Jazz no Parque: July 15-17, 2011
Entering Fundação Serralves through a large iron gate, its pink, art deco Serralves Villa was immediately striking, but the foundation's property became even more imposing when exiting the back of the Villa, and learning that it occupies a full 18 hectares (nearly 45 acres) in the new part of Porto. If the Serralves Villa and its accompanying back space, with its cultivated landscape of descending pools, wasn't enough, the acreage included a relatively new (ten years old) museum, a large tennis court that is the performance space for Jazz no Parque...and even a fully functioning farm, where pigs, ducks and other animals are still raised to this day. And throughout it all, cultivated parkland that was clearly an ideal place to wander as the sun began to set on the city.
Serralves Villa, Fundação Serralves
The first full evening in Porto culminated in a visit to a new art exhibition, Villa, How to Use, at the Serralves Villa, a commissioned work by Leonor Antunes. Living in Berlin since 2004, Antunes is well-exhibited in the art world, but not nearly enough in her native Portugal, where she was born in Lisbon in 1972. In keeping with the foundation's contemporary focus, this is not a typical/conventional art exhibitno paintings, overt sculptures or other clear and unequivocal pieces of art. Instead, Antunes was commissioned to create works that convert spaces into "homes" or "dwelling places," in this case, the many rooms of the Serralves Villa built in the early 1930s and restored in the 1980s, after the State acquired the property which was, at the time, up for sale and facing possible destruction.
What Antunes has done is to create installations, ranging from thin gold wires creating patterns layered over the walls of one room and odd leather structures hanging from the ceiling in another, to spaces divided by curtains built from small stainless steel and brass tags. It was the kind of work that, rather than being imposing, was sometimes nearly invisible, subtly transforming bathrooms filled with pink marble, or living rooms defined by hardwood floors.
Villa, How to Use Exhibition, Fundação Serralves
With approximately 200 guests invited to the opening of the exhibit, it was also a chance to meet some of the people behind the foundation, including press officer Marta Morais and her assistant, Sandra Olim, who provided some background on the foundation, and whose tremendous hospitality made the entire three-day stay a memorable one. The Villa and Museum are both hosts to regular visitors despite having no permanent exhibitions, with some of their temporary runs drawing in a quarter of a million people. But the foundation is more than just a vehicle for exhibitions, performances and farming; an oasis of green in the middle of a relatively stone- and cement-filled residential area. Fundação Serralves is also about education on issues of art, environment and the need to preserve heritage areas like its ownthe foundation has, in fact, won two awards for its park: the innovation award within the field of environmental education from the Portuguese Museology Association in 1996, and the Henry Ford Prize for the Preservation of the Environment, a year later.
Just a short walk from the Tiara hotel, where guests of Jazz no Parque were put up in great style, sits Casa da Música (House of Music). Funded when Porto was European Capital of Culture, in 2001, the modern and remarkably high tech arts center took five years to build, but was worth the wait. A curious structure that is meant to represent a meteorite hitting the earth, with the landscape around it curved and sloped as a resultand used by local skateboarders the same way Oslo youth use the intentionally sloped exterior of that city's Opera Houseits concept of making the arts open to everyone absolutely reflected in its architecture. Although maintenance work taking place this summer means that some areas are off-limits outside of guided tours, under normal circumstances it's possible to wander freely throughout the building, more like a continuation of the streets outside than an actual building with hallways and rooms.
Casa da Música
The open concept also makes it possible to see inside every space from the outside, or from the halls that interconnect them. Rather than drywall, wood or plaster, most rooms have large glass walls at multiple spotsit's even possible to see from one of the smaller rooms into Casa da Música's main concert hall, the impressive Sala Suggia. The intention, then, is to allow people walking through Casa da Música access to everythingeven rehearsals. While the rooms are perfectly soundproofed, artists rehearsing at Casa da Música have to get used to the idea of people passing by, stopping, and checking out what they're up to. It's all part of making the arts open and accessible.
That Sala Suggia, with its aluminum floor (like most of Casa da Música), and wood and glass walls, can actually sound as good as it does is a marvel of modern technology. With a capacity of nearly 1240 people (including the choir box behind the stage, which is opened up to audiences when not in its intended use), its huge glass walls on the front and back are made of a rippled, corrugate glass that disperse rather directly reflect sound back (the usual bane of any room with hard, reflective surfaces). A large plastic canopy even hangs above the stage, making it possible to alter the onstage sound by adjusting its size and shape. Most large concert halls are best suited to specific kinds of music, but the Sala Suggia can actually be adjusted to suit everything from full-scale symphonies to intimate jazz ensembles and full-throttled rock shows.
There are other, smaller performance spaces throughout the building, as well as a top-level restaurant and a bar that, lit up at night, looks like an ice structure. Designed by The Netherlands' prize-winning Rem Koolhas (Casa da Música as, itself, won the Royal Institute of British Architects Award for its "intriguing, disquieting and dynamic" design), there are two rooms for children: The Purple Room a dark, relaxing room; and the sloped Orange Room, encouraging more frenetic activity, where a sound installation allows them to experiment with sound through the use of photocells and synthesized music.
Inside Casa da Música
Elsewhere there are spaces for meetings, intimate performances and meals. Every room is wired for sound and internet with a fibre optic link, more carefully concealed, but always readily accessible. And with an active program that largely focuses on Portuguese artistsbut includes a visit by American composer/arranger/bandleader Maria Schneider, conducting the same Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos that collaborated with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel on Our Secret World (Wommusic, 2010) Casa da Música is a true wonder of the musical world; a space whose stunning artistic design is only trumped by its actual broad and incredibly adaptable functionality.