Guimarães, city with a founding role in Portugal’s history, is not only beautiful and well preserved; it also seems to be an intelligent city that is proud of its culture. Its main activity was the textile industry, but of course this is no longer the case. Now it is known as a cultural centre and it is outstanding in this area, supporting the country’s most Avant-garde programmes in contemporary dance and music and hosting a prestigious jazz festival. The equation Guimarães=Culture is something that makes its inhabitants incredibly proud. The European capital of culture 2012 has done the city no end of good and against this background Optimus Primavera Club’s tickets sold out thanks to its excellent line up.
I was able to talk to the local programmers and to compare audience numbers at similar concerts in Barcelona. At the most recent concerts of Bonnie Prince Billy, Oenothrix Point Never, Julia Holter and even Michael Gira himself, to name but a few of the artists who have played here in the last few years, the audience numbers were the same or higher than the last time these artists played in Barcelona.
I went into a café and there was a large painting there of Anthony Braxton giving it all he has. When I get to the Vila Flor multi-space cultural centre, I go in the wrong door, there is a local orchestra rehearsing, I open another, six girls are singing opera, I turn round, another auditorium, the Little Wings concert is starting, the room is so full that some people have been turned away. I haven’t mentioned yet that the metropolitan area of Guimarães has 160,000 inhabitants. Less than half of them live in the historical centre.
I am not going to get into evaluating our own line up in great detail, let the critics do their job. But I have to say that in such an ideal venue as the Gran Auditorio in the Centro Cultural Vila Flor, Swans couldn’t but give a concert of epic dimensions. It was one of those “I-was-there” moments. The same happened with Destroyer, Ariel Pink, The Vaccines and Tinariwen in São Mamede, a former cinema that has been done up to house concerts (they are doing another one up to make another cultural centre, with rehearsal rooms), designed with perfect acoustics and specifically for live music.
Before the first concert of Optimus Primavera Club started, the programmer of Guimarães-Capital Cultural Europea 2012 takes me around the facilities of the city. He shows me another centre, the Centro Internacional das Artes José de Guimarães, a building by Pitágoras that recently won a prize for its architecture that houses the private collection of the man it is named after and where some of the Optimus Primavera Club showcases are programmed. Once inside, he shows me an incredible room: a Black Box with exquisite retractable seating, for improvisation and the most esoteric concerts, I am told. Seating for two hundred or so people…what can I say?
We continue our tour, in every window of every establishment of the city there is a heart: in the bakeries it is made of bread, in cosmetic shops of lipstick, in haberdasheries it is hand-embroidered. It is the logo of the city’s status as a capital everybody is involved.
As I stopped being jealous of anything or anyone a long time ago- I only get jealous about things related to food, whatever- let me at least express my admiration for what I have seen and heard during these three days. One has the sneaking suspicion that if all of this had happened in another place, neither the money allocate by Europe would have gone so directly to its cultural destination, nor would the taxpayer feel so proud to belong to the European capital of culture. Guimarães, the programmers tell me, is a town that is happy with its position as the centre of European culture cultural. And that is something that extends far beyond this year’s manifestations. Congratulations, de tudo coração.