A dream is realized in a new festival venue in one of Brazil's most beautiful landscapes - near the idyllic beach where Portuguese explorers once landed and discovered Brazil.
A larger-than-life architectural sculpture arches into the sky right in the middle of a golf course in Trancoso, a town in the northern Brazilian state of Bahia. Star architect Francois Valentiny from Luxembourg designed the "Teatro," taking it from an idea to a completed structure in a mere two years.
Dedication in flip flops
A local bishop oversaw a dedication ceremony every bit as unconventional as the theater's success story. The clerics wore black robes as they gave the site their blessing, while supporters of the multi-million-dollar project appeared in flip flops and shorts - very much in keeping with the laid-back style in the beach town.
The idea to build a festival theater came from Sabine Lovatelli and her husband Carlo, along with a few of their friends who also own luxurious vacation homes in Trancoso. Born in Germany, Lovatelli has lived in Brazil for over 40 years. Her musical network runs deep. For years, she has headed the Mozarteum Brasileiro in Sao Paulo, which arranges concert series with artists and orchestras worldwide.
Top musicians celebrate
For the hall's opening day, Sabine Lovatelli brought in ensembles drawn from the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics as well as the Sao Paulo Youth Orchestra. From Beethoven to Lehar to Verdi, they played the "hits" of European classical music - also reaching out to those in the audience having their first encounter with classical music. But the project doesn't center solely on performing the classics.
"We don't just want to present the best artists here," said Lovatelli. "Instead, this theater is to be a training center for future generations of Brazilian musicians. We want to support their education as best we can."
As such, the simply but artfully named festival "Musica em Trancoso" featured not just eight concerts ranging from classical to bossa nova, but also workshops hosted by the musicians from Berlin and Vienna for Brazilian music students. A wing of the building has been set aside for rehearsal spaces.
18-year-old Lucas Bernardo, concertmaster of the Sao Paulo Youth Orchestra, drew much from rehearsing with the pros, saying, "They play at a very high level, and that gives you a lot of motivation and inspiration."
Bernardo hopes other members of his orchestra will have the chance to come to a masterclass like the one he attended, and he intends to pass on what he's learned. The young musician masterfully performed Brahms' Clarinet Quartet alongside the guests from Berlin.
Two years to a concert hall
Planning and building a performance venue like the one in Trancoso within two years is hardly a matter of course. Francois Valentiny already has plenty of experience on that front. The architect behind Salzburg's House for Mozart was also in the final round of consideration to build a new concert hall in Beethoven's birth city, Bonn. But mismanagement and citizen protests have put a halt to the project for the time being.
Wet cement, busted pipes
Trancoso posed its own challenges. The festival venue stands in a nature reserve, and city and state officials had to be convinced before it could be built. Strict environmental protections put Valentiny in a race against time. During the first festival, the sprayed concrete on the walls was still wet, and several water pipes burst loudly.
Wanting to insure his theater "fit into the landscape," Valentiny essentially built two concert halls, each seating 1,100. One is an open air theater with a breathtaking view of the surroundings and the starry sky at night. Below it is a concert hall open at the sides and including a natural ventilation system.
The architect says the construction workers and companies in Trancoso don't work to the standard he's accustomed to in Europe. That's why he chose to work with sprayed concrete, which is relatively easy to use - enabling him to realize his concept of an expressive and sculptural structural idiom. On the other hand, he says he can live with a few imperfections and criticizes "the complete addiction to perfection" in Europe.
Friends of Trancoso
Like Lovatelli and her friends, Valentiny is behind the project with heart and soul, working without a fee. He's repeatedly said that that such a Herculean act was possible only thanks to the unusual situation of the friends in Trancoso. He's referring in part to Reinold Geiger, the head of the L'Occitane company, who lives in a mansion at Trancoso's shores. Geiger offered up more than nine million euros ($12.5) from his own fortune, securing the financing nearly single-handedly. With a smile, Geiger says he doesn't expect a financial return - chalking his generosity up to his love for the country and its people and the fact that things are currently going "very well" in his business.
The locals have responded to the new offerings. Each of the concerts, to which admission is free, has seen a packed auditorium. In light of the high poverty rate among Trancoso's more than 20,000 residents, businessman Fabio Groberio, head of an association called Friends of Trancoso, views the theater project as a sustainable investment in the future.
"It's a way to offer the people here an educational outlet and greater quality of life," he said. The two halls in the building and its practice spaces can easily be used as a school house or convention center.
Unresolved issues may impair the performance's spaces potential however. The acoustics could be better, and during one of the concert evenings, armed thieves stopped a bus and robbed its driver. Security is the major problem in Bahia, Groberio says, and the festival organizers recognize that as well. But thus far, the festival house itself has been crime-free.
The unfortunate episode ahead of the concert did little to spoil the mood. With the ensembles from Vienna and Berlin playing Strauss' Tritsch Tratsch Polka, it was easy to imagine being in a hall in the Austrian capital: the Brazilian audience members clapped along to the rhythm and jumped up from their seats to deliver resounding applause - proving that Viennese charm works even on a golf course.