The Setubal Music festival takes place over 6 days in late May. Setubal is an ancient fishing port half an hour’s drive south of Lisbon. In Roman times it produced fish paste (garum), in the 19th and 20th centuries it was a major factory port for canned sardines. It’s town centre is a pretty amalgam of baroque and later buildings but its outskirts and port areas have suffered from industrial decline.
The Music Festival was started in 2009 as a City initiative with the Helen Hamlyn Trust to invigorate fringe communities while providing a focus for professional music making. The guiding principle is that visiting musicians must perform on stage with local community groups but the standard should be professional. A high proportion of the music is by living composers or music animators.
Director: Ian Ritchie
Friday 24 May 2019
Setubal Town Hall
Setubal Festival Camerata
John Kenny Carnyx
Andre Gaio Pereira Conductor
Sibelius Andante Festivo
Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings
There are sentences you never expect to write as a commentator and this is one of them; the young string players of the festival camerata, most of them still students, were directed from the carnyx. That’s how it was.
Under the rococo decorations of Setubal’s Town Hall a few metres from the River Sado’s outflow into the Atlantic, a small modern chamber orchestra was led by John Kenny into a recreation of Celtic people confronting the same ocean in Scotland two thousand and more years ago. The carnyx is a war trumpet, long-necked and dragon-headed. You would have seen the glowering head and heard its roar long before the warriors appeared above a hill crest.
Reconstructed from fragmented examples in museums and illustrations in mediaeval manuscripts, the carnyx is a fearsome instrument and, if there were dozens of them sounding together with dubious tuning, must have been a raucous beast. In Nigel Osborne’s music, though, written in the 1990s for Kenny to explore the possibilities, it is also calm, mournful and, if not exactly tame, does show it has a gentle side. Osborne augments the live playing with ‘sound photographs’, an electronic accompaniment, of, among others places, ‘the estuaries and the majestic sea of the Moray Firth at Tugnet and Cullen Bay (resonating in places with the same pedal E flat as the carnyx itself)’.
After this mystical recreation, or perhaps mythical sound narrative, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade was something of a cultural wrench, backward and forwards through the centuries. The young players brought enthusiasm if not finesse to it and that, like many of the concerts in Setubal, was the whole point.
This festival uses music shamelessly to bring the community together, to entice parents to come and cheer their children of whatever age with pride, and to prove that good music, old and new but seriously played, will win over any prejudice. If you attend Setubal expecting a reverential hush, you will be disappointed. If you can shut out the ‘noises off’, though, and go to enough concerts (most of which are free – so there’s little excuse not to), then the sheer joy of being part of town putting the festive back into festival, is infectious.