Philippines-based music professor named one of the world’s best classical composers

by Gabrielle Marcelo
Prof. Horst-Hans Backer
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In this edition of SEAtizens, we are featuring Professor Horst-Hans Bäcker, a Romanian composer and conductor based in the Philippines who is continuing the legacy of classical music.

The WorldVision Composers Contest is a prestigious international competition for classical music composers to showcase their skills and share their pieces with the world. With 88 composers shortlisted and four rounds of competition, the 2022 edition of the contest faced a one-year delay until finally announcing a three-way tie among the finalists. One of these finalists is Professor Horst-Hans Bäcker, a Philippines-based music professor, composer, and conductor, who is now recognized as one of the best classical composers in the world.

Prof. Bäcker was never a stranger to music. “It was easy to get in touch with music,” he shared. Both his father and his grandfather were musicians, which stoked his early interest in the art. At about 4 years old, he started learning to play the piano, and as the result of natural progression, he began making his own compositions by the age of 14. He chose to focus on composing at this time and within a year, his teacher learned of his efforts and encouraged him to have his pieces played on stage by the school orchestra.

Since then, Prof. Bäcker has grown to love classical music even more. He studied composition at different conservatories and, upon graduating, he took masterclasses and lessons in conducting. In his years in the profession, he impressively founded and directed the Salzburg Vocal Ensemble, became the chief conductor of the symphony orchestra Internationale Philharmonie, and became a guest conductor for various orchestras around the world.

Outside of traditional classical music, Prof. Bäcker has also translated orchestral arrangements for the music of The Beatles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, and other popular rock acts. When asked about his unique experience adapting rock music for the orchestra, he said, “Musicians also grew up with that music so it wasn’t a problem for them to have fun and play something different. It was also an opportunity to bring young people into the concert hall.”

With his storied background conducting for orchestras around the world, Prof. Bäcker would occasionally hold masterclasses for conducting in different locations. He first visited the Philippines in 2015 for an occasion and came back to hold masterclasses in Manila and Cagayan de Oro. Through these trips, Prof. Bäcker would form a bond with Dr. Rudolf Golez, the Dean of the Conservatory of Music, Theatre and Dance of Liceo de Cagayan University. Eventually, Dr. Golez would invite Prof. Bäcker to teach in Liceo’s College of Music, and in 2016, Prof. Bäcker would relocate to the Philippines for good, bringing with him 15 balikbayan boxes filled with musical scores, CDs and personal items.

Recently, Prof. Bäcker represented the Philippines in the aforementioned 2022 WorldVision Composer Competition, where he prepared pieces that reflected his life and musical journey. His first piece “Banaue Rhapsody” was inspired by his trip to Ifugao where he was able to visit the Banaue Rice Terraces and participate in a local fiesta celebration; his second piece “Für Sophie” was inspired by his daughter, with different parts characterizing her powerful range of emotions; and his last piece “Fantasia for Orchestra” was inspired by his years learning about classical music. With these three compositions, he was able to be a part of the top 3 finalists, eventually tying with both of them for second place.

“We are all unique and we were all inspired to express our feelings through music,” shared Prof. Bäcker about his peers and competitors, Rod Schejtman from Argentina and Claudio Martinez Garcia from Mexico. “It was interesting to hear the pieces of the other participants. When they decided that we would all get the same prize, they agreed that we were all on the same level. It’s not so easy to decide on which pieces are better.”

As he spent more time in the Philippines, Prof. Bäcker grew more interested in paying the legacy of classical music forward. “A lot of young people here are talented, especially when it comes to singing. There are so many choirs in the Philippines. To have this choir tradition means that people enjoy singing, especially singing together,” he shared. “From the basics of vocals or singing, it’s easier to take that step to learn an instrument.”

Prof. Bäcker has since been training the next generation of musicians as the associate dean of Liceo de Cagayan University’s Conservatory of Music, Theater, and Dance. He also co-founded the Cagayan de Oro Symphony Orchestra and continues to serve as its conductor. Most recently, he conducted the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra in their performance of the opera Il Pagliacci.

When asked to share a message to aspiring musicians, composers and conductors, Prof. Bäcker said, “What’s important is to have the pleasure of working in music. When you don’t have pleasure then you will not succeed. Building upon this pleasure, you also need a lot of time investment because, without practice, it will not work. If you mix up talent, pleasure, and diligence, then the way to becoming a musician is very clear. Based on these 3 pillars, you can become a good musician.”


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SEA Wave magazine’s SEAtizens initiative is a series of inspiring stories of people in Southeast Asia who champion the human spirit by demonstrating courage, ingenuity, generosity, and selflessness.

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