Centro Cultural de São Lourenço street view

The story of the Amigos de Música

This year marks the 30th anniversary of this Circle of Music Friends and it well deserves to be celebrated. This non-profit, private members’ organisation was incorporated in March 1991 as the “Associação de Amigos de Música de São Lourenço” with the aim of dedicating its efforts to bringing classical music performances to the Algarve.

The full history, however, goes back exactly another 10 years and describes the part that São Lourenço plays in this story. In 1981, Volker and Marie Huber, who had converted five derelict houses on the road to the Church of São Lourenço near Almancil into a gallery for contemporary art, inaugurated the Centro Cultural de São Lourenço (CCSL). This was a unique pioneering effort in the newly-republican Portugal just six years after the 1974 Revolution.

Marie Huber said about these beginnings: “When we founded the Centro Cultural São Lourenço in 1981, my husband Volker and I had the desire to create a lively place of encounter, offering to the public a large spectrum of cultural events in different disciplines. It turned out that we concentrated mostly on plastic arts and music.

“The first vernissage, showing four young Portuguese artists, was accompanied by a concert featuring the Trio Antiqua, a Portuguese trio with harp, cello and flute. The concert took place on the patio and the public was seated on small stools without a backrest! We were young and enthusiastic at the time and did not bother about comfort.

“We continued organising concerts, mainly in the high season. We had to fight on two fronts – finding an audience and financing the events. On this latter aspect, we first contacted the German Embassy in Lisbon for help. A piano was put at our disposal and part of each concert’s costs was covered by the German government.

“When Europe opened up to the East, southern European countries lost part of their EU support, mainly for cultural projects. We were facing a real problem. At that time, one of our supporters and steady visitors, Christine Lady Vavasour came to us with a brilliant idea: create an association of music lovers to support the concerts.”

Christine Lady Vavasour was an early Algarve resident and a charismatic, idealistic lady with a sound PR background. She saw an opportunity in 1988 to combine cultural needs with practical support by inviting like-minded Algarve residents to form a circle of friends of music whose patronage would assist in the financing of music in CCSL.

Marie Huber continued: “Chrissie spread the word and rapidly found followers for her idea. In 1991, the Associação de Amigos de Música de São Lourenço was born, with Lady Vavasour as president. With the help and the contacts of the association, we were able to improve the quality of our concerts. Our small venue hosted artists of renown like Maurice Gendron, Olga Prats and the Opus Ensemble, Elsa Saque, Nella Maissa …”

So, on the 10th anniversary of the Centro Cultural, a group of 10 friends, among them Cilla and Clive Dunn, Mark Weinberger, Prue and John Levitt, Lady Vavasour and Dale Sumner and Pedro Leitão went to Dr. Batalha, the Notary Public in Albufeira to legally incorporate the “Associação de Amigos de Música de São Lourenço”, or AAMSL.

Lady Vavasour was the first President. Membership fees formed the budget for the new enterprise, whereby active members benefited from gratis attendance to all concerts planned for a season, i.e. a year.

Musicians like Regina Albrink, Steven Salkeld, Patricia Calnan, Anna Ester Neves, Raquel Correia, the Lyric Quartet and others were invited, played and became regular CCSL artists.

Marie Huber said: “The concerts became so well attended that we had to extend our seating capacity. We opened a wall to a room behind the concert hall separated by a few steps, and thereby nearly doubled our capacity. This concert hall on two levels was a bit strange, because part of the public would only see the musicians from the back, but the acoustics did not suffer from this enlargement. On the contrary, they actually improved. After four years of service, Lady Vavasour decided to retire, and in 1995 Helga Hampton was elected new President.”

In the 10 years of her first presidency, Helga was able to bring to bear her good contacts in the classical music world, gained during her working life in various European countries. Among the artists she invited were international musicians like the cellist Tim Hugh, the viola player Paul Silverthorne, the flautists Paul Edmund-Davis and Thomas Huenteler, the violinist Jack Liebeck and pianists Lucy Parham and Christopher Ross. And, as AAMSL expanded its array of world-class CCSL/AAMSL artists, they were able to offer more and more monthly performances.

In 1996, Helga introduced the charitable arm “Sponsorship for Young Portuguese Music Students” to the Amigos, for which purpose the association’s statutes were dutifully amended. With a growing and generous membership, the Amigos were soon able to set funds aside for some financial support of a number of deserving young Portuguese music students in their further studies abroad. To date, the Amigos de Música have sponsored six protégés in diverse ways.

Marie Huber added: “When in 2004 Helga left after 10 years of very effective work to finish her graduate studies, Barry Shaw took over as President and decided that the association should buy a piano up to the standard of our musicians. The Yamaha C5 chosen by Paul Crossley was bought by the membership. Two stars, Paul Crossley and Artur Pizzaro, played the inaugural concert in 2005. Many others would follow – just to mention a few: Eric le Sage, Yevgeny Sudbin, Sa Chen, Jean Marc Lusiada, Kathryn Stott….

“For Volker and me, the concerts became an important part of our lives. We would offer the musicians coming from abroad the possibility to stay at Centro Cultural as our guests. Having the piano and lots of space at their disposal, they could rehearse whenever they felt like it. We loved these days when music was invading every corner of the house and we could enjoy passionate discussions with our guests. It was a very rich and exceptional experience.”

Barry Shaw was a dedicated, resourceful and knowledgeable President, and he used his great love of music very effectively to the Amigos’ benefit. When in November 2011 he became incapacitated, he asked Helga to step back in and resume the task of guiding the future of the Amigos de Música. Barry tragically died in 2012.

Helga has been President ever since.

Over the years, the collaboration of CCSL and AAMSL had been very fruitful, bringing a growing number of international musicians to the Algarve for regular monthly concerts. So, it was to the regret, as well as the detriment, of the Amigos membership when Marie Huber decided in 2013 to end a glorious chapter by closing the doors to her gallery. The Amigos de Música had lost their home.

The future of AAMSL looked dismal. In fact, there was contemplation within the membership to fold the association, as finding a venue comparable to CCSL was deemed impossible. Helga decided to suspend AAMSL membership for one year from June 2013 in order to have time to dedicate to the identification of a new venue in the Central Algarve.

New beginnings
Finding a new venue for Amigos concerts was an arduous process. Membership had grown to a self-imposed maximum of 100, who mainly lived in the Central Algarve, so the search was somewhat limited to the Faro-Loulé-Almancil area. Happily, these year-long efforts succeeded. In September 2014, the Amigos were able to inaugurate their new “home” in the Quinta Os Agostos in the hills above Sta. Bárbara de Nêxe.

Adapted from an extensive old country estate and farm, Os Agostos had become an exclusive and very picturesque and stylish place for wedding celebrations. Helga felt that part of the antique section within this complex was perfect for her concert activities. The old stables, “Cavalariça”, would lend themselves comfortably as reception space and the adjacent “Adega”, with its original stone wall features, would make an excellent auditorium.

As weddings take place on weekends, Tuesdays and Thursdays could be reserved for Amigos de Música concerts. And the owners of Os Agostos, Maria and António Farrajota, were immediately open to this new idea and became their greatest hosts and collaborators.

The Amigos’ Yamaha piano found a permanent new home, stationed prominently on a wooden plinth in one corner. Comfortable seating for up to 100 could be arranged according to need.

The intimacy and the acoustics of this space have from the start been appreciated and, indeed, lauded by all their musicians. Many of whom could conveniently be put up in one of the comfortable OA guest apartments during their stay, and have the resident Amigo piano standing by and at their constant disposal for rehearsals and practice. A most perfect arrangement.

With the expert help of the Os Agostos team, who would become indispensable for the smooth running of the mutual new enterprise, the first two Amigos concerts took place in September 2014, featuring the Ukranian pianist Evgeny Gromov.

Sponsorship
The Amigos’ aim has always been, and remains, to have world-class musicians give two concerts during their stay in the Algarve. They are invited for one week and can bring partners and/or family. They are flown in from within Europe, accommodated and become friends.

In all of this, generous help comes from sponsors: The local real estate company QP Savills have been main sponsors. Without their significant financial support, meeting the ever-growing costs (mainly air transport) would be a most daunting difficulty. ValVerde Apartments have graciously accommodated artists from time to time, as have a number of Amigos who placed their guest facilities at their disposal.

Of course, extra donations from active members, over and above the annual membership fees, have been most welcome additions. And not least of all, thanks go to Os Agostos for their gracious hospitality under very favourable conditions.

We are proud of calling ourselves: Amigos de Música at Os Agostos.

Some statistics
During the time at Os Agostos, from 2013 to 2020, 47 concerts were organised, composed of 22 piano solos, one guitar solo, 21 duos and three trios.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of all concerts from March to June 2020. However, in the autumn months of September to December 2020, the Amigos braved COVID and, observing all safety measures according to DGS rules, held eight concerts.

Social distancing made creative – so, the Amigos with the enthusiasm of their musicians added matinee performances to make up for necessarily reduced attendance at evening performances. Matinees became a very popular addition and they might become a permanent new feature.

Over the 30 years, musicians have come from 30 different countries, including China, Russia, Australia, Canada and the USA. This multi-national characteristic is also a feature of the membership. At present, there are just over 100 active members, most of whom are residents in this country. They come from the UK, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Russia. Yes, there is also a smattering of Portuguese music lovers who have been willing to put up with the beginning of concerts at 7pm, which is too early for the traditional timing of evening events.

Our 30th anniversary
We, the Amigos, are well aware of the importance of commemorating this quite extraordinary achievement – having been active and, indeed, successfully active over 30 years makes us proud. And, together with a great number of “our” artists and guests are ready to have a roaring good party. The exact date of the legal registration of our association is the end of March 1991.

Our planning hands are currently completely tied by the present global situation, which precludes congregations. At the moment, we are not even sure that the next concerts, planned for the end of February, will be allowed to take place. But we are optimistic that at some point during this year we shall be able to celebrate, and then it will be a double reason to pop some champagne corks in a combination 30th anniversary of the Amigos de Música and the end of the pandemic! Stay tuned. And stay safe!

We have a very good website where all up-to-date information can always be gleaned – www.amigos-de-musica.org

For general and logistic information about our venue, visit the website of Os Agostos – www.osagostos.com

For membership questions, contact me – helga.hampton@gmail.com

By Helga Hampton

Marie Huber
Barry Shaw
Christine Lady Vavasour (seated) and Helga Hampton
Social event in CCSL
Os Agostos auditorium
Piano Recital at Os Agostos with Paul Crossley
Centro Cultural de São Lourenço street view
Os Agostos terrace