A 27-year-old Filipino classical violinist was among 200 aspirants from all over the world to audition for only four positions in the class of the French master violinist Pierre Amoyal at the renowned Universitat Mozarteum Salzburg in Austria.
Musical virtuoso Joaquin Maria “Chino” Gutierrez, who began his study of the violin at age 7 under the tutelage of Alfonso Bolipata, faced a panel of musical greats and chose to perform Chausson’s Poeme, a difficult piece.
“After playing two to three pages of the score, the panel asked me to stop. They thanked me for auditioning and I was led out of the audition room,” Gutierrez recalled.
“I thought I blew it. I wanted to protest. To be stopped on the third page only, before I could even plunge into the intricate difficulties of the piece that would have displayed the full range of my musical abilities, I was worried the panel was not happy with my performance.”
Gutierrez’s mother, who had joined him for the audition in Salzburg, tried to cheer him up by taking him on a city tour.
“She kept me busy the whole day. But by nightfall, we returned to the Mozarteum to check out the results. They had decided to fill up only three of the four slots—and, to our surprise and sheer joy, I got one slot,” Gutierrez told the Manila Standard in an interview.
Gutierrez’s audition piece will be the piece de resistance in his farewell concert on Sept. 23 at BDO’s Francisco Santiago Hall—before flying to Austria to enroll in the fall term.
The special anniversary concert is titled, “Poeme., and marks his 20th year of playing the violin.
“I began playing the violin when I was 7 years old,” Chino said. “I fell in love with it because of the way it sings. It is beyond words.”
After a lull of several generations, the legendary Mozarteum University in Salzburg, Austria, is once again admitting a Filipino musical virtuoso.
“I’m so excited to begin my studies there next month,” said Gutierrez, the 27-year-old violinist dubbed “a major talent” by the German music pedagogue Jens Ellerman.
Two years after he began his violin classes under Bolipata, Gutierrez won second place at the National Music Competition for Young Artists.
He made such an impact that he was invited to perform at the Cultural Center of the Philippines the following year under the baton of another Chino—Josefino “Chino” Toledo, who was then conducting for the Metro Manila Community Orchestra.
This was the young Chino’s orchestral debut, where he wowed the audience with his poignant rendition of Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole.” Two years later, Chino won the top NAMCYA prize.
His passion for the craft brought him under the tutelage of the well-loved Filipino violinist Gilopez Kabayao.
Of Chino, Kabayao had this to say: “I had the privilege of having the young, brilliant Chino Gutierrez come to Iloilo for extensive coaching, and I can say with conviction that Chino is one of our most promising and exciting violinists who could be a big success in the international concert scene. A prodigy who could play difficult works at 7 or 8, and hailed as a young virtuoso at 16, he amazed me with his musical maturity, technical security, the mastery of his instrument and the passion to learn and perform the great works of the masters. He could practically play anything from the most virtuosic to the most classical, lyrical, romantic, contemporary styles.”
At the time, Chino had another passion. “My other love was mathematics,” he said. “But when the opportunity came and I had to make a choice, I chose music. I knew I could always do math at any age, but music—you have to immerse in it when you’re young.”
At 14, he left the Philippine Science High School to take up formal schooling in violin studies at the renowned Hochschulefür Musik und Theater Münchenuder, or the state-run University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich.
His teachers there were none other than the exacting Jens Ellerman, Olga Voitova Bloch, and Christoph Poppen.
“I was taking violin lessons there while being enrolled at a public high school,” Chino said. “My parents went to live in Germany with me. The German government insisted on that since I was a minor at the time. My mother even attended all my classes, just to give me a sense of security while being in a foreign land. It was like she was my classmate, too, you know, and she became friends with my classmates and my teachers. Once, she told our teacher that there was something awry with the way one of my classmates was playing, and it was only then that the teacher realized my classmate was using another violin, throwing all of us off the ensemble tonality we were trying to achieve. That’s my mom—she has developed quite an ear. Well, she was a ballet teacher in the first place. It was my dad who taught music.”
When Chino graduated, he auditioned for a scholarship to pursue higher studies.
“There was only one available scholarship slot, and there were many of us who auditioned for that slot. I was stunned to find out that it was given not to my German colleagues and classmates but to me,” he recalled.
He has performed with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Moscovia String Orchestra under Oscar Yatco, Francisco Feliciano, and Eduard Grach, respectively. He has given solo performances in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Israel, and Singapore.
He has represented the Philippines at the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition and, early this year, at the Singapore International Violin Festival.
Gutierrez said he was grateful that the Bankers Association of the Philippines has loaned him the use of a 1760 Vinaccia.
“I am grateful for their trust in me,” Chino said. “To be able to use such an instrument is such grace. But then you know how it is, I have to take care of all the attendant expenses, such as purchasing the strings every few weeks, and all the maintenance upkeep. And we’re not rich, you know.”
Despite financial difficulties, Chino is focused on his art.
“As much as possible, I keep myself busy in the local and international music circuit,” Chino said. “I have gone through the Kronberg Academy Mastercourse, the Keshet Eilon International mastercourse and the Beijing Central Conservatory masterclasses.”
“In Germany for a competition, it was the first time the jurors saw a violinist from the Philippines make it beyond the screening round, and they had good words for me afterwards even though I did not win,” he said.
Asked how he deals with failure, he said, “Failure makes you take stock of your weaknesses, and strengths. And you convert that experience into a learning experience. I try to learn from everything. My artistic influences include Ivry Gitlis, Paul Roczek, Midori, Chaim Taub, Zakhar Bron. Pavel Vernikov, Nam Yun Kim, among others. But in the end, all these influences are distilled into my own musicality. For me, I am a work in progress. I practice four hours a day with or without a concert or classes. It has become part of my everyday life. It is my life.”
At the end of the interview, he performed several pieces: the opening strains of “Poeme,” a Tagalog kundiman, and the political anthem “Bayan Ko” –all of which promise a truly memorable farewell concert on Sept. 23 at the BDO Francisco Santiago Hall.