After besting 15 aspirants in the mid 70s, Oscar Yatco became concert master of the Mannheim National Theater Orchestra, Germany’s oldest municipal ensemble. His solo rendition so dazzled his German peers, they clamored that he be their concertmaster.
As soloist in Khatchaturian’s Concerto, Yatco earned a rave review.
Titled “The New Concert Master: A Phenomenal Violinist,” it read in part: “Yatco literally electrified the audience with his truly fascinating performance. Yatco may rightfully call himself a virtuoso.”
After only eight months in Mannheim, Yatco got a call from Wolfgang Wagner, Richard Wagner’s grandson. “I hear you are a top concert master. Could you join the Bayreuth Festival as one?” Wagner asked.
The world’s most daunting and prestigious the Festival has 196 instrumentalists from Germany’s 60 major orchestras. Yatco accepted the offer—who could have resisted it? After three festivals, Yatco refused other invitations.
In Mannheim, Yatco displayed an incredible capacity for learning. He mastered opera so quickly, his colleagues asked him in amazement: “What will you do next?” They already admired him as superb concertmaster, soloist and conductor.
Indeed, a rarity in the musical world, Yatco earned at 16 a Teacher’s Diploma at the University of the Philippines, later studying at Juilliard under Ivan Galamian, mentor of world prodigies, then attending Munich’s State academy.
Yatco first gained wide attention in Germany when he topped a Hamburg tilt, winning over contestants from all West German music academies, and the only violin prize at the Munich International Competition. Subsequently, he was featured soloist of the Berlin and Munich Philharmonic, the North German Radio Orchestra, the Athens Philharmonic, drawing superlative acclaim in all major European cities.
Yatco became concertmaster of the Stross Chamber Orchestra and member of the Stross Quartet which regularly toured Italy, France, Germany, the Middle East. Yatco then founded and led another String Quartet in Munich whose other members were German.
From 1966 to 1973, Yatco served as the first Filipino conductor—music director of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. Earlier, he was its youngest member at 14; its youngest soloist at 15. Under him, the MSO introduced contemporary titans so uncompromisingly that when he left for Germany in 1974, the MSO was Southeast Asia’s best. Since 1982, Yatco was the music director of the Philippine Philharmonic, the country’s national orchestra. His standards were so unrelenting, he risked small audiences rather than cater to popular taste while conducting awesome masterpieces.
In 1991, Yatco headed some of the country’s finest instrumentalists with the Camerata Manila.
Before his recent death, Maestro Yatco regularly wielded the baton over the PPO, travelling from Hannover where he had a lifetime tenure as full professor since 1974, this being Germany’s supreme recognition of his eminence and stature. Yatco had auditioned for the post, winning over 30 international violinists in a screening so rigid, it lasted a year!
Standing just slightly over five feet, Yatco in sum was the rarest, mightiest mite in music as a concertmaster, violinist and conductor!