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a tiny enclave of terra-cotta roofs and whitewashed concrete walls in the mountains of northern Portugal—and the residents are gathered at a hilltop cruzeiro for a concert. Beyond, the Portuguese high country stretches for miles to the west, olive groves and farmhouses breaking up the rocky landscape.
For eight days, the baroque sounds of classical music echo through these hills and bring to life an otherwise sleepy rural village. Modeled on educational summer music programs like the BU Tanglewood Institute, the festival includes private instruction for students ages 8 to 24 in violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, guitar, piano, and voice, as well as daily small, often intimate, concerts throughout the area.
Pianist Inês Andrade (CFA’18), who grew up in Lisbon and regularly traveled to Bendada to visit relatives, conceived of the music festival as a Doctor of Musical Arts student at the College of Fine Arts. “I always knew I wanted to do more with music than just perform concerts,” she says. “I wanted to create something that could make an impact on a whole community.”
She enlisted the help of her chamber music group Virtuoso Soloists: pianist Edoardo Carpenedo (CFA’19), who grew up in Venice and likes to wax poetic about the rock-star lifestyle of 19th-century piano virtuoso Franz Liszt; violist Yoni Battat (CFA’15), who is from Connecticut and recently returned from a year in Israel studying and performing Arabic music, Mizrahi Jewish music, and klezmer; and cellist Gracie Keith (CFA’19), who comes from Texas and has even the Portuguese kids saying “y’all” by the end of each festival.
Inês Andrade and her BU colleagues teach the festival courses, along with five instructors from conservatory programs in Portugal and the United States. Most of the students are from Portugal, but this year they also hail from Italy and the United States.
It may seem extraordinary that students would travel hours from the major coastal cities of Lisbon and Porto to a town so small that it has no supermarket. But Bendada is particuarly well equipped to host a music festival. The village has an active local woodwind ensemble, the Sociedade Filarmónica Bendadense, which first played in 1870. (Inês and Duarte’s great-great-grandparents were among its founding members.) And in 2015, Bendada’s rich musical legacy led to the opening of the Casa da Música da Bendada, a well-appointed music school built with funding from a European Union grant. The building, with its soundproof practice rooms and a modern concert hall overlooking the valley below, is the home base for the Bendada Music Festival.
Throughout the week, the Casa da Música stairwells and the cobbled pathways around the school are full of the sounds of practicing students, from a guitar player quietly strumming the opening chords of Roland Dyens’ Fuoco to a violinist playing Bach to a pair of woodwind students working through Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“It’s unbelievable how a small mountain village in a remote region has such good conditions to make music,” says Inês Andrade.
Another draw for students is the number of public concerts they perform during the week. “In other festivals, you have just one concert at the very end,” says 18-year-old Catarina Costa, a violin student from Lisbon. “But at Bendada we have concerts every day.” They play in nearby towns and all over Bendada—in the mountains, in the village square, at a retirement home.
The villagers are among the festival’s most ardent supporters. They house students for the week, participate in an adult choir that performs alongside the students, and even prepare daily meals for the festival participants. They enjoy the vitality the festival brings to the village. “The older people in the village especially, it’s hard for them to go anywhere else,” Inês Andrade says. “So we try to bring the world to them, even if it’s just for a week.”
“Really,” she says, “the festival could not happen if there weren’t such a welcoming community that was willing to help and collaborate with everything.”
“The village is the hero of the festival,” Carpenedo says. “I think Bendada is the hidden jewel of northern Portugal. You get this sense of authenticity that is both humbling and peaceful to experience.”
Inês Andrade hopes the event will rejuvenate the town and others like it. Over the past generation, Bendada and other small villages of Portugal’s mountainous interior region have suffered crises of depopulation and economic stagnation.
Town native Vítor Andrade is an economics reporter for Expresso, Portugal’s largest newspaper. “When I was a child here,” he says, “Bendada had almost 2,000 people. Now we don’t have 200.”
This year’s festival brought much-needed attention to Bendada. On the fifth day, a crew from SIC Television, Portugal’s major broadcaster, arrived to film a segment for a feature on the importance of music to the country’s small villages. That same day, Ana Mendes Godinho, Portugal’s secretary of state for tourism, came to hear the students perform. She believes cultural events like the Bendada Music Festival are key to improving the area’s economy. “This is an amazing event, because it shows the potential to bring life back to a village that had been abandoned, using music and culture,” Godinho says. “Bendada is a case study that everyone in Portugal should be looking at.”
Inês Andrade belongs to the generation whose parents were born in Bendada, but left to pursue greater economic opportunity elsewhere. “I hope the festival will grow,” she says, “but mainly I hope the festival will help the region grow as well.”