Martim Sousa Tavares: Orchestra must grow in «social reach» to «touch other audiences»

Exclusive interview of Sul Informação to the new principal conductor of the Orquestra Clássica do Sul and to António Branco, president of the formation

Martim Sousa Tavares – Photo: Diana Tinoco | THE F

Martim Sousa Tavares is, since January 1st of this year, the Orchestra's new conductor which, until April, will still be called Clássica do Sul. His first concert, with a program that will surprise, is scheduled for the February 5th, next Sunday, at 18 pm, at Teatro das Figuras, in Faro.

Making his motto a phrase from Santo Inácio de Loyola (“To see all things new”), this is a bit of what the young conductor intends for this new chapter of the formation that, soon, will once again be called the new Orquestra do Algarve , in a kind of «return to origins».

O Sul Informação interviewed, exclusively, maestro Martim Sousa Tavares, as well as António Branco, who, since the end of April last year, is President of the Musical Association of the Algarve, entity that manages and administers the Orchestra.

From the simultaneous interview, lasting almost an hour, it is clear that both share a vision for the future of the Orchestra. António Branco wants to «renew the relationship between music and audiences in general», going «in search of audiences that are either very far away, in faraway places, or live in social neighborhoods or are young people who go to other things».

Martim Sousa Tavares, who confesses to having had a «soft spot» for the Algarve Orchestra since, in September 2021, he worked with it as a guest conductor, completely agrees: «I would really like us to grow in the pedagogical side, in the social outreach side and not only geographic, of being able to play in fact for other audiences».

But he also wants the Orchestra to get involved with other partners, such as the University of the Algarve, to address two issues in an innovative way: mental health and misinformation and fake news. How will this be done? How do you address these issues through music? The maestro already gives hints in his interview, but the materialization is that will explain these new ideas.

One thing is certain: the Orchestra will leave the normal and take a leap into unconventional spaces, such as the housing estates of Olhão or the places where young people are, who have little or no interest in this music. You will also bet on less usual partners, such as Algarve Biomedical Center…and others you can't talk about yet.

A few days before his public debut at the head of the Orchestra, the concert on Sunday in Faro it will already be a way for maestro Martim Sousa Tavares to show his ideas. But, according to him, what matters are the talented musicians he is working with.


Sul Informação: António Branco, what led you to choose Martim as conductor at this stage of the Orchestra?

Antonio Branco – There were many reasons and the choice was not made by me alone. This was a collegial decision, as are decisions at the Orchestra, at least since I've been here. It involved the executive director, João Parrilha, who is also new to the Orchestra, the direction, but there was also consultation with the musicians and some suggested the name of Martim.

But his name was already on my mind, for a reason that has to do with my vision of Culture and Art and what I thought the Orchestra needed in the coming years.


SI – And what are these needs?

Antonio – It seemed to me that it was necessary to renew the expectations of the musicians regarding the repertoire they were going to play. It is perfectly normal that, in an Orchestra where the titular conductor stays for a certain period of time, relationships suffer consequences from this longevity, especially in the artistic field. One of the consequences is that musicians need, after a certain point, a new artistic vision, a new methodology, a new style of approach to the pieces. This seemed very evident to me when I arrived at the Orchestra.

I have a great admiration for maestro Rui Pinheiro, in fact I had the pleasure of being directed by him when I was part of the choir. The decision had nothing to do with Rui Pinheiro, it had to do with my perception of what the Orchestra's musicians needed: a new impetus, a new vision, a new methodology.

On the other hand, I myself have a vision of Culture or Art that is very close to many things that I used to hear Martim say in interviews in published things, namely two ideas that I value a lot and that are also mine, that I adopt in the relationship with these matters: one is that Art – Music, Theatre, Cinema… – Art and artists have an obligation to reach everyone, as this is a good that belongs to everyone.

What happens with regard to so-called erudite music – and this so-called erudite music is also the result, for example, of paying close attention to a series of programs that Martim did recently on television called «Anything but Classic» – but then I confirmed once again an idea that I already had, which is: there is a kind of generalized crisis in classical music because it is very attached to a certain audience, which is very faithful and even, in part, knowledgeable, and it is not there is a generational renewal of erudite music or classical music, something that Martim has also said. There is a risk that, if there is no passing of this generational witness to this extraordinary good that is classical and erudite music, we will lose more and more audiences, being confined to a number of people who are faithful, who are always present .

The other was the idea that there is a group of people who are very disadvantaged in all aspects, but who are also very disadvantaged in cultural terms. As this music is usually performed in traditional venues, and this very vast and anonymous group of people does not frequent these spaces, as young people do in most cases, artists have to make the move to meet these people and take them this. Why? Because, those who don't know, can't know if they like it or not.

These two objectives – on the one hand, to renew music's relationship with audiences in general, on the other hand, to look for audiences that are either very far away, in faraway places, or live in social neighborhoods or are young people who go to other things, to go to look for them, find out where they are and prepare concerts, initiatives, especially designed for them to enjoy.

These reasons I just mentioned were the essential ones for choosing Martim. If this is the vision we have for the future, Martim fits like a glove, actually taking this idea much further, because he is a musician, he is a maestro, and he knows how to translate this idea into concrete things.


Martim Sousa Tavares – ©Enric Vives-Rubio

Surprise but a lot of sympathy for the invitation


SI – Martim, how did you face this invitation to direct Orquestra Clássica do Sul?

Martim Sousa Tavares – It was with some surprise, actually. I had had a very happy experience with the Orquestra, in recent years I have been making the rounds of Portuguese orchestras as a guest conductor and, in fact, in none of them did I have such a happy experience as with the Orquestra, of deep rapport with the musicians and enormous satisfaction on several levels. This happened in September 2021 and I remember coming there with this feeling of already having a soft spot for this Orchestra.

The invitation came almost a year and a half later, a lot of water went under the bridge, but there was still this feeling of friendship. I remember when we finished the last of the concerts I did, I was still leaving the dressing room and some musicians were already asking me when I would be back. When this invitation was given to me, I immediately realized what António said, that there is a collective will on the part of the management, but also on the part of the musicians, for me to get closer to the Orchestra and contribute to this project. This also seems to me to be very consistent with my path. The Orchestra is regional, it serves a well-established purpose and it is different from other orchestras, such as Casa da Música or Orquestra Gulbenkian, which are orchestras that play in their headquarters, that is their home and call people to their House.

This Orchestra of ours has a different nature: although it has a headquarters, from an administrative point of view, this headquarters is not its home, the only place where it receives, its home is the Algarve, as a region, in a broader sense to the South , if we want.

For me, this idea is very dear, I feel at home with this concept of almost itinerant orchestras, which are like four-by-four vehicles: they manage to play for a theater audience, people with a higher level of academic qualifications and cultural participation , how they manage to be in Culatra, in an IPSS or even in a hospital playing for different groups of people. And here everything is at stake in the elasticity of institutions, but also of people, in their capacity to read these situations and to contribute with an effective mediation, not only from the communicative point of view, but also from a reading of what is needed for these people for fuller participation.

For me, this is a more interesting challenge than programming and directing an orchestra that always plays in the same auditorium. Frankly, it's not something I care about. I even think that, of all the orchestras that exist in our country, this is the only one that I would accept at this moment, for this reason. It is a challenge that suits me very much, where I can grow, test some ideas.

The challenge was, therefore, welcomed with great sympathy. I asked António [Branco] and João [Parrilha] 24 or 48 hours to think about it, because, when the invitation was sent to me, I already had a lot on my hands, I needed some time to reorganize the agenda, but I was very keen to do it. to accept. Also because of that, until the summer I won't be with the Orchestra as much as I will be from then on. In these first six months of the year, although they already have me as principal conductor – the music that the Orchestra plays is all programmed by me, some changes will already be evident – ​​my physical presence will be more regular from September onwards.

This is to say that it was a possible compromise, with enormous generosity and willingness on both sides to welcome this mutual willingness to work and to accommodate specific needs. In truth, I have already started to work regularly with the Orchestra in recent months, in the sense of preparing the transition, of taking some steps. But I reiterate what António says: there is a great rapport, for me it is a very happy moment that this new ownership is finally approaching, which will be done in the concert on the 5th. It will be a return to this Orchestra and to these musicians, but in a completely different capacity, in a different relationship as well.


SI – Do you already know all the musicians you can count on?

Martin – Everyone, not everyone, because from September 2021 until now, there have been some changes. I know there is, for example, a cellist I didn't know and a horn player I didn't know either. But most of the people, above 95% of the people who make up the Orchestra, yes, I already know them. Now, I met the musicians on a guest conductor basis. It's a bit like being invited over to someone's house for dinner: we're not going to go there and move the furniture around just because we don't like it. There is a way of being that is different. Although the person always brings his vision and tries to make the Orchestra also share that vision.

Also in that sense, I am looking forward to this return to the Algarve, because now I know it is different, we are in a relationship for the next three and a half years, at least, so the perspective is completely different, my approach too, as well as the will with that I'm going to listen to the Orchestra with different ears, because now I have to be more critical, in the medium and long term.

In other words, they are not things that I have to resolve in two or three rehearsals that I have to do for the concert on the 5th, they are things that will be identified and worked on over time. This greatly changes my point of view. I would say that the position in which I find myself is very exciting.


SI – Do you know if you need more musicians, to change something?

Martin – The team is what it is, I don't miss more musicians. In fact, one of the things that I would like to improve or correct in the trajectory of the Orchestra is that chamber orchestras – which is the nature of this orchestra and most Portuguese orchestras – often feel frustrated for not being able to play the music of large orchestras: romantic music, grandiose symphonic, etc. It seems that they are getting tired of playing what is their natural repertoire. They often end up taking a few false steps, in my opinion, which is to venture to play this symphonic music with few musicians, and therefore, almost because of the desire to play a good symphony by Brahms, but without the actual instrumental for it. . I think we shouldn't do it.

We must accept, with joy, that we are a chamber orchestra, which is an extremely versatile instrument, much more versatile than a symphony orchestra, as there are less musicians, there is much greater cohesion, a better ability to hear each other , more transparent in its texture.

And what there is is a very large wealth of repertoire, which is dormant and practically unknown, and which I would like our Orchestra to work on. For example, the issue of female composers. Since I'm making the Orchestra's programming, only my concert on the 5th will have all the music of “dead white men”. This issue of diversity and equity, for me, is very important.

This alone is a breath of fresh air, the programming we are doing: they are new pieces that the Orchestra will discover, but they are also pieces from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, therefore written for this formation. That will fit us like a glove, but that open a window here, let in a breath of fresh air.

I don't think about replacing musicians or getting more musicians. I am thinking, yes, of giving these musicians a different diet, new, stimulating and richer in aesthetic nutrients than what may have been the path up to here. This is a way of revaluing all musicians, of making them feel interested again and also curious about what they do and avoid falling into a routine. It's the worst thing orchestras can have, which is feeling that every day they're entering an office and every day it's between 9 and 5. Then it's no longer air, it becomes a mechanical exercise of repetition.


Martim Sousa Tavares – Photo: Diana Tinoco | THE F

“Seeing All Things New”


SI – What can we expect from the Orchestra again with your direction?

Martin – One of the things that will be visible, also because our contract determines it, is that I will only be up to 50% of the concerts, while the previous principal conductor Rui Pinheiro did considerably more. In my view, this translates into a greater diversity of people, of visions, who are entering the Orchestra on a regular basis and which keep it always in check. When they begin to see the same maestro in front of them many, many times, a relationship of almost too closeness is created, of some ease and predictability. By bringing conductors from abroad, it is a way of guaranteeing that the Orchestra never drops its form, that new ideas, new programming, that we are here with a rich diet.

Another idea I'd like to work on is identifying new concert formats, new programming cycles. The Orchestra will continue to honor the already traditional cycles – the Promenade Concerts, the chamber music cycle at Teatro Lethes – but I would like us to be able to find new ways of programming. It's not an immediate thing, because I myself need to feel the musicians, feel the terrain, understand well how the orchestra relates to its partners, with the municipalities, with the advance in how these things are worked.

I would really like us to grow on the pedagogical side, on the social outreach side and not just geographically, to actually be able to play for other audiences. In fact, the most disruptive ideas I bring are along these lines: looking for different formats, at different times, in different places. Exploring different ways of being, without letting go of the idea that the Orchestra is these musicians, it is this talent that we are always celebrating.

The concert on the 5th, which is a concert with only three pieces, is a very simple program, but it is a kind of manifesto on my part, I want to show what I come to do with this Orchestra, what my ideas are. In a way, these three pieces are the epitome of that. One of the ideas comes from a phrase by Saint Ignazio de Loyola, which is “Seeing all things new”. So just because we play music from the XNUMXth century doesn't mean it should sound old and dusty. We can see things in another light, taking this same music to less common circumstances.

I would say that, perhaps, from September, these new formats will start to emerge, which have to be thought about with some time and some knowledge too, of the environment in which they will be inserted.


SI – For the February 5th concert, which composers did you choose?

Martin – Let's start with a piece by the American Charles Ives, who although he was a composer born in the 70s, is one of the fathers of Modernism and the avant-garde of the XNUMXth century. He is a very curious figure, inasmuch as he has been an insurance broker all his life and, in his spare time, he writes music, so visionary, so strange, that even he himself never imagined it would ever be played. The fact that he does this as a hobby it gave him even more freedom, because he didn't even have to worry about the pragmatics of whether or not that song was played. He wrote some works that are preludes to what would become the greatest revolutions of the 5th century, but in the 10 years, in the XNUMX years, therefore, much, much earlier.

Let's play the most famous piece by Charles Ives, which is The Unanswered Question, a profoundly philosophical piece, which divides the orchestra into three groups: the string orchestra represents what he calls “the silence of the druids”, which is a kind of celestial truth, which does not belong to the human world, it belongs to the planet, to a more supernatural existence. Deep down, it represents peace, serenity and truth, knowing what things mean, knowing the meaning of life.

Faced with this silence of the druids, which is something very consonant, very beautiful, played by the strings very slowly, very brightly, there is a question that is asked insistently, by a trumpet, which will not be visible, we are just going to listen to it, which is like a strange melody. And that question represents us, people, who, faced with this ancient world and everything that was here before us, do not understand who we are, we do not understand where we are going.

All of this is contrasted with the orchestra's woodwind group, which plays some very intricate melodies, which accelerate more and more, which are clearly a cacophony, which are the mundane, human plane, where we are as people. This question splits between a heavenly plane and a dirtier, more dissonant plane. It represents us human beings and the questions we ask ourselves.

It is easier to listen to it than to understand my explanation, but, deep down, it is a piece that helps us to situate ourselves as people, in the time and space in which we are.

This piece is not going to end with an applause, because we are going to take it directly with a piece by Ralph Vaughan-Williams, who is an Englishman who was born two years after Charles Ives, and who is a neo-Renaissance. In the XNUMXth century, in England, it was very fashionable to look at the English repertoire of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries and work on that material again. He writes this work, Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – who was a XNUMXth-century English composer – where he takes this old music, which sounds old-fashioned, and gives it a new, modern guise in the light of the XNUMXth century. What he is doing is “seeing all things new”, is using that old material to give him a new vision.

We transition from one thing to another. I would say that the choice of one or the other is not innocent either because they catch each other very well, they have this layer of strings that is difficult to explain, but that, after listening, will make sense.

This explains why we are going to be an Orchestra that is attentive to its time, with a critical eye, porous on an aesthetic level, in terms of artistic inclinations, we are going to reflect the time we are in. But let's also look at old things, at what tradition is, with new eyes. Let's not get into a rut, let's do it like Vaughan-Williams did.

In the second half of the concert, we have Beethoven's fourth symphony, a festive, virtuosic symphony, because this is to celebrate the musicians of the Orchestra, not about me. It is a way to end well, remembering that this is just another chapter that begins in the life of this Orchestra. We play a very solid symphony, which will give great pleasure to both the player and the listener.

Roughly speaking, we have new things and things we already know, old things and things that are being reworked. In a way, it's a presentation of mine, to show what I come for, and that's why the concert is called «Presentation Concert», not only to show my face, but to show my ideas.


SI – And are you already working with the musicians of the Orchestra for this concert?

Martin – We will have rehearsals in the first days of February. The norm is one week of work for each program.


António Branco – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação

Orchestra will once again be called “from the Algarve”


SI – António Branco, one of the Orchestra's problems used to be funding, as is unfortunately usual in cultural matters in our country. How is the Orchestra doing at this level?

Antonio – I'm going to say something that is not very common in these circles: the truth is that the previous management, president, financial manager, left us an orchestra with enviable, comfortable financial health. It doesn't mean that we can do whatever we want, but that we don't have, at least on the nearest horizon, dark clouds.

This more comfortable situation also allows us to turn this into an opportunity. Not having to think daily about how to pay the bills – there were times, far back, when it was like that… – , we have the opportunity to understand two things: how can we best apply the funds we have at our disposal, on the one hand, and Martim has just explained it better than anyone else, the perspective of how these funds can be put at the service of a broader plan. Secondly, by renewing the Orchestra's image and practices, and having Martim Sousa Tavares as principal conductor, we hope to raise more financial support for the Orchestra, for example associated with specific projects, which we can present to major sponsors, to great patrons.

At the moment, we have guaranteed a permanent subsidy from the Ministry of Culture, we have the permanent support of the municipalities that were founders – Faro, Loulé, Tavira, Albufeira, Lagos and Portimão - as well as the Algarve Tourism Board and the University of the Algarve, which give us an annual subsidy and we have not had any problems at this level. And then we still have the supporting associates who are going to establish protocols with us for a smaller participation than that of the founders, two or three concerts a year. At this moment, we already have almost all municipalities in the Algarve involved in some way with the Orchestra, in addition to other entities.

In addition to what is already guaranteed, and naturally we have to fight so that there are no reasons for this support to disappear, we have ideas to present to concrete entities, which we believe will be capable of financing very interesting concrete projects.

My perspective is that we will be able to use the funds we have well, because they are almost all public funds, we have that obligation. And to take advantage of this circumstance to, with these funds, redirect the Orchestra's vision, supported by this comfortable or, at least, not frightened budget.

The Orchestra is made up of 31 musicians with an employment contract. It's been a long time since we passed the stage where musicians had a service with the Association [Musical do Algarve, owner of the Orchestra] and therefore there was the possibility or even the need for great variation.

Being a young Orchestra with the characteristics that Martim mentioned, we are also, and fortunately, a place for young and very talented musicians to grow and, eventually, growing up, they may want to go to other places. This is natural and welcome. There are times when musicians leave to compete for other orchestras and stay there, highly rated. It means that our Orchestra is a good laboratory for musicians who want to come here.

Then there are concerts, there are repertoires that require reinforcement of instruments. It is perfectly foreseen in the annual budget that there are times when the principal conductor says: for this concert we will need more of these musicians. And they're hired for that concert.

Martim has White card to make those choices. But there is also something new here, which is not very common in these structures: we allocated a budget to the artistic direction and gave it enormous autonomy to manage that budget. In other words: the artistic direction does not have to, on a case-by-case basis, ask if there is money. She knows how much money there is and she has the ability to do the management herself, deciding on the concerts in which there are reinforcements, the soloists she invites.

Of course, if the income increases – if we get new associates or special support – the income of the artistic direction and the capacity it has to make decisions also increases, depending on that additional budget.

This is a novelty that is based on a principle that, for me, is unshakable: we cannot make artists depend daily on whether or not there is money to do things. To program artistically is to have the possibility of seeing from a distance. And to do that, it's very important that the artists who have to make the decisions know that in six months we can do this, in eight months we want to be doing that.


SI – The Orquestra began by calling itself “from the Algarve”, after a certain point it changed its name to Orquestra Clássica do Sul, in an attempt to seek support from municipalities and other entities in the Alentejo. Will this keep up?

Antonio Branco – This decision was legitimized by the General Assembly of the Association, which realized that there was, at the time, instability in the funding coming from the Algarve region and that it was absolutely necessary to do something to not endanger the life of the Orchestra. It was a legitimate and thoughtful decision.

In fact, several incursions were made and some support was obtained. Turns out they weren't as bulky as expected.

Secondly, this direction, when taking stock of that period in which we called ourselves Orquestra Clássica do Sul, thinks that we may have won, on the one hand, and lost, on the other. We may have lost a certain identity relationship between the territory and the Orchestra. In practice, this did not happen, because the Orchestra continued to cover the territory of the Algarve. But the designation made this rooting and strong connection of the Orchestra to the region less evident.

The decision has already been taken to return to the name of Orquestra do Algarve. From the 1st of April, all materials, all platforms, the logo, will once again be Orquestra do Algarve. It is a return to origins.


SI – It is good news, that they are no longer Orquestra Clássica do Sul…

Antonio – …Being from the South and having that word “classic” there. We are not going to stop being from the South, nor are we going to stop being the same Orchestra, not least because our core is the so-called classical or erudite music. The fact that it was in the name didn't restrict us, because the Orchestra has always been capable of doing other things, but it kind of predetermined the look on us. Just listen to what Martim said to understand why I'm saying that. There is a potential for artistic possibilities that the simple name Orquestra do Algarve breathes.


Martim Sousa Tavares – Photo: Diana Tinoco | THE F

From social neighborhoods, to fake news and mental health


SI – Martim, can you lift the veil a little and reveal what could be the Orchestra's first performance in a different way, in a different location? What will happen and when will it be?

Martin – It's hard to say, because the schedule we're closing until the summer doesn't exactly present anything revolutionary. António and I are going to talk next, because I proposed a project in which I have been taking some steps: I would really like the Orchestra to get involved with the academic environment and the production of knowledge, in two aspects: one is the issue of health mental health, which is an issue that is increasingly on the agenda and people gain new tools to relate to mental health, and the other is the issue of misinformation and fake news, which is nothing less revealing.

I would like the Orchestra to be a partner in these speeches, to help understand and enrich the discussion about them, because they can also be translated to music. I have two prepared concerts in my head, one for each theme, and an intervention also as a speaker and person who will mediate between these speeches and then put it into practice in music.

I would very much like to see the Orchestra involved with the University of Algarve, which, incidentally, is part of its core of founders, and also invite foundations, other partners, other voices, to come to the Algarve and build a forum around this.

It's something I'd like to think about for the last quarter of this year and which, deep down, is something new in my opinion: the Orchestra is not doing a concert just because, playing this music just because it's beautiful, but we have an objective where we want to reach, an intellectual objective, of citizenship, of advancing people's knowledge and critical capacity, which is then translated into music, into beauty.

It is a project that I see in Orquestra as the perfect partner, the perfect platform to do so, due to its relationship with the University of Algarve. If all goes well, it's an idea I know we'll at least try.


Antonio Branco – In addition to these themes to which Martim challenged us and to which I immediately reacted very well, because I really like this idea of ​​the Orchestra associating itself with major social issues, showing that there are many ways of talking about things and intervening in them and the music is one of them, I would love to involve the ABC [Algarve Biomedical Center] and the Orchestra on the great theme of active ageing. Because I think we have an excellent partner there, who has enormous experience in research and action on active ageing. The Orchestra can have a word to say about that too, because music has a role to play in this great social mission of improving the way people age.

Afterwards, we had a challenge from the Câmara de Olhão whose protocol has not yet been signed, but we believe it will be soon, and which also pleased us a lot: it is the Orchestra going to the housing estates. Go there, to the place, and make music there for the people. We still don't know under what conditions this can be done, nor when, but the truth is that this was the challenge that the Câmara de Olhão posed to us to join the Orchestra and that we accepted with great joy.

There is still the challenge that seems abstract, but it is not so much. we have here in Faro and in the Algarve a university student population of around eight thousand people. Where are they? Where are they? What spaces do they frequent? I know that Martim already has some experience of this in his recent past. I'm not saying to repeat anything. But I know that it is a good challenge for maestro Martim Sousa Tavares the Orchestra, to have initiatives specially designed to meet those thousands of young people who certainly listen to music, who certainly go to places.

As you can see, ideas abound! We are still programming, talking to entities, but the projects are firm, they are not simple ideas. I've already seen that Martim has a very concrete profile, I do too and João Parrilha does the same. The combination of three very concrete people will make these ideas and projects a reality.


Read some more!
A strong region needs a strong press and, these days, the press depends on its readers. We make all Sul Infomação content available free of charge, because we believe that it is not through barriers that the public approaches responsible and quality journalism. Therefore, your contribution is essential.  
Contribute here!