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The Mandolin in Oporto, Portugal : with Antonio de Sousa Vieira

António Manuel de Sousa Vieira began his mandolin studies in the Coimbra Music Conservatory with Flávio Pinho. After that, he joined the Esch-sur-Alzette Conservatory (Luxembourg) where he studied neapolitan/baroque mandolin and chamber music with the virtuoso Juan Carlos Muñoz. António Vieira performed mandolin and chamber music courses in several countries with important plectrum musicians, such as Juan Carlos Muñoz, Mari Fé Pavón, Pedro Chamorro, Caterina Lichtenberg, Marga Wilden-Hüsgen, Keith Harris ... He founded the Orquestra Portuguesa de Guitarras e Bandolins (OPGB) in which is concertmaster and artistic director. António Vieira was the first Portuguese musician to join the European Guitar and Mandolin Youth Orchestra (EGMYO; 2006 – Greece, 2007 – Italy, 2008 – Spain). He was also the first Portuguese member of the European Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra (Il Forum Musicale). He has performed in several countries across Europe (Spain, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Greece ...). He is frequently the guest musician to perform the mandolin parts in several orchestras in Portugal, having already played with the Orquestra Sinfónica do Porto Casa da Música, OrchestrUtopica, Remix Ensemble Casa da Música..., under the direction of conductors like Christoph König, Peter Rundel, Emilio Pomàrico, John Storgards, Olari Elts .... In 2013 he started  the Ciglia Ensemble with the guitar player Rui Gama, which is dedicated to spread the unlimited sounds of plucked music. He also plays in Liuto Cantabile Ensemble, that focus on early music for Lute or Mandolin, and Portuguese popular music in Duo with the Accordionist Vitor Monteiro. In September 2007, began teaching the mandolin course in Vila Real Music Conservatory. In the academic year of 2009/2010, he was invited to open a mandolin class at Esposende Music School. In the following year, opened the mandolin class at the Bomfim Music Conservatory in Braga, and in 2013 opened the mandolin class at Porto Music Conservatory.

In 2017 he was appointed Teacher at Aveiro University, the first bachelor degree of mandolin in Portugal.

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How did you meet the mandolin ?

I think the first contact I had with mandolin was like all other Portuguese children that had access to popular music … it was, and it is, common in Portugal to see and hear plucked instruments! Mostly Portuguese guitar and Fado, but I remember mandolin for sure from the time I was 6, 7 years old, although I only started to play it later! My first instrument in conservatory was guitar, because at the time there were only mandolin classes in the conservatory of Coimbra. After a few years I had the chance to go there and studied with Flavio Pinho. From there I went to Luxembourg were I got my superior diploma with Juan Carlos Munoz.

How is your activity organized around the mandolin ?

I divide myself between concerts and teaching.
I am teaching in Porto conservatory of music and also Aveiro University, which recently opened the bachelor degree in mandolin, the first superior of our country. Besides that, I have several groups where I play: Ciglia Ensemble with guitar player Rui Gama, a Duo of mandolin-accordion with Vitor Monteiro and also Liuto Cantabile Ensemble where I play early music. I also perform a lot with the « Orquestra Portuguesa de Guitarras e Bandolins » (OPGB), where I am concert master and artistic director, and with several Symphonic Orchestras (Orquestra Sinfónica Casa da Música do Porto, Orquestra Clássica do Centro, etc.) and with contemporary groups like Remix Ensemble Casa da Música do Porto.

Can you tell us about the history of the mandolin in your country ?

It´s very difficult to precise how mandolin was introduced in Portugal, but the most common idea, is that was brought by Italians that were hired to teach and perform in the Portuguese courts. We have several scores in our Libraries and documents that prove that even the Portuguese Princesses played it. One of the first compositions is the Variations for Mandolin from David Perez, which were written for the Princesses in 1773. Some Portuguese composers of the time also wrote for mandolin. The mandolin that was common was the Neapolitan, that kept is predominance until the end of XIX century. The flat back, that most of people call Portuguese model, only started to be dominant in XX century, maybe because was easier to construct.
How has the mandolin and its repertoire evolved in your country ?

From XVIII century to now a lot happened. From the original Italian music and noble playing, the mandolin was adopted by popular circles. The Spanish movement of the Estudantinas also influenced the birth of Portuguese Tunas (from villages/cities or Universities/High schools) in the end of XIX century and continued in the XX century. They played a lot of genres, from classical to popular and had a lot of success. At that time Tunas were real “Plectrum Orchestras”, although a lot of them also had other instruments like violins etc.… There was always some Portuguese composer writing for mandolin, but as time evolved, he was mostly played in popular music like Tunas or similar groups. In Madeira they have a different perspective, with a lot of Mandolin Orchestras, which created a lot of repertoire and have incredible dynamics.

What is the position of the mandolin currently in your country ?

It’s a difficult answer … but I will give you my vision:  
I could say there are a lot of players … There are for sure a lot of players in modern Tunas (more Academic), and in Tunas that receive the Inheritance of the movement of the “Estudantinas”. There are also Mandolin Orchestras …But to me, what is important for the instrument, is to have players that want to get academic formation and that are not self-taught. Ok they could be excellent players, but we need more. We need to have the same treatment and respect from conservatories, which has a Violin, Flute or Guitar! We have an original repertoire that goes back to the baroque period, and a lot of well-known contemporary composers that wrote for mandolin. If we have good teachers with the right pedagogy, mandolin will earn the respect from authorities. The curiosity that the performances of OPGB is provoking, resulted in several conservatoires teaching the instrument. I am leading a big movement for opening more conservatoires and schools in Portugal, to form players with a solid technique, which can elevate the level of Portugal into professional high level standards.

What is the most played repertoire in your country ?

I think it depends of the type and level of each group. For instance OPGB every month makes new programs, with Mandonico. Kubota, Kuhawara, Gervasio, Chamorro, Beer-Demander … and new works that we are demanding to Portuguese composers. But as I said before, mandolin is much played and in all genres in Portugal.

Where is the mandolin taught ?

This are the official schools I know, were you can get a recognized diploma:

-Universidade de Aveiro - Superior Course - Professor António de Sousa Vieira
-Conservatório de Música de Coimbra – Middle Course - Professor Flávio Pinho
-Escola de Música de Esposende – Basic Course - Professor Jorge Carvalho
-Conservatório de Música do Porto - Middle Course – Professor António de Sousa Vieira
-Escola de Artes do Funchal – Middle Course -Professor Norberto Gonçalves da Cruz
-Conservatório Regional de Vila Real – Middle Course - Professor David Rodrigues

 Then you have several schools and teachers in Portugal that give free courses.

If you had to choose a word that represents or defines the mandolin, which would it be ?

Passion !