Manuel Lobo Antunes: Portugal's Ambassador to the United Kingdom Shares His Insights Both into His Own Musical Journey, and into That of His Country

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Manuel Lobo Antunes: Portugal's Ambassador to the United Kingdom Shares His Insights Both into His Own Musical Journey, and into That of His Country


Cultural life when I grew up was very limited, and the choice and opportunities were not so great. We had a national symphony orchestra which was sponsored by the state. But classical music, and classical music education was for the bourgeoisie and those who could afford it. But then a phenomenon happened, which was the Gulbenkian Foundation. It was created by the fortune left to the Portuguese state by a billionaire called Calouste Gulbenkian, and it acted in many ways like a second ministry of culture, and was particularly focused on arts and music. It built its own auditorium and created its own orchestra and ballet company. This, together with the social and economic changes following the democratic revolution of 1974, radically changed the musical panorama of Portugal. We had the Opera of St Carlos during the time of the dictatorship--but it was for a small, educated, rich elite. What Gulbenkian did was to open music to the general public--to those who had no opportunity to go to St Carlos, or to go to a concert. More people could now listen to and know about music. It was a deep and profound transformation.

I was lucky enough to have a father who had many intellectual interests, who was a big reader, and who loved music, poetry and literature, and who was willing to share his enthusiasms with his six children. For instance at most of our dinners he would recite poetry. What I know, I owe to him.

I'm a little like that, I like to share my enthusiasms, and to transmit what I know to others. I always try to put music in its cultural context--in its time. It's important for people to understand the difference between Romanticism, Classicism, why Mozart is different to Beethoven. Music is a symbol of its time, like architecture, like sculpture, like painting, and this to me is absolutely fundamental. All artistic tendencies, as they develop, represent their time. They represent a transformation that happened, they represent progress.

You need to listen a lot to understand music. More and more I think about music as I see a painting, that everything has a meaning--and the process of trying to learn why, for example, those violins are there, or why the trumpet comes in now, gives me great pleasure. I've listened to music for many years now, but this sensation, this discovery, is not a very old one for me--it took years for me to understand what is good and what is bad. Though of course there is always a personal subjective element which is our own taste and own sensitivity. …

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