A Thai opera company turns to technology during the pandemic to encourage art and learning

Opera Siam and Siam Sinfonietta recently announced the winners of its two-month-long Virtual Virtuoso Project at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC).

The Minister of Culture and other official dignitaries were present to award the trophies and certificates of participation.

Virtual Virtuoso is a program organized by Opera Siam and Siam Sinfonietta to encourage young artists to work on their craft by focusing on a single major project of their choice, such as a concerto, while ‘sheltering in place’ amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“Arts funding has always been very difficult, even without any crisis in this part of the world,” said Somtow Sucharitkul, the artistic director of Opera Siam and the non-voting titular head of the jury.

“COVID-19 has caused a bit of a glitch. One of the things we did, which we needed to do anyway, was to repurpose what we were doing so that we were helpful to the crisis and not just trying to get people’s attention.”

“That is why what we have been doing these past three months is reaching out to people under lockdown and starting a new net station for people so they don’t lose touch with classical music.”

To enter, participants had to submit a video of their home practice. They then received weekly comments and feedback. 

At the end of the competition, their work was reviewed by a local jury who selected the most deserving quarter-finalists, which they then narrowed down to ten semifinalists. 

From that, the five semifinalists who received unanimous votes from every local jury member were sent to an international panel for final deliberation. 

“The videos received were just amazing and means that so many people had ambition and the crisis actually got them to focus on a big project that they otherwise would have put off,” said Somtow.

“There is nothing good about a global pandemic, but for those of us who were forced into the situation, we got to find things we can get and learn from. In that sense, there were positives.”

Charapinyo Shuthamavong, a 16-year-old mandolin player who won third prize, has also found positive ways in seeing the situation.

“We are figuring out new ways and programmings to participate and play music together,” he said. “It has allowed me to focus on promoting my career online and focus on practicing my craft. And people have responded very well. I think the things that were missing are not that bad.”

“If someone is stressed from work but can still come home and make art, such as music, or anything small that they enjoy – it will be good for that person and that will be good for the rest of the people in the country as well.”

A list of the Award Winners is as follows:

FIRST PRIZE (tie)

Supawee Srisurichan (piano) Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto

Suttiluk Puangsuwan (clarinet) Aaron Copland Clarinet Concerto

Second Prize Winner, Teesin Puriwattanapong

SECOND PRIZE (tie)

Praewa Chumsilpsiri (flute) Mozart Flute Concerto in D

Teesin Puriwattanapong (violin) Silbelius Violin Concerto

Third Prize Winner, Charapinyo Shuthamavong

THIRD PRIZE

Charapinyo Shuthamavong (mandolin) Vivaldi C Major Mandolin Concerto

JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT

Nattakit Lojanapiwat (violin) Kabalevsky Violin Concerto

Opera Siam also launched a 24-hour internet TV channel, OperaSiamTV.com, to be a resource and a outlet for classical music. People sheltering at home and unable to travel worldwide, with large audience concentrations in Thailand, the United States and Germany can enjoy old concerts for free.

“This is a great lesson that is very important because we never know how close we all actually are,” said Somtow. “The fact that we are forced to reach out to one another actually makes us feel like there is fellowship and a connection in this. It makes me believe that there is something we can get out of this problem.”.

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