues of Choral Festivals. With regard to the number of participating choirs this is already a big festival,” the Claretian priest says.